Musicians Against Playing For Free issue turns to Spotify

You will surely all be aware of the campaign being fuelled by musicians like Ashley Slater and Orphy Robinson, as well as other good folk, on the back of the Olympic Games (and no, I am not going to be brow beaten into calling it London 2012 just because the control freaks who are running this thing insist on it) organisers LOCOG  plan to get musicians to play for free.

If you haven’t been following it, here is the post and the link to the Facebook group.

The latest posting on there, from guitarist Phil Robson, extends the issue of fair pay for musicians further – and to Spotify in particular.

Here is what he has to say:

I believe this is relevant to the wider issue but please delete if the group believes it to be a diversion:
I will be removing my entire back catalogue of CDs from Spotify asap having discussed it with the label. My recent CD is not available there. I see absolutely no logical argument why music should be free or dirt cheap & personally, I would like a creature to exist in the future called ‘a professional musician’ (not a teacher that does the odd gig!). Most of us were duped into it under the tired old ‘exposure’ idea. Sound familiar? I have heard all the arguments for it & don’t buy any of them. Sure some people will always find a way to get it for free. Doesn’t matter. That will be a minority & the majority will get their heads around having to buy music again. There is also no comparison with the old home taping concept. People used to still buy the album if they liked the tape their mate did for them. Different time & culture altogether. I have clear personal experience that having music up on Spotify is now really affecting live sales in a way that even 2 years ago it was not. To give an example, a young guy said to me sheepishly at a recent gig “why would anyone buy the CD? I downloaded the whole thing for something like 1p on Spotify!” I thank you for your time.

The discussion is starting on the Facebook group “Musicians Against Playing For Free…” but I would love to hear your thoughts here, too, whether you are musicians or run a label or are just a regular punter.

Speaking personally, I am in an exceptionally privileged position, because record companies, distribution houses and individual musicians send me free copies of their CDs for review. In return I try to give them some positive publicity by writing reviews – mostly at no monetary benefit to myself, I hasten to add, though I occasionally get a modest reward from a national magazine.

So, I remain, of course, extremely grateful for these free CDs, but I pay in-kind in a way, and still buy CDs I haven’t been given. Being of an age where I still like an artefact (I no longer have any LPs but I loved those too), I rarely download music, and if I do, I pay for it.

Spotify strikes me as hugely attractive if you don’t already have piles of CDs to listen to, and it is impressively wide-ranging. However, what Phil has to say above has really struck a chord with me.

So what is the best way to buy music? The ethical and musician-supporting fan has some tricky decisions to make. For a start, I have started boycotting Amazon until they start paying taxes in this country. Now I am avoiding Spotify, too.

The best plan should be to buy directly from musicians’ websites, though this is not without its complications. I recently reviewed Loose Tubes’ new release, Sad Afrika, on Django Bates’s Lost Marble label and included a link on the review to Django’s site. Then I got a gentle rap on the knuckles from Proper Note distribution company who argued that since they had sent me the review copy they would rather I linked to outlets they distributed to, so that they might get their cut on any resulting sales. Which is a totally fair point – I am just indicating the complexities of the consumer chain here. And I deleted the link, in case you were wondering. (On the other hand, if you want to know what Django is up to, just go here.)

The other purchase option, and one I keep banging on about, is called “the record shop”. Remember them? Well, they still exist, albeit in small numbers. The upside is those small numbers are generally really fab places. In Birmingham, for example, go to Polar Bear in York Road, Kings Heath, where Steve and Nathan will be only to happy to sell you the right stuff. It won’t cost 1p as on Spotify, but it will be a much more rewarding experience. And you will be helping not only the artist, but the distributor, the shop, the high street and your fellow shoppers  – I think this is called “society”. More about Polar Bear here.

So my conclusion is: buy music from an artist site or a shop, or from anywhere that gives the artist who made this beautiful music his or her just rewards for enriching our lives.

What’s yours?



Categories: CD review

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5 replies

  1. Time to stand up and be counted in so many ways. We have somehow come to a place where much of what is taken for granted in our daily lives is unsustainable. Whether its large companies avoiding their tax (I too no longer buy from Amazon) while decimating our traditional high streets, able to do so because of low operating costs, executives having one-sided contracts that pay out £2m++ when they leave in disgrace or music, novels and newspapers for free. We must all pay for what we use: musicians have to eat, same as everyone else. Bankers get their bonuses come what may, G4S will likely get their £50m+ for the debacle at the olympics but musicians were asked to perform for free…. Come the revolution!

  2. As I have commented before, I am constantly harping on keeping our music stores going as the first choice, and smaller artist or label sites as the second choice, with Amazon as the third. Spotify is never a choice, and neither is downloading from iTunes, the latter not because I don’t pay, which I do, but because it is going to kill said music stores. We just had another one go that had been in New Haven, home of Yale University, for 64 years. Why couldn’t a University community support it? The internet and sites like Spotify, plus sharing files with friends, etc.

    I buy everything I listen to and comment on on my blog. I don’t get free CDs from publicists or musicians or labels, For older music that is in print, my localrecord store can get me them from suppiers. I buy out of print CDs as much as possible from brick and mortar stores when I travel, and report on where those stores are, and use the secondary market on Amazon when I need to.I beleive in paying for music, just as I pay for the books I read when I am not using the library.

    People talk about using Spotify for exposure, but then they end up taking whole CDs without paying. Seems to me artists put samples on their websites in many cases, there are You Tube performances to sample, and labels also will give some samples; with all that, I don’t think more exposure is needed that leads to taking entire CDs for free. Now, there are countervailing arguments that have some merit, like young adults who cannot afford to buy the music as they struggle with rents, keeping jobs, and the like, but too many seem to use that as an excuse while they pay for nights out, movies, etc.

    Paying for what you hear, and furthermore getting actual physical CDs over paid for downloads so that stores can survive, is a tough sell in this world of downloads and file sharing, but one that we should keep fighting the good fight about. Music stores are communities in my expereince, places to talk about discoveries, to talk about the music in general, to interact and llearn.

    Me personally, I like you still like the artifacts — for example, try finding out who the bass player in a trio is if you only have the download and the pianist’s name and cannot connect to a website.. I would also miss the commentary by jazz writers, or the artist’s comments on their music in many cases. And the artwork counts as well.

    All I/we can do is keep writing about it and hope for the best.

  3. I was pondering this for a while before we released our album a few weeks ago.

    It seems to be well documented the pitiful royalties – pence – that artists receive from Spotify (who must make a pretty healthy sum from advertising) for 100’s of plays, which in itself is a good enough reason not to want to have your music on there. And a fair few innocent subscribers (those that are bothered or question where their money goes – probably not a great number) may think that because they’re paying for a subscription, that artists won’t be out of pocket.

    And this isn’t even touching on Deezer, Last FM etc.

    A monthly £5-10 Spotify subscription can buy you unlimited plays of a pretty exhaustive catalogue – take someone who plays 5-6 albums a day … £5 split between 80 tracks a day for 31 days, that’s if they’re only played once, before the label cut, distribution cut, Spotify cut …

    Yet alas, like it or not, Spotify is probably one of the first places a lot of people (certainly aged 15-45 I’m guessing) will now go to find music, or check out an artist they don’t know. I did it this afternoon with Anja Garbarek who I hadn’t heard much of before. Maybe I’m in the minority in that I might now go and buy her album. But I also know I’m guilty of listening to music on there, enjoying it, yet not buying anything (my excuse being Spotify haven’t paid me any royalties to spend on albums!). An annoying Facebook bar usually tells me a pile of musician friends do the same most days.

    I imagine this example isn’t reflective of Spotify’s common usage – we played up at the (excellent) Manchester Jazz Festival last week … someone on Twitter who didn’t know the band found us on Spotify, had a listen, posted the link to a track on Twitter, came to the gig, then brought the physical album after, and sent us some lovely photos. I guess that’s the ideal albeit rare scenario. If we hadn’t have been on Spotify, would he have bothered searching elsewhere to listen on our website, Soundcloud, iTunes etc? Could he click a quick link off to friends to listen and come to the gig if they liked it? Would we have been dismissed as not serious or professional enough if our music wasn’t on there?

    Tricky.

    A balance I think I’ll try and pursue, especially having started a small not-for-profit label, is to have 2-3 tracks from an album up on Spotify, with the rest blacked out or un-playable except for full/direct/paid downloads … hopefully it’ll be good enough for people to get an idea of what a you sound like, keep a toe in the door, make it on to the odd playlist, yet leave enough for someone to want to buy or download a bit more. Or put them off forever!

    Bandcamp seems to be a friendlier model for artists, but alas still more niche at the moment.

    But if it’s not on X-F*ctor or a Radio 1/2/Clear Channel playlist, will anyone apart from a handful of musicians be that bothered anyway?!

  4. As a freelance photographer, I have long been familiar with the working arrangement known as ‘work for hire,’ which allows one’s client to have his or her way with ALL of the work you do for them, forevermore. This is hardly an ideal arrangement, but does involve a reasonable or at least negotiated and/or mutually agreed upon up front fee for services rendered. When musicians are being asked to do the same, without said compensation up front, it is hardly rocket science that anyone who’s been at it long and well enough to not be desperately angling for whatever larger audience they can attract in any way will balk at this, as they should.
    I wish I had a solution to this problem, as it is also desperately needed in my field, where similarly egregious abuses are now standard operating procedure for too many formerly respectable publications, most of whom are themselves fighting to survive in this new context none of us has yet decoded into a sure-fire, long-term business plan or model.
    Neither is it rocket science that consumers, be they individuals at retail or publications of some sort, see no need to buy any cow they can milk for free. Technology can already provide us a way to put meters on the teats, it’s just a matter of someone doing it, an entity who might make a nano-pence off each transaction, but will consummate so many micro-sales that its inventors/founders will eventually need to lose some major money to avoid even larger taxes. Maybe they’ll start a jazz club, or festival – or, better yet, a jazz record label…

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