Spotify is now over three years old but the debate rages on in some quarters about whether it’s a “good thing” for artists to have their music available for streaming. Has is moved enough music fans from illegal torrent sites? Does it cannibalize physical and download sales? Do the marketing and promotional benefits outweigh any potential loss of sales? Over what period of time should album profits now be measured? Each record label has come up with what it thinks is the best strategy to answer these questions. Most now license all of their content to Spotify and the other streaming services, but some labels and artists are still testing the waters and trying out different approaches. So here is a list of the Seven Types of Artist on Spotify (or more accurately, the six types on Spotify plus the dodos).
Most musical artists are Eternalists: their music lives forever and is permanently available on streaming services from the day of release. This earns the artists, their labels and publishers revenue on a daily basis, long after a song or album’s initial release. Pioneering indie record labels such as Alfa Matrix, DC Recordings, and Electric Fantastic Sound embraced the streaming model from the very beginning. Their continued existence and profitability are a shining example to the Sulksters and Aged Aloof (see below).
Some Eternalists probably didn’t even know they’re on Spotify: when I spoke with Visage’s Rusty Egan a few months ago, he didn’t realize his fans could listen to his music on Spotify (and more importantly, generate revenue for him some 30 years after his band had split up). And you’ll find many “iTunes Exclusive” releases in Spotify, perhaps proof that there were often just “Digital Yes/No?” tickboxes for artists to agree to, rather than a specific breakdown of service.
The vast majority of Spotify’s catalog is permanent and expanding at a phenomenal rate. They’re close to 19 million songs now, almost double the catalog size from a year ago. This is due to the vast majority of bands and record labels who see the benefits of being – and staying – available on Spotify.
The Late Arrivals
Some artists and labels delay new releases as a strategy to force fans who just can’t wait to buy the album on download or CD. The belief is that this strategy will provide a higher instant return compared with releasing on all channels.
For example, a big fuss was made about Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto album being absent from Spotify when it was released, despite all the other Coldplay albums being on there. Music and tech press hyperbole proclaimed that Coldplay were yet another high-profile act to shun streaming services, but in fact it was all just a staggered release tactic on the part of the record label. Music industry expert Mark Mulligan believes release windows could be the cure for the access vs ownership debate. Read his thoughts on musicindustryblog.wordpress.com.
Another special case of the Late Arrival is when Spotify strikes a deal to host exclusive pre-releases. For example, albums from First Aid Kit, Tribes, World Routes and Enter Shikari were all recent “Spotify Exclusives” in the UK. This makes them effectively late arrivals to all other platforms, including iTunes. This enables Spotify to continue to proclaim “exclusive content” as a feature incentive for users to upgrade and subscribe to Spotify Premium.
Teasers are artists who release sampler versions of a new album as an enticement for you to go and buy the full download or CD. These samplers usually have 5 or 6 songs from the new album as a “try before you buy” incentive. For example, Adele, David Guetta, and Tinie Tempah have all teased with album samplers on Spotify.
Slight variations on the Teaser theme are cut-down versions of new albums released to Spotify as an “Exclusive Spotify Sampler” as well the occasional “Exclusive Session” of live songs. One of the first artists to try this approach was UK synthpop act La Roux, who released a 3-track Spotify Live Session of songs from her (then forthcoming) album. Ironically the full album was pulled from Spotify about a week after release.
Most sample albums are superseded by the full version of the album some months after initial release however. The original sample version is usually left there in memoriam.
The Hokey Pokeyists
(or “Hokey Cokeyists” for UK readers!)
Hokey Pokeyists are artists who temporarily remove their entire back-catalog due to a new album release or special event. For example, Paul McCartney recently pulled all his albums from Spotify US because he had a new album coming out and some gig lined up with Apple iTunes. As with the Coldplay story, the tech music press frothed at the mouth with claims that Sir Macca had done the math and decided he was permanently pulling the plug on streaming services, but it’s since been revealed that this removal was only temporary and his albums will be back on Spotify soon.
I’ve seen the hokey-pokey on Spotify time and again over the three years I’ve been using the service: content comes and goes then comes back again as the artists either move labels, renegotiate contracts, or just decide to temporarily pull their back-catalog in the hope that promotion of a new release will also persuade fans to impulse-buy older albums.
Sulksters are labels and artists who suddenly decide to permanently remove their previously-available content from Spotify. Sometimes this is done very quietly (for example, John Lennon’s entire catalog was removed only a few months after it had been added) but the recent trend is to make a big fuss about it. Electronic music distributors ST Holdings yanked all content from the 200-odd labels they represent back in November 2011. They publically accused Spotify of ripping off indie artists, citing as evidence a misinterpreted and oft trundled-out claim from 2009 that “Lady Gaga Only Made A Few Dollars From Spotify After a Million Plays!” That claim has been debunked countless times – did they really think that someone with the business nous of Lady Gaga would continue to allow her content on Spotify if it wasn’t profitable? Here in 2012, all her albums remain on Spotify.
In perhaps an embarrassing climb down, ST Holdings now have a statement on their website saying “We’re working with some streaming companies on solutions that work as well for artists as they do consumers.”
The Nation Statists
Nation Statists are artists whose content is available in some countries but not in others. For example, Rammstein and Oasis are both absent from Spotify UK but are available through the service in other countries. This might lead you to think that your favorite band doesn’t let you listen to them on Spotify because they particularly dislike your country, but this is probably not the case. Territorial restrictions are a hang-over from the olden days, when bands would have different record labels in different countries to help them maximize their return and earn more money across all territories (or something like that; I never did quite understand territorial restrictions). Since not all labels are on Spotify yet, this means that some artists can only be heard in some countries.
There’s growing evidence that delayed international releases drive illegal downloading, at least for movies, so we’ll hopefully begin to see the move towards global album release dates with no discrimination just because of the nation you happen to live in.
The Aged Aloof
The Aged Aloof are usually established, older rock bands who want nothing to do with “that modern streaming stuff.” These denialists have large existing fanbases, many of whom would automatically buy the new CD/download anyway, so the belief is that it’s not profitable to have their music on a music service that has over ten million active listeners. Example bands include Pink Floyd, The Beatles, AC/DC, and of course multi-millionaire luddites Metallica. Ironically of course, most music fans with an interest in these Rock & Roll masters are likely to return to the torrent sites when they find them AWOL from Spotify.
But even these Aged Aloof sometimes eventually come into the stream: here’s to you Mr. Zimmerman! Welcome aboard, Arcade Fire! We hope you enjoy your new revenue stream…