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When was the last time you downloaded music from iTunes or Amazon? Do you load up a CD when you need some tunes on a long car trip?
Of course not. Instead, you almost certainly get your music through Spotify or another something similar. Since the rise of streaming music services (fronted by Spotify) in the early 2010s, paid downloads have declined greatly. Many people will tell you that Spotify is evil and is causing the death of the music industry, but those claims are overblown.
Let’s discuss some of the biggest misconceptions about Spotify and reveal the truth.
Myth 1: Spotify Doesn’t Pay Artists
If you’ve heard a single criticism against Spotify, it’s probably this. Since the service became popular, critics have claimed that Spotify doesn’t properly compensate artists for their content. While Spotify’s base payment might sound low at first glance, it’s important to review where that money actually goes.
But if you are going to stream.. I recommend Spotify. They are starting to pay artist well. Spotify is where it's at for that.
— Rich O'Toole (@RichOToole) March 8, 2017
Obviously but importantly, Spotify does pay artists. Just because the service is “free” to non-Premium subscribers doesn’t mean that free users aren’t paying in some way. Those who assume because you can just download Spotify and start listening to music that it’s equivalent to piracy services like LimeWire haven’t done their basic research. If you’re a Premium subscriber, Spotify uses your monthly fee to pay out what it owes. Free users see ads instead, and those ads generate revenue that Spotify uses in lieu of payment.
Spotify used to feature a page on its site that detailed how it pays artists, but it’s no longer up. The exact payments Spotify doles out hinge on a number of factors, but as best we know it averages between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream. Compare this to Apple’s iTunes, where most songs costs $1.29. Apple takes a 30 percent cut of all sales, meaning that at best, an artist would make about 90 cents on one song download. This makes less than one cent per stream sound like a destitute wage, but consider how people use streaming services.
Recounting My Personal Experience
My favorite band is The Classic Crime. I’ve listened to them since before I first became a Spotify user. Whenever they release a new album, I listen to it on Spotify because that’s the central location where I get all my music from. For the foreseeable future, I’ll continue to stream their music regularly, and I’ve already listened to every one of their albums dozens of times.
The Classic Crime has already made more money from me than if I’d simply bought each album once. Further, I’ve supported their newer albums on Kickstarter, which also provides them with income (by the way, Kickstarter also takes a cut of projects, and you don’t see anyone complaining about how that hurts the music industry).
Simply put, a band’s fans will financially support them the same through Spotify as they would through buying CDs or with iTunes downloads. If you wouldn’t spend $10 to download a band’s album, you’re not going to give them too many Spotify listens, either.
This is all foregoing the fact that in most cases, record companies are the rights holders that Spotify pays out to. These go-betweens take some of the profits, too. Unfortunately, this is a reality of the music industry and is the same anywhere — it’s not Spotify’s problem. The company has a contract to pay out a certain amount to whomever owns the rights to the song. If a band has a contract with a record label, then the label has a legal right to that money. Independent bands take more of the profits since they don’t have to deal with the middle man.
For a detailed breakdown of why streaming royalties are complicated, see this Quora post.
Myth 2: Spotify Harms the Music Industry
We’ve confirmed that artists make money from Spotify, but what about the music industry at large? Taylor Swift claimed that Spotify is awful and pulled her music from the service, while The Beatles released their entire catalog to streaming services at the end of 2015. What do these two different approaches show about Spotify’s effect on the industry?
Consider that Spotify has given people less of a reason to pirate music. In the early days of iTunes, your choices were to pay for a download or go the piracy route. Now, it only takes a few minutes to download Spotify, start an account, and listen to all the music you want. Even if people only casually listen to music on Spotify, that’s a legitimate use that benefits both the artists and the industry. It’s far healthier than the now-defunct Grooveshark, which many people used to illegally stream music for a decade.
It’s important to remember that many other mediums are trending towards streaming instead of ownership. Netflix lets you stream movies and PlayStation Now can stream PS4 games to your PC. In both cases, you don’t own the media that you’re consuming. It’s licensed for your use as long as you’re a paying customer. Streaming hasn’t killed either of those industries — actually, they’re adapting as the times change.
Additionally, Spotify gives smaller artists a better chance to break out than they’d have without it. Bands can link to their Spotify pages and playlists from anywhere — sending them to friends is an easy way to get their music out there. Further, Spotify’s regularly-updated playlists often feature up-and-coming artists. If a band gets their music selected for one of these mixes, they could see a great boost in popularity.
Myth 3: Spotify Has Totally Stopped Piracy
While Spotify has provided a wholesome alternative to stealing music, the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Many people are happy to pay for a streaming subscription or live with ads in their music, but others aren’t for a couple of different reasons.
Although Spotify is good at bringing new releases to its catalog right away, sometimes users have to wait a while.
When Kanye West released his album The Life of Pablo, he restricted it to the problematic Tidal service, stating that he would never release it anywhere else. Pablo didn’t come to Spotify for another 45 days after the album’s initial release. This means that Spotify subscribers who wanted to hear the album had to either pay up for the additional subscription or listen to it via other means — like piracy. That’s how over 500,000 people first listened to the record.
Spotify doesn’t have every music track known to man, so listeners who want to keep all their music in one place are likely to pirate the missing music and import it into Spotify manually. And it’s an unfortunate fact that we’ll always have people who pirate no matter what honest options are available. Whether they want to own music without paying for it or just don’t give a damn about the artist making money, Spotify isn’t going to tempt them away.
Similarly, while listening to music on YouTube isn’t ideal, people have uploaded thousands of albums to YouTube for anyone to access. If the uploader doesn’t hold the rights to the music, doing so is creating an illegal copy and breaking the law.
Myth 4: Listening to Spotify Is Worse Than Vinyl
Since Spotify music streams to your computer instead of playing locally, its quality varies with the bitrate. On the desktop app, the Standard setting for free users is 160 Kbps, while premium users can enjoy High quality at 320 Kbps. There are some people who say listening to music on vinyl is better than getting your music digitally because of the quality, but this isn’t true.
Vinyl audio is uncompressed analog sound as opposed to Spotify’s compressed, digital sound, and music purists insist that it’s better. But can you really tell the difference? You might notice some dips at Normal quality, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can tell the difference between a vinyl record and a high-quality Spotify stream. A good pair of headphones with Spotify lets you enjoy your music cleanly, and comes without the crackle sound that some of us find annoying.
Aside from pure quality, Spotify’s digital music offers a ton of benefits over vinyl. Records aren’t portable, require flipping to hear the entire album, and can cost $20 or more. A $10 Premium payment gets you a month of unlimited access to anything you want to listen to — why would you pay double that for one album?
Myth 5: Spotify Is Faultless
After the above discussions, you might get the impression that we view Spotify as faultless — this isn’t so. While we think Premium is a worth the cost and love the new Discover features that help you find new music, it’s an unfortunate truth that Spotify’s user experience has gone downhill recently.
Spotify has removed a lot of features that were awesome for power users. It used to have an Apps section where you could download utilities to discover new music or look up lyrics right inside the Spotify window. After the Apps went away, Spotify integrated the Musixmatch service so you could still view lyrics in real-time. Then that suddenly disappeared, so now users are stuck looking up lyrics in another browser window.
— Chase (@billchase2) August 11, 2016
The service has its own set of annoying errors that crop up sometimes. Last year, it also had a brief stint where ads were serving up malware. We’ve mentioned the holes in its catalog that you’ll probably run into at some point. And don’t even get us started on how lousy the new Spotify Web Player is.
What Do You Think You Know About Spotify?
We’ve discussed five myths that many people, including you, probably believe about Spotify. Whether you’re a streaming aficionado and get all your music through the service or scoff at the idea of buying anything but physical records, there’s something to learn here.
For me personally, Spotify provides a great value to access all the music I could want with the peace of mind that comes from knowing I’m supporting artists. It may be far from perfect, but it’s the best way I can think of to listen to music right now.
Interested in a similar service? Check out our comparison of Spotify, Google Play Music, and Apple Music.
Are there any myths that you have heard about Spotify? What did you do to debunk them? What do you wish people would understand about the streaming service? Are you happy with the overall Spotify experience? Please add your thoughts in the comments below!