Scoping Out Spotify
- By Andrew Duch
- Published on August 07, 2011
Every Sunday, we’ll feature an article by a columnist on the Headstash staff who will give you a personal take on themes within our scene, including anything from jam bands to electronica acts and environmentalism to drug reform.
Scoping Out Spotify
For music lovers, the dream has long been free, instant access to any song in the world. With its U.S. launch last month, Spotify is here to make that happen in both a technologically sound and legal way.
But as game changing as it is for the music industry, Spotify will likely have little effect on the bottom line of jam bands and electronica artists that have been hard at work creating an alternative industry for years.
Launched in Europe in 2008, Spotify has quickly gained users by offering free streaming access to millions of songs. In many ways, it’s a more organized version of Grooveshark and a way to get music that won’t land you insane fines from the RIAA.
It even sports a desktop client that functions like iTunes and offers social features to help you share music. Currently it’s “invite only” – but if you want to give it a try you can use Coca Cola’s invitation page. Registration is simple and painless.
Within minutes, I was creating playlists of obscure tracks that I would have never bothered to torrent an album of, and certainly would not have laid out $1.29 on iTunes to purchase.
Spotify makes money by offering premium versions of its service that support mobile phones and offline listening. Pricing starts at $4.99 and will remove the handful of ads that play sporadically in between songs.
As of right now, U.S. users can listen to an unlimited amount of music each month, but it’s likely the service will switch to its European model and start limiting listening to 10 hours a month with the free version, though there has been no official word on this yet.
The launch of Spotify in this country is significant because it indicates that the major studios are starting to accept that maybe it’s best to give music away for free. And instead of focusing on album sales, they can drive revenue by building a strong ecosystem of live concerts, merchandise and special media like DVDs.
Articles have discussed this end state of intellectual property since the birth of the Internet, but truth be told it’s taken much longer to get to this point than anyone expected.
As Paul Krugman noted in a 2008 column for the New York Times, the Grateful Dead pioneered this idea decades ago by allowing fans to tape and distribute shows and instead make money off concert tickets and T-shirts.
While the Grateful Dead was years ahead of the industry over 30 years ago, it’s interesting to see how the jam world is again leading the charge.
For many artists and small labels in the jam scene, the launch of Spotify is self-affirming. Bands such as Phish and STS9 have focused on developing this ecosystem for years. For example, Phish will offer pay-per-view webcasts of their Lake Tahoe shows this week and many artists also leverage iClips.net to offer paid webcasts of their shows.
Artists also make significant money off of merchandise by selling at shows, festivals and online stores. Limited edition posters, T-shirts and now products like badges have become staples of the scene.
And no longer are music festivals only for the biggest artists to put on. Even the smaller bands are in the action as evidenced by Papadosio’s Rootwire festival this past weekend and the array of smaller festivals popping up year after year.
By creating a small but rabid fan base, these bands have paved their own path without major labels or hit albums. The introduction of Spotify does not pose a significant threat to the jam artists who have already built their auxiliary ecosystems.
While bands in our community have learned to thrive without selling millions of albums, it will be exciting to see how the rest of the music industry adapts to this new landscape.
The focus on the live show that jam artists make is conducive to producing very dedicated fan bases. It remains to be seen whether other genres of music can prosper in a new world where the album is not the main revenue generator.
Spotify is a great step in moving the rest of the music world closer to the ways the Grateful Dead pioneered decades ago.
Who knows? Maybe in a few years, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber will start rotating setlists and covering “Eyes of the World” at their shows.