When you are arguably the biggest star in a vast industry, you are entitled to scoff at the trends that are reshaping that industry and set your own rules, defiantly.
That’s what Taylor Swift has done, at least for the time being.
On the day she announced the first leg of her 1989 Tour, which comprises 56 shows in 44 cities, including Sept. 21 and 22 in Kansas City, Swift also pulled all of her music off Spotify. The industry’s largest subscription music-streaming service comprises more than 40 million users, and Swift is on 19 million of its playlists, according to Billboard magazine.
The move comes six days after Swift released “1989,” her fifth studio album. Billboard reports that “1989” is on pace to break Britney Spears’ record for one-week album sales for a female artist; “Oops! I Did It Again” sold 1.3 million copies its first week of release in May 2000.
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It would also be the largest first-week sales by any artist since Eminem sold 1.3 million copies of “The Eminem Show” in May 2002. Swift’s album “Red,” released in October 2012, sold 1.2 million copies its first week.
In response, Spotify posted this online: “We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone. We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want, and that artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy.”
Swift’s move was foreshadowed in July, when the Wall Street Journal published a pie-in-the-sky essay under her byline titled “For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story.”
She wrote: “There are many (many) people who predict the downfall of music sales and the irrelevancy of the album as an economic entity. I am not one of them.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”
She faces a formidable task in trying to return the long-gone genie to its bottle. According to statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America, overall music sales dropped from $15 billion to $7 billion from 2003 to 2013. In 2003, compact discs accounted for almost 95 percent of all music sales; in 2013, that number was 35 percent and dropping.
And according to Nielsen SoundScan, streaming of music is up 42 percent for the first six months of 2014 vs. 2013, while CD sales have dropped almost 20 percent, and digital downloads are down 11.6 percent.
Those numbers have changed the way all bands and performers view their recorded music. Earlier this year, U2 infamously dropped unsolicited upon half a billion iTunes subscribers a free copy of “Songs of Innocence,” its 13th studio album.
The move prompted a tide of dissonance from their colleagues: “Music has been horribly devalued by being given away,” Nick Mason of Pink Floyd told Spin magazine. “It’s funny (U2) didn’t sense some of that. It’s been the big story of the 21st century, music being devalued.”
Spotify offers an ad-supported option that’s free to listeners and advertisement-free subscriptions costing up to $9.99 a month. But many performers see Spotify as just one step from giving music away. The company has reported rights holders are paid between $.006 and $.0084 each time a user plays a song.
In 2012, the band Grizzly Bear tweeted, “Spotify might be good for exposure but after about 10k plays we get approx 10 dollars.”
Swift isn’t the first music artist to pull her catalog from Spotify. In August 2009, Bob Dylan removed his catalog but returned in early 2012. And staunch holdouts like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd have relented and submitted their catalogs, despite the potential consequences for such veteran bands.
After Metallica joined Spotify in December 2012 during the peak of the holiday season, Billboard reported that sales of its catalog dropped significantly: “Album sales were 15 percent below expectations the week the titles were added to Spotify and 35 percent below expectations the following week.”
Though the single “Shake It Off” had been available on Spotify, the album on which it appears, “1989,” had not, so Swift’s primary motives appear to be to persuade potential buyers that it won’t be available for a while and to drive up sales of her previous four albums as we head into the holiday season. Billboard on Monday speculated that the move also was related to negotiations surrounding the sale of her label, Big Machine Label Group.
Either way, she is the only performer in her industry with the global-wide star status large enough to wage a fight against the inevitable and irreversible.
You can question her motives — whether it’s about money or art — and argue that the consequences will be negligible. But for now, her move has resonated, and she has succeeded in getting people curious about what she’ll do next.