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Here we go again: Taylor Swift’s label says Spotify’s numbers are wrong

Representatives for singer-songwriter Taylor Swift denied Spotify’s claims she stood to make $6 million this year before the label removed her catalog from the music streaming service.
Representatives for singer-songwriter Taylor Swift denied Spotify’s claims she stood to make $6 million this year before the label removed her catalog from the music streaming service. AP

Taylor Swift’s record label says Spotify’s claim the singer would have made $6 million this year if she had kept her catalog on the music streaming service is false.

Meanwhile, YouTube has thrown its hat in the music streaming ring, but country artist Brantley Gilbert and Justin Moore have pulled their latest albums from Spotify.

Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta told Time magazine Thursday that Swift has been paid less than $500,000 in the past 12 months for plays in the U.S.

However, a Spotify representative said she would have made $2 million globally.

Both figures are less than Spotify founder Daniel Ek’s claim earlier this week that Swift stood to make $6 million this year before Big Machine pulled the singer’s catalog from Spotify on Nov. 3.

Ben Popper wrote on The Verge on Thursday that Spotify and Big Machine are right — but they’re not making apples-to-apples comparisons.

“$6 million, $500,000, $2 million — how do you reconcile all those numbers?” Popper wrote. “It’s pretty simple, actually. All these numbers could be accurate without conflict. Borchetta was looking to cherry pick the smallest possible figure, so he went with $500,000, which is what Spotify paid for Taylor Swift streams in the U.S. But that is only one of its markets, and not even its largest. Globally, Spotify paid swift $2 million over the last year.

“How did Ek get to a whopping $6 million?” Pepper continued. “As more people sign up for Spotify, and Taylor Swift continues her march toward infinite popularity, the amount she is getting paid is increasing. He took her trend line and ran it forward a year to get to the highest possible number he could quote.”

Hall of fame songwriter Desmond Child told WhoTV on Wednesday that Spotify doesn’t pay off for songwriters unless you are a Taylor Swift.

Child co-wrote Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” a song that was played 6.5 million times on Pandora over a three-month span in 2012. Child said for those plays, he and his two co-writers split $110.

“We could each buy a pizza,” Child said. “At some point, (streaming services) sold the acts some idea like, ‘We’re promoting your music so you can go out and tour and make money with merchandise and ticket sales and stuff.’ But a lot of those artists co-wrote with people like me. I don’t get a piece of the touring. I don’t get a piece of the merchandise.”

Borchetta tries to pin blame on Spotify for the downward trend in overall music sales.

“The facts show that the music industry was much better off before Spotify hit these shores,” Borchetta told Time. “Don’t forget this is for the most successful artist in music today. What about the rest of the artists out there struggling to make a career? Over the last year, what Spotify has paid is the equivalent of less than 50,000 albums sold.”

CNN Money put a pencil to Borchtta’s claims.

“The math demonstrates just how complicated the music industry can be,” Cristina Alesci and Frank Pallotta wrote. “A number of factors could be missing from Big Machine’s total. Swift set up an arrangement with Big Machine to outsource distribution to a bigger label, Universal. The cut taken by Universal, and the amount Spotify pays for streams of Swift’s songs outside the United States, are missing from Borchetta’s figure.”

Gilbert and Brantley, who are labelmates with Swift, pulled their new albums from Spotify this week. Rolling Stone’s Andrew Leahey reports Garth Brooks’ much-anticipated “Man Against Machine” album is also not available via Spotify or any other streaming service “to nobody’s surprise.”

“The country legend has long been an outspoken opponent of not only streaming, but even downloading services like iTunes,” Leahy wrote. “He recently launched his own digital platform, GhostTunes, to offer his music online for the first time ever, and just joined social media on Tuesday, the day his latest project dropped.”

Shane Ferro wrote on Business Insider that opponents of streaming are just wrong about Spotify.

“Streaming is here to stay whether some major artists decide to pull their albums or not,” Ferro wrote. “In the current digital climate, it has replaced illegal downloads, not paid album sales.… The music industry is changing. But in a way that’s really great for consumers, and not clearly all that bad for artists like Taylor Swift.”

Apparently, Google agrees. On Thursday, the Google-owned YouTube announced the ad-free music subscription service Music Key and a new format designed to make it easier to find millions of free songs, CBS reported.

“YouTube is the number one place where people go for their music, especially with young people,” CNET’s Bridget Carey told CBS News. “What would make this different is you don’t have advertisements. And there’s kind of this sense that you can watch whatever you want, unlimited, make your own playlists. It could easily take over things like Spotify.”

And you can listen to Taylor Swift’s music on YouTube anytime you want — for now.

Meanwhile, Forbes contributor Will Burns has a plan to end Swift’s holdout.

“Something is clearly evading artists like Taylor Swift and her label,” Burns wrote. “Spotify treats all artists equally, and ignores the powerful influence some artists have over … discovering new artists within their platforms.”

Streaming services generally have a feature that recommends music based on a user’s likes and plays. If you were to play Taylor Swift, Spotify will suggest you listen to Kacey Musgraves. This makes Swift more valuable than Musgraves. In which case, Swift should get a tiny percentage of Musgraves’ play.

“Consider it a ‘referral fee,’” Burns wrote. “This idea would cost nothing to implement, could shore up relationships between the streamers and the big-time acts, and might even get the acts to more actively promote their respective Related Artists links.”

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