Billy Bragg must have an invite to YouTube’s new Music Key subscription service because he’s noticed Taylor Swift’s albums in Music Key’s library, and he’s not happy about it. Swift recently caused a stir by pulling her entire catalog from Spotify, sparking a back and forth between the streaming service, Swift, and her label. In a Facebook post, Bragg took Swift to task for framing her Spotify exit as a bold stance to maintain music’s value, then turning around and allowing her music to feature on YouTube. Here’s Bragg’s dispatch:
What a shame that Taylor Swift’s principled stand against those who would give her music away for free has turned out to be nothing more than a corporate power play. On pulling her music from Spotify recently, she made a big issue of the fact that the majority of the streaming service’s users listen to her tracks for nothing rather than signing up to the subscription service.
“I don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free” she said in a statement to Yahoo last week.
These worthy sentiments have been somewhat undermined by Swift making her new album and back catalogue available on Google’s new Music Key streaming service…..which also offers listeners a free service alongside a premium subscription tier.
Given that this year is the first to fail to produce a new million selling album, I can understand Taylor Swift wanting to maximise her opportunities with the new record – and it worked: she shifted 1.28m copies of 1989 in the first week of sale.
But she should just be honest with her fans and say “sorry, but Sergey Brin gave me a huge amount of money to be the headline name on the marquee for the launch of You Tube Music Key and so I’ve sold my soul to Google.”
If Ms Swift was truly concerned about perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free, she should be removing her material from You Tube, not cosying up to it. The de facto biggest streaming service in the world, with all the content available free, You Tube is the greatest threat to any commercially based streaming service.
You might ask yourself why Google are setting up a commercial streaming service that will ultimately have to compete with their own You Tube behemoth? My hunch is that they are following a ‘Starbucks strategy’: it doesn’t matter if your own coffee shops on every corner are competing with one another, so long as they ultimately put all of your rivals out of business.
Google are going after Spotify and Taylor Swift has just chosen sides. That’s her prerogative as a savvy businesswoman – but please don’t try to sell this corporate power play to us as some sort of altruistic gesture in solidarity with struggling music makers.
As someone who hasn’t personally tried the Music Key service yet, Bragg’s post is confusing to me because as I understand it, Music Key isn’t YouTube competing with itself so much as adding a paid tier to their existing service. Either way, if Swift has actually licensed her catalog to Music Key, it certainly complicates her argument that music shouldn’t be free, though who knows what Google is paying her. What do you guys think?
In related news Garth Brooks recently told Access Hollywood that YouTube is the devil and accused YouTube of not properly paying royalties. All these country/folk people love their devil talk, man!
UPDATE: Swift’s publicist issued a statement to NME: Taylor Swift has had absolutely no discussion or agreement of any kind with Google’s new music streaming service.”
Bragg also points to a Wired article that says Swift has 1989’s first two singles on Music Key.
— Billy Bragg (@billybragg) November 18, 2014
UPDATE 2: After Esquire noted that Bragg is affiliated with Spotify — he hosts a monthly “radio show” (i.e. a podcast) for the streaming service — Bragg issued a second Facebook statement in which he denied that he is a Spotify employee despite the monthly podcast gig. Bragg also questioned the wisdom of YouTube’s non-disclosure agreements with labels. Here’s today’s post in full:
Since I posted my criticism of Taylor Swift’s decision to boycott Spotify yesterday, attention has been drawn to my connections with the Swedish streaming service. For the record, I’m not employed by Spotify, nor am I a spokesman for them.
I do make a monthly ‘talking playlist’ for which I record links on my home computer, which are then sent to Spotify. My reasons for doing this are twofold:
Firstly, when my record label asked me to compile playlists for Spotify as part of the promo for my last album, I thought it would be more interesting to talk about why I like the tunes I chose and give some context to them. One of my complaints about Spotify is that they give no information with the tracks. Who wrote the song? Who produced it? Where and when was it recorded? This is the stuff you used to be able to discern from the sleeve or the label of a physical recording.
I’d been trying to work out how to run a digital radio station from my personal website for a while, something that allowed me to recommend music I was listening to, and this seemed like an ideal way to do it. I suggested this to my label and they put the idea to Spotify who green lighted it. I compile a talking playlist once a month, but I get no fee for doing this from Spotify or anyone else.
Secondly, whether we like it or not, music streaming is becoming increasingly popular. It seems to be the way that people want to listen to music and, although there is controversy about the per stream royalty rates that artists receive from their record companies, the streaming services are at least paying royalties.
As artists, rather than resist them, I believe it is in our long-term interest to engage with the streaming services – which is what I am trying to do with my talking playlist. This approach has borne some fruit with Spotify – their royalty system is relatively transparent. They will let an artist see how many plays they have had and show them how much they have paid to their record company for those plays. The artist can then look at how much they have received from their label and do the math.
Compare this to the deal that the independent labels have just signed with You Tube Music Key – except you can’t, because all deals and negotiations with Google are covered by non-disclosure agreements. We won’t know how many plays we’ve had on Music Key, nor how much Google paid our labels for that use – we’ll just have to take whatever we receive and be thankful.
I believe artists deserve better treatment than that. That’s why I often find myself defending Spotify – for all their faults, they have set the bar high in terms of transparency and we should be demanding the same from other streaming services.
[Photo by Danny Martindale/WireImage.]