Boycotting the major labels feels like it’s getting harder to do every year.
Anyone who has subscribed to this podcast for a while knows — and likely shares — my general disdain for the RIAA and the small group of large corporations that support it. (Which hasn’t quite been whittled down to three yet, if you’re keeping count.) These are the people who spent years telling us they were fighting for the rights of artists, when most of us knew they did more to strip artists of their rights than anyone else. They tried to convince us that sharing music was a crime worthy of imprisonment and shutting down web sites on accusations of infringment with no due process was a noble cause. Liars and hypocrites with lots of money don’t need any more of mine. Or yours.
These days, however, not giving money to the major labels isn’t as simple as not buying their CDs or MP3s. Falling sales are slowly giving way to new methods of monetizing your attention. You pay nothing to watch a video on VEVO, for example, but the ad that runs before the video pays the labels. Thus, the label still gets paid, even though you’re not doing the paying.
(The fact that Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is buying up a lot of those ads bothers me. Sure, this is where the eyeballs of potential young voters might be, but the end result is the President funneling campaign contributions to the RIAA — not a surprise, given how many former RIAA lawyers now work for Obama’s Department of Justice, but still a bit troubling.)
This is also true for many music streaming services. Even if you don’t pay for Pandora, the labels still get paid every time a song whose rights they control gets played on Pandora, thanks to the advertisements. This is true for many other onlne music services as well.
Which brings us to Spotify.
We’ve seen several companies — Rhapsody, Napster, Rdio, MOG, etc. — attempt the music subscription model, with mixed results. Spotify, however, seems to be the one that’s attracting the most attention. Perhaps it offers the best user experience. Perhaps it has the best music discovery tools. Perhaps its mobile apps are the best of the bunch. Perhaps its integration with Facebook and Twitter makes it easier to appeal to people’s desire to share music with friends.
Whatever the reason, Spotify seems to be the "celestial jukebox" of choice for many people. It doesn’t seem like such a terrible deal, either — just a fiver for PC access to 15 million songs spanning every musical genre there is, and another fiver to use it on your mobile phone.
The problem with Spotify, though, is that those fivers still help to feed the major labels, who get paid every time a song is streamed from their huge back catalogs. Those catalogs are filled with iconic, legendary songs that people love — most of which would have been in the public domain by now, if not for the RIAA’s successful campaign for lifetime copyrights. The artists who made that music don’t see much money from those streams, either. Most of it ends up in the hands of lobbyists who convince our elected officials that stricter copyright laws must be passed — the kind of laws that prevented startups from creating something like Spotify years ago.
Still, we can’t resist all that great music, can we? That’s what attracts most music lovers to Spotify. Most of them probably don’t notice the tiny print beneath each album listing that displays what label released that music, either — in large part because they’re too busy creating playlists for themselves and their friends, and those playlists don’t tell you who’s getting paid when you stream the music.
Then again, perhaps those playlists are the key to exposing friends to independent music. After all, Spotify is simply a tool, and tools can be used for both good and ill. You can use a hammer to tear down a wall or to build a city — sometimes simultaneously, as some residents of Berlin might attest. So why don’t we build something interesting with this tool? Spotify is practically designed for music discovery. Why don’t we give its users something worth discovering?
It’s with that thought in mind that I’ve put together this playlist on Spotify. This features some of the best tunes from the early days of the Dave’s Lounge podcast. If you use Spotify, please share this playlist with all your friends.
In addition to playlists, I’m also considering creating a Spotify app that puts a brighter spotlight on some of the music I’ve played on this podcast. Perhaps it’s a way of bringing new listeners into the fold. Perhaps it’s just another way to share all this music I like with anyone who wants to listen. Either way, the goal is the same — to showcase great music that might otherwise go unheard, made by talented artists that choose to create outside the realm of the major labels. We know how those big labels spend the money we give them. We really shouldn’t be paying for that anymore.