This week, Taylor Swift made the bold move to remove all her songs from Spotify, a platform that allows users to pay a minimal monthly fee for the advertisement-free streaming music service. Other frustrated artists are looking to follow Swift’s lead. Such a strategy might be problematic.
The head of Swift’s label defended this move in support of the so-called “Superfan,” implying that this type of individual can be distinguished from just a regular fan. The label official explains if this fan chooses to purchase the album, it would be embarrassing for them to be questioned on why they purchased something they could receive for free. Taylor's content was removed from Spotify as a sign of respect.
Sure, for a hit movie I will pay for the $11.50 ticket to see the full product a few months earlier in theaters rather than wait for its release on Netflix. But, with recent increased access to music, I can less often justify doing the same thing and purchasing an entire music album. No, this is not because the disc-drive on my laptop has been broken since high school. Rather, it is because these days, once an album is released, it is pretty much available anywhere if you look hard enough.
More importantly, though, it is rare that I would purchase every song on the album. This being the case with many other music listeners, artists may might need to work harder to build a so-called “Superfan” base, i.e. one who is willing to put down the dough toward buying the full album or concert ticket. Until then, we are all just regular fans, with sensitive preferences, constantly evolving tastes and likely a large mantra of preferred artists.
The composition of the music industry is shifting. Artists will benefit from acknowledging this change and catering to their fans' lifestyles and wishes. Unlike less than a decade ago, we no longer listen to our music solely in the car or on the computer. People use iPhones, streaming apps, live podcasts, Tumblrs, shared playlists and dozens of other platforms to get music. Millennials no longer justify iTunes purchases, and the prices, in their tight, college-loan-burdened budgets. Additionally, many of the remixes we request are not available through Apple.
We are busier than ever and we appreciate the convenience of having our revered playlists accessible on all of our devices. We demand more variety in the music we consume, greater frequency and much larger quantities. Since August, I have accumulated almost 150 songs on my Soundcloud playlist – and I like to think I add with discretion. I probably would not have compiled such a hefty “Recently Added” playlist had I been required to pay for each and every song.
Websites such as Spotify, Soundcloud and 8tracks give users added value that goes far beyond convenience. They give users a chance to collaborate and make music social. Rather than buying an album, I can make a playlist based on sounds, not just the artists themselves. We can share songs instantly, and all start to develop our own unique taste in music. We take pride in our playlists, and the fact that new music searches don't begin on the iTunes top 100.
We as consumers are working harder to become superfans, but in a different way. We are searching wider and developing our own true sense of a music identity. This label of superfan does not have to be quantified. The power has diffused from the hands of an industry to the market itself, and this is a product of our advancements. As consumers we will still pay for concerts and albums when we find high-quality music. This switch gives people more freedom, and I think it’s an aged view to try to restrict our access.
The way I see it, artists should look at this change as an opportunity. EDM has one of the strongest followings, and it was a genre produced almost solely by web-based music-sharing platforms. The profile of an artist’s career looks different, and it is much easier for new talented artists and DJs to get discovered quickly and cheaply. Yes, while more seasoned artists may have to work a little harder to find ways to make money, this is a product of the information revolution that affects multiple industries.
In the near future, we could see music platforms such as Spotify paying large sums for the right to distribute an artist’s album release exclusively for a certain period of time. There are many options available, but one thing is clear: In order to meet the lifestyle needs of our generation, it can’t hurt for seasoned artists to begin to think outside the box.
In my mind, we are in an age focused on the playlist. This means more music, more opportunities, more specialization and higher standards of acceptable quality. So to Taylor Swift, I say: Nothing personal, but remember, all “Superfans” were once just fans.
Contact Caroline Maugeri at firstname.lastname@example.org