This is a true story from the band Smokey and the Mirror.
We are a folk band. We get by on a shoestring. We raised just under $5000 from our fans to help record our last album, Thin Black Line. We put roughly $5000 of our own money into the album as well. It meant the world to us that so many folks cared enough to donate their hard earned money to our artistic endeavors. We went into the studio and made an album that we are proud of and that we felt honored the investment our fans made in us.
We released Thin Black Line on April 15th. We put a lot of time and energy into the decision to load our album onto Spotify. We listened to what other artists like Taylor Swift and Jason Isbell had to say against Spotify. We were with their viewpoint at first, but then we also started to notice fewer and fewer folks buying our CDs at shows. We even called our distributor, CD Baby, to ask a few questions about whether or not we should be on Spotify. We asked our rep, "Why should have our music on Spotify?" She answered with a question, "Do you want your music to be heard by anyone under 30?" We caved. We made a 180 in our thinking about Spotify and got with the times.
The album came out on April 15th and was released on Spotify around that same time. We made a big push with our fans. 2500+ Facebook fans and roughly 4000 folks on our email list. We asked them to have a listen. Many of our fans were not Spotify members. Some of them wrote to us and told us that they were signing up for Spotify just so they could listen to our album and support our music. Even our favorite local bookstore, Nightbird Books, starting playing our album in the store. We were overwhelmed by the support. We still are overwhelmed. It has been so amazing to hear from folks who have truly enjoyed the album and have listened to it multiple times. Many folks admitted that they wouldn't have bought the CD but that Spotify gave them a way to listen to and fall in love with the album.
Today we were notified by our distributor, CD Baby, that Spotify removed our album because they analyze the listening data on our album and felt that it was excessive and that the listening was coming from a small group of listeners and/or the listeners were predominantly listening to our album more than other content on Spotify.
We were shocked. We inquired and it turns our that Spotify has removed our album and WILL NOT reinstate it. In our option it seems that Spotify is not working for independent artists.
Here is the explanation from CD Baby:
"Hi Bryan –
Spotify made the decision to pull the album in response to streaming activity that they determine to be abusive. This can happen if fans are encouraged to stream the album on repeat for long periods of time or something along those lines. Most digital music providers are ok with a lot of streams for indie content, but if a handful of users are just playing an album or track on repeat, which does not resemble normal listening behavior, they will remove the content to avoid financial losses. Royalties that are accrued by this kind of streaming will usually not be paid out if they are determined to be abusive.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
As of today we had roughly 79,000 total plays of the songs on Thin Black Line. That is equivalent to the 4000 fans on our email list listening to the record 1.5 times. Does that seem excessive?
Just so you get an idea about the revenue from 79,000 listens it equates to roughly $474. Is this the financial loss that Spotify is worried about?
At this point it sounds like Spotify will not be paying the $474 in royalties from our listens. We can live with this, we will book another gig. But, it got us thinking, why would Spotify care enough to withhold such a small sum from a small time, independent band? It just doesn't feel right.
In the end, we are going to pull our other music from Spotify. They don't deserve it. They won't care, they have already made what they wanted from us. We spent the last 2 months trying to get our entire fan base to get interested in Spotify. Even if 100 of our 4000 fans signed up as new premium subscribers that is $12,000 of revenue (annualized) to Spotify, they are also opting to keep the $474 in royalties they would have had to pay out on our album listens. They WIN. Independent artists lose.
We are not telling this story to complain or to be outwardly negative. There is enough negativity in the world we live in. We are telling in because we support independent musicians. We promote shows, run a festival, and tell our audiences about independent musicians every time take the stage. If you care about independent musicians like we do, find another way to support them other than Spotify. It is hard being a professional musician in 2015. Spotify claims to be the salvation of musicians and declining sales of recorded music. We think our story sheds light on this claim. We will let you decide for yourself.
What are your thoughts?