After breaking up in 2014, Taylor Swift and Spotify are getting back together. To celebrate her album 1989 hitting 10 million records sold and her selling 100 million total songs, today the pop singer announced she’s making her full back catalog available on all streaming services starting tonight at midnight.
Swift was already on Apple Music but now she’s opening up to Spotify and the rest. Industry sources tell me that Swift’s songs will be available on both the free ad-supported and paid tiers of Spotify.
The move by one of streaming’s biggest holdouts could signal a sea change in how artists view the technology that’s been criticized for underpaying content creators. As Spotify recently hit 50 million paid subscribers and Apple Music now has 27 million, the payouts are growing and starting to make up for the massive decline in physical record sales.
Back in 2014, Swift got into a huge spat with Spotify because her music was available on its ad-supported free tier, telling Time that “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art”, contrasting it with how on “Beats Music and Rhapsody you have to pay for a premium package in order to access my albums. And that places a perception of value on what I’ve created.”
At the time, Spotify refused to let any music only appear on its paid tier and not its ad-supported tier to avoid confusing listeners, so Swift pulled almost all her music. (In July 2017, Spotify struck deals to pay lower royalties to some labels in exchange for delaying some top album releases from appearing on its free tier for two weeks.)
Yet the media spectacle ending up driving tons of new users to Spotify, a source familiar with the company told me, since the message people heard was “I can listen to any music except Taylor Swift for free on Spotify? I’m in.”
Swift next went to war with Apple Music, which offers a free three-month trial for its service, but initially refused to pay royalties to artists during these trials. Swift rightfully saw this strategy as forcing musicians to lose money for Apple’s marketing benefit. Apple eventually relented, and began paying artists royalties even during its trials. And since it had no ad-supported tier, Swift’s inclusion on Apple Music became a talking point for the service.
But now, artists are wising up that streaming is essentially a promotional vehicle for the real ways they make money — concert tickets and merchandise. Listening on Spotify can turn someone who heard one of TayTay’s singles on a radio into a hardcore fan that shells out lots of cash for her shows and t-shirts. And at the current rate of growth, streaming service payouts will approach what musicians made of CD sales in the peak of that bygone era.
Streaming isn’t going away. Artists either need to get on board, or forfeit existing and potential listeners.