A Songwriter's Dilemma

How do we, as songwriters, make peace with the idea of patronizing a service that undercuts the value of our work?

As well versed as I am in the antiquated laws that govern streaming rates I’ve always been a technical lightweight when it comes to the actual streaming of music. Ridiculous right? Well, I’m late to most parties. For ie: I was still in bootcut when everyone else made the move to skinny jeans and as soon as I got the memo on the skinnies everybody was back in flairs. I can’t catch up.

What does this have to do with music?

Well, when Spotify came onto the scene, I was understandably enthusiastic. Like millions of music lovers, I’d have all the content I wanted, whenever and wherever I wanted it. For free. Sign me up.

A couple of years later, when it became apparent that royalty statements were shrinking, the reality set in: Streaming rates Suck. As a user, I was in Heaven. But as a someone who makes her living from songwriting, I was in Hell.

Did I really want to affiliate with a service that gives music away for free—material written by many of us who had been developing and investing in our craft for decades? But what was the alternative? Computers weren’t even being manufactured with a slot for a CD any more. iTunes downloads were alive and well but at the pace I was consuming music it would cost me $200 a week to hear everything I could stream for free. Sound familiar? Streaming was (is) the way we access music in the 21st century. What to do?

I stayed put. I did however, upgrade…I subscribed to Premium for $9.99 a month. At least I was paying in—preserving the idea that music has value. And I didn’t have to listen to those annoying ads.

Then…Apple launched their streaming service. Creators rebelled against the 3 month free trial period. Taylor Swift helped us. So did Adele (a little). Apple heard our call and eliminated the Free. I said goodbye to Spotify and hello (Adele pun not intended) to Apple.

Then…one day, I queued up my favorite album and went out for a run. A few minutes into the run the music stopped. Why? “Apparently,” advised one of my millennial compatriots, “you have to be connected to the internet in order to stream.” What? There’s no Wifi on the hiking trail? Really? Millennial continued: “But if you want to you can download the album in advance so that you can listen offline." (On airplanes, at the gym, hiking trails!) How did I not know this?

Skinny jeans.

But…I seemed to remember reading something about a glitch on the Apple interface: when a user “MERGED” all their personal music with their offline downloads, playlists mysteriously disappeared. Yikes. I had hundreds of demos in my iTunes library. Not being able to access them would be a disaster. But…I wanted the same versatility that seemingly all the rest of the world was enjoying. In their bootcut.

I headed over to the Apple Store to consult a Genius. The Genius seemed very smart. He assured me that the glitch had been sorted out. So…with him standing right by my side, prompting me (and cheering me on for God sakes), I went into my settings and slid that “MERGE” toggle to the right. Yes, I did. There was no big fanfare or bolt of lightening. But I knew, deep down, I had just made a seismic liberating shift into a new world. I felt empowered.

But then…when I got home and opened my computer I noticed my titles were in unfamiliar playlists. I saw cloud icons with slashes though them next to songs I could no longer hear when I pressed play. I was beside myself. I wanted to go back to the Apple Store and strangle that Genius.

The process of enjoying music used to be less complicated, although it did entail some movement: we heard something we liked on the radio. Licked our chops. Drove to the record store. Paid our 14.99…(a price no doubt, that is responsible for getting us into this Freemium mess). You came home, you owned it. You held it. Slept with it. It didn’t suddenly disappear like music on a malfunctioning interface!

True Geniuses are spotty.

I opted for phone support. It took 3 days to un-MERGE my libraries. I would never MERGE them again. Ever.

The problem was…I was back where I started. I could only stream music where there was an internet connection. If I went back to Spotify, with its independent interface, I could download offline without complication. But Spotify gives music away for Free.

I spent the next few years wearing an AM/FM radio headset in internet-free zones. To be honest, I appreciate the surprise of terrestrial radio offerings and I like not having to pre-think (or queue up) playlists. But…last week all I heard was static. I tilted my head this way and that, hoping to adjust the frequency. It was no use. And right then, I hit my wall:

Am I biting my nose to spite my face? If I continue rebuffing Spotify on principle then I deny myself that full access pass. Plus, I’m a lifer in the music business. I blog about it. I advocate on behalf of creators. How can I put forth any opinion about streaming media if I don’t partake in the experience?

God forgive me. I’m re-subscribing to Spotify. But I feel like a hypocrite because I’ll be supporting the very service whose business model goes against the very cause I fight for.

And there lies the rub.


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