What is music worth to you? Three reasons why I refuse to use Spotify.

Please answer me this: what is music worth to you in terms of money that you spend on it? For many people their implicit answer will be: “the price of my Spotify Premium subscription“. In an amazingly short time Spotify has become ubiquitous with music consumption. When my friends send me their Spotify links, they don’t even consider anymore that I might NOT have or want a Spotify account. Newsflash: I don’t have a Spotify account, and I don’t intend to get one either. Not that I am blind to Spotify’s advantages. I do feel the allure of it’s giant userbase, the giant pool of music, the helpful algorithms, and the possiblity to share playlists with eachother. In another lifetime I would happily use Spotify as well. So why on earth am i still refusing to use Spotify?

Reason one : I need my mp3’s!

When it comes to music consumption I’m a bit of a modern dinosaur. As a music enthusiast and selector (I won’t call myself a DJ but I could become one with more practice) I am sandwiched somewhere between the old fashioned vinyl-collector and the person who solely streams music. I do buy vinyl at times and stream music as well, but it’s paramount to me to have my mp3’s, because without them I can’t compile and craft my (blatant plug incoming) Stay Hungry podcast. This means that streaming will never be sufficient for me. Luckily I have services like Traxsource, Junodownload and especially Bandcamp that cater to my needs and provide me with music in the highest digital quality.

Come catch some .flac!

Reason two : Spotify is not exactly profitable for unknown artists. (unless they are backed by a distributor)

Whereas my first argument is a practical one, my second and third arguments are more based on sentiment. As an artist on Spotify you need to monthly get hundreds of thousands of streams to produce even a tiny bit of revenue. For the Rihanna’s and Bruno Martians of this world this is no issue. The companies that distribute their music might chew of a sizeable part of the revenue generated by the millions of streams, but the artists themselves probably couldn’t care less since they will still reap huge profits from the machine that pushes their brand.

This is a campy subtitle

By contrast, for more obscure and independent artists this high treshold to generate revenue on Spotify is a problem. And – you probably guessed it by now – it’s precisely these artists that I listen to the most. In recent years I have found out that lots of them sell their music on Bandcamp, a service that offers a different take on music consumption. Bandcamp (still) doesn’t have the benefit of making playlists and though it boasts a solid interface, it isn’t sporting the sleek interface that makes Spotify a joy to use on mobile devices. What Bandcamp does offer is a far more direct way for fans to financially support the artist they love, be it by buying music or by buying merchandise. To give you a more in-depth view of my point you might want to gloss over this article, one of many that point out the struggles that independent artist have with the revenue model of Spotify.

But why spend money on music if you can stream it? Because I believe an artist should be financially rewarded for the work they make. Bandcamp offers you a direct way of doing this, wheras by using Spotify it is not the (obscure) artist but mainly Spotify itself that ultimately profits the most from your streams. The importance of rewarding artists can not be understated and I will illustrate this with the following example: I once bought an album from rapper Grip Grand via Bandcamp and got it delivered with a free cd and a handwritten letter expressing his gratitude for my purchase. How cool is that? This was early in my Bandcamping days and it reinforced my conviction that Bandcamp provides the right way to support my favourite artists.

Reason Three : I got feelings of guilt over the amount of music I downloaded.

This argument is intertwined with the previous one. I have been downloading music for some twenty years. When music became mp3’d around the turn of the millenium I eagerly started dragging thousands of megabytes to my harddisks. The fact that I could download anonymous and the prospect of having all that music was just too tempting to refuse. I feverishly downloaded music from all my favourite artists and had everything that I desired. Right?

The artwork was reason alone to buy the record.

This logo once was to the music industry
what the satanic pentagon is to devout Christians.

Wrong. As years went on I became a musician myself and gradually started to feel apprehensive towards ‘free’ downloading, a feeling in line with the sentiment I expressed earlier; namely that making music is not ‘free’. The artist invests life/time and hardware into the music that is made. This fact started to feel particularly poignant to me while becoming a muscian myself. Imagine the horror (and perhaps twisted honor) of people downloading my work and not paying a buck for it It. I was confronted with an ethical dimension to the consumption of music that I couldn’t ignore anymore. From then on I decided to spend more money on music in order to avert becoming the kind of music consumer that I disagreed with. An surprising side effect of buying more music has been that I tend to be more attentive towards my musical purchases, more mindful if you will.

Sidenote: If you are interested to see what I have purchased in six years of Bandcamping you can click here.

To make a long story short: despite the advantages in user-friendliness that Spotify has over Bandcamp I still choose the latter, because it prioritizes (obscure/independent) artist-friendliness. I understand that for a lot of people Spotify is the perfect music service. But personally I will never use it until it starts developing a revenue model that’s profitable for lesser known artists. So, as you keep your favourite artists in mind I like to ask you again:

what is music worth to you?

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