I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends.
The Spotify “artist relations” team continued their swing West last night with a stop in Nashville at City Winery where a songwriter can grab a burger and a glass of red for a mere 350,000 plays–including tip! And don’t forget to take home a bottle of Tres Amigos, a disruptive little house blend of malbec, bonarda and cab for a modestly priced 400,000 plays.
Now here’s the problem–the Featured Artist Coalition spent a good deal of time putting together these meetings with the best of intentions. Although I was not present (I live in a flyover state, and you know how that can be), it appears to me that Spotify seems to think that these three events in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles are opportunities to sell their company by repeating their talking points as opposed to listening to the frustrations of artists and songwriters with their company. I’ve yet to hear a comment from anyone present indicating that Spotify has any interest at all in listening to their customers.
When Garth Brooks was at his peak the last time around, I remember a story about him that stuck. Garth visited the sales teams at some of the biggest retailers along with his label sales executives to discuss the set up for one of his albums. After they’d all visited for a bit, Garth asked the label execs to leave the room and he stayed with the retailer’s sales teams. “Now tell me what you wouldn’t tell me if they were in the room,” he said (or so the story goes).
That, you see, is a business-savvy artist. This isn’t for everyone, but if artists are interested in their business like Garth, this is exactly the kind of thing you should do. And this is exactly what Spotify should be doing and it appears that this is what the Featured Artist Coalition thought that Spotify would be doing. Tell me what you wouldn’t say if your label or publisher were in the room because you’d be intimidated.
But from all accounts, Spotify is doing the opposite. Instead of listening to the artists and songwriters, it appears that they thought these meetings were held for Spotify to instruct the invited audience–all of whom have better things to do–on why the Koolaide just tastes so damned good. And remember where that “Koolaide” expression comes from.
The Nashville meeting apparently involved many raised voices and frustrating arguments between those who drank the Koolaide and those who did not. It’s important to understand that when someone is watching their livelihood slip away, telling them they just have to have faith in people whose own livelihood has more to do with venture capital and IPOs than selling music is not a good look. This is not an underwriters’ road show to sell stock. These are serious conversations with people who are going broke for reasons that are not their fault. This kind of approach did not work with Millerism or the Hale Bopp comet watchers and it’s not working for Spotify. (Millerism was a 19th Century American religious sect whose leader predicted the second coming of Jesus Christ on October 22, 1844. “Thousands of followers, some of whom had given away all of their possessions, waited expectantly. When Jesus did not appear, the date became known as the Great Disappointment.” Sound familiar?)
William Miller, founder of Millerism
And what it boils down to is this–Spotify offers a crappy deal to artists and songwriters. Spotify will say that their deals are with labels and publishers and they can’t help what the artists end up with financially. That’s true–but Spotify needs to care what those creators end up with because at the end of the day, that’s who their business is built on. It’s not just Spotify, by the way, the same is true of all these online companies, Pandora being a case in point.
There’s a schizophrenic aspect to this business. The deals are not with the artists and songwriters directly, but the business is dependent on those creators. Let’s be clear–Spotify needs those creators. The creators do not need Spotify. Music is not fungible. Bits are. You offer a crappy deal and people will turn you down every chance they get. Eventually someone will offer a better deal. It’s called a market.
Case in point–Garth Brooks. Lots of people think that the reason Garth didn’t go digital years ago was because he was some kind of Luddite. I don’t know the answer to this, but I don’t think that was the reason.
I think Garth held back for two reasons. First, because he could. Not all artists and songwriters are in that position.
But I think that the main reason was because the deals sucked. Simple, right? Why do a deal that sucks?
And guess what–they still suck. And that is the message that Spotify is getting from artists and songwriters in New York and in Nashville. I suspect that they’ll get that same message in LA tomorrow. I say bravo to the Featured Artist Coalition for putting this together so that Spotify is forced to listen even for a few hours. We can’t blame FAC for a money hungry tech company with Google on their board hijacking a good idea and screwing it up. It’s evidence of amazing arrogance that it took so long for Spotify to figure it out. But guess what? I’d love to be wrong, but I will bet right now that nothing is going to change at Spotify, Pandora or any of the other tech companies that should be paying close attention to what is happening in these Spotify meetings.
If they’d only listened, they would have heard that message long ago. Creators have screamed it from the rooftops, and last night they were screaming it in Nashville.