#IStandWithTheHarpist: Spotify’s Non-denial Denial to @ItsJoannaNewsom


(glancing through;nods)

–all non-denial denials–we’re dirty guys and they doubt we were ever virgins but they don’t say the story is inaccurate.


What’s a real denial?


If they ever start calling us goddamn liars…

From All the President’s Men by William Goldman

Harpist and singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom gave an interview to the LA Times that criticized Spotify.  The generally pro-big tech LA Times decided needed some uncritical balancing from Spotify–because the Times also reaches out to an artist for balance every time the paper fawns over Spotify.  Oh, snap….

Here’s what Joanna told the Times:

[S]he was asked about new music technology and replied with an analogy. “Spotify is the [rotten] banana of the music industry,” she said, sitting at a patio table at a restaurant in the shadow of Scientology’s massive East Hollywood campus. “It just gives off a fume. You can just smell that something’s wrong with it”….

Spotify is like a villainous cabal of major labels. The business is built from the ground up as a way to circumvent the idea of paying their artists. The major labels were not particularly happy with the fact that as the royalty money dwindled more and more, their portion of the percentage split agreed upon in their licensing agreement got smaller and smaller.

So someone came up with a great idea that if they start a streaming company, they can make those percentages even smaller. Infinitesimal, because they can make their money from advertising and subscription, and they don’t have to pay their artists anything for that. So it’s set up in a way that they can just rob their artists, and most of their artists have no way to fight it because they’re contractually obligated to stay with the label for x amount of time and you can’t really opt out. It’s a garbage system.

Maybe it was the headline (“Joanna Newsom calls Spotify ‘a villainous cabal’ and ‘a garbage system'”).  Maybe it was a Freudian reaction to the small banana analogy.  But whatever it was, Spotify teed up their Washington revolving doorman, frequent White House visitor, Clintonista and triangulation expert, Jonathan Prince, who condescended this way:

“We’d love to sit down with Joanna and try and clear up some of the misunderstandings about how Spotify works to support artists, songwriters, and the whole music industry. For example, someone has led her to believe ‘we don’t pay artists anything’ for advertising and subscriptions – in fact, we pay around 70 percent of all our revenue, from every single advertising and subscription dollar, in royalties. We’re proud that we’re the single biggest driver of growth in music right now, and we’d love to talk with Joanna about how we’re making streaming work for artists and songwriters around the world, cause we’d love to work with her too.”

That’s called a non-denial denial.  Obviously Joanna didn’t mean that Spotify paid zero, she said “they can make those percentages even smaller. Infinitesimal.”  What I think a fair reading of what she meant was that Spotify royalties are so low that it may as well be zero.  Kind of like the banana rotting in the produce section, the only evidence you have that it’s there because you can smell it rotting.  And Spotify royalties stink.

And also insulting–“someone has lead her to believe”?  Really?  Why, because she can’t think for herself?

Then Mr. Prince condescends even further with this whopper: “We’re proud that we’re the single biggest driver of growth in music right now.”  Big newsflash for Mr. Prince:  Artists are always the single biggest driver of growth in the music business, followed closely by those that fund the marketing that drives users to Spotify.  You know who knows this axiomatic fact?  People in the music business.

And if this “talk” that Spotify wants to have with Joanna is anything like the debacle that occurred in the Spotify charm offensive tour (or the offensive Spotify charm tour) of last year and the recent MMF Spotify infomercial, I personally would find something else to do with that time.  Unless you like being locked in a room with a bunch of shills chattering like the seed of Chucky.

But the non-denial denial and classic Clinton-esque triangulation is where Mr. Prince completely ignores the gravamen of Joanna’s accusation–that Spotify is in the headline: “‘a villainous cabal’ and ‘a garbage system'”.  As Ben Bradlee said, you’ll know it’s a denial when they call you a liar.

And they didn’t.