Spin is an original indie band, formed from the remnants of a cover band that I founded in college with my brother Matt decades ago. Neither Matt nor I are in what became Spin, but I like to think I had a little to do with the guys getting together. My other brother Hank is on lead guitar, and my high school friends Jim and Eric are on keyboards/vocals, and guitar/vocals respectively.
I take no responsibility for Lou, their drummer.
I bring up Spin here on my blog, not only because they’re a cool group that you should check out. They have songs and albums out there you can purchase, and you can also find their music on streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio, etc. They’ve been gaining traction lately and have even sold some of their music for use in various video games and TV show soundtracks (more on that later).
If you’re a Stalker fan, you’ve probably recently heard their rather dark cover of Happy Together
The reason I bring them up is to demonstrate my thinking about the Apple Music free trial. How better to assess the effects this trial will have on indie musicians than to ask an actual group of indie musicians?
When the whole Taylor Swift love letter to Apple thing happened, I decided to ask my brother Hank what he thought about streaming services like Spotify and the new Apple music.
The brief resulting conversation didn’t surprise me, but you might find it illuminating.
Spin made a total of roughly $100 last year from streaming services, give or take. You read that right. $100. For the whole band. For their entire catalog. For the entire year.
Now, Dave Wiskus kindly did the math on what Taylor Swift was bound to lose from the three-month free trial of Apple Music, and he concluded that it would take eleven-and-a-half years for her to make up the revenue she’d likely lose in that three months.
Spin, on the other hand, can skip getting a beer after their next gig and be pretty much caught up on the $25 they’d lose in three months on Apple’s service.
I don’t question Taylor Swift’s motives in removing her latest album from Apple Music. It’s her music, and she’s in a position of power to make that strategic choice. But her claim that “This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt” strikes me as a bit hyperbolic, given what actual young songwriters actually get paid from any streaming service. Indies know that streaming is a bum deal, financially. Only a fool would expect Apple Music to be your ticket out of debt. And she knows that.
The guys from Spin don’t put music on streaming services hoping to make money. Selling your music to the general public is a losing proposition in 2015. Instead, they put their music out there so it can get discovered, to raise awareness, to gain future fans who might spend a little money down the road. Any service you’re not on is lost potential for finding new true fans.
Does that suck? You bet it does. Is that Apple’s fault? The music labels? Yeah, a bit.
But it’s also our fault. We like to talk about how all artists should be compensated for their art, but then we join Spotify and Apple music, rubbing our hands at the prospect of all the music we can eat for free (if we’re willing to listen to ads) or for $5 or $10 a month.
Taylor Swift, knowing full well how bad an idea it is to chastise the masses for not paying for music (see Lars Ulrich) turns her guns instead at the streaming companies, which now include Apple. Smart business move, absolutely. Lots of hearts and minds won. But is it a way to effect meaningful change in how artists get compensated? I doubt it.
Here’s the thing: It’s not like Eddy Cue is going to buy another Ferrari with all that money he’s not paying artists. There just isn’t that much money to go around in the first place with a streaming service. And it’s a long way around. Because remember, the folks at Spotify and Rdio and Apple need to get paid. The engineers, the accountants, the lawyers, the HR people, and on and on. They all need to divvy up your pittance, and rightfully so. And that’s before your own label employees, promoters, lawyers, etc. We can’t expect people to work for free, can we?
By the time it gets to the band, well, you know… There’s simply nothing left.
So if you oppose the three-month free trial from Apple, which is a step up from Spotify and Rdio, where you can listen for free indefinitely, then take a moment and ask yourself whether you should be opposed to streaming music services altogether. Because the economics of streaming are such that there is no way to make a successful service that actually pays artists.
Or else be in favor of streaming services as a promotional tool, and do your part to help out the bands by buying an actual album or two every month, in addition to the measly $10 you’re paying for the privilege of listening to whatever you damn well please 24 hours a day.
Everyone seems to want Apple to shell out the money to the bands for those three months. How about we do that? I’ve got $25 to give to Spin.
As I was about to post this article, Eddy Cue announced on Twitter that Apple will, in fact, pay artists for the free trial months. Sad to think that this red herring will be enough to placate all the complainers. It’s still a terrible deal for indie musicians.
But no doubt, everyone will shut up now, once they’ve congratulated Taylor Swift on winning a victory for the little people.
It’s all good as long as someone else pays, right?
But the indie bands are still in the same boat, getting paid squat and looking for alternative revenue streams. Like they always have.
I told my brother Hank that Taylor Swift is his new patron saint of indie musicians. He was amused. Not in a disrespectful way, but more in a “we’re all missing the point” sort of way.
If you want to help indie musicians, buy their albums. Go to their shows. Get the T-Shirt. Upvote them in every promotional nonsense contest they get dragged into. Be a fan. And tell your friends. Help indies get noticed by someone who has real money and a need for a good tune to place somewhere.
And then they might just sell another one of their tunes to run during the end credits of the next Avengers movie. Or maybe they’ll pen a song for Taylor Swift. There’s actually still good money in that sort of thing.
- They have no bass player. Just couldn’t find anyone worthy when I left, I guess. ↩