Taylor Swift vs. Spotify: Whose Side Are Bono and Aloe Blacc on...and How Much Money Was Ed Sheeran Paid for Streams?

Veteran U2 rocker and soul singer weigh in on the streaming music debate and talk money

By Corinne Heller Nov 08, 2014 12:10 AMTags
Taylor SwiftRGK/PacificCoastNews

Taylor Swift had her songs removed from Spotify earlier this week in a surprise move that been met with mixed reactions from fans, music consumers in general...and fellow music artists.

The pop star's decision was made amid the release of her new 1989 album, currently No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. The record has sold more than 1.2 million copies and contains the hit single "Shake It Up," which is still played continuously on the radio since its September release.

Bono, whose veteran Irish rock band U2 is one of the most popular music groups in the world, recently defended Spotify, while soul singer and rising star Aloe Blacc has penned an op-ed that criticizes music streaming in general, citing "drying up" revenue for songwriters like himself.

Swift's Spotify boycott has mostly stirred debate over how music artists should distribute their music and how much they are compensated.

The popular streaming music service typically pays less than one cent per stream of a song to those involved in its creation, which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for popular bands and artists, including Swift, but often just pennies for relatively unknown acts, who often agree to have their tracks included almost solely for the exposure.

"The real enemy is not between digital downloads or streaming, the real enemy, the real fight is between opacity and transparency," Bono said at the recent Web Summit Conference in Dublin, according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian. "Spotify are giving up 70 percent of all their revenues to rights owners. It's just that people don't know where the money is because the record labels haven't been transparent...That hasn't been the demand: that will be the demand."

Aloe Blacc, known for songs such as "The Man" and "I Need a Dollar" as well as his collaboration with Avicii on the hit EDM track "Wake Me Up," penned an op-ed in Wired titled "Streaming Services Need to Pay Songwriters Fairly." As of Friday, both his and U2's albums are available to stream for free on Spotify.

"Avicii's release 'Wake Me Up!' that I co-wrote and sing, for example, was the most streamed song in Spotify history and the 13th most played song on Pandora since its release in 2013, with more than 168 million streams in the US," he wrote in the Nov. 5 piece, referencing another popular music service, which is more similar to Internet radio and offers only samples of songs on-demand. "And yet, that yielded only $12,359 in Pandora domestic royalties—which were then split among three songwriters and our publishers."

"In return for co-writing a major hit song, I've earned less than $4,000 domestically from the largest digital music service," he said.

Courtesy of Luminary Daily

Swift had said in her own op-ed, published in The Wall Street Journal in July, that "music should not be free" and recently told  Yahoo! Music that "everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment. And I'm not willing to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music."

Her bestie, fellow pop star and songwriter Ed Sheeran, had praised Spotify at an Amazon.com Q&A event with fans in London a month before her songs were removed from the service. The British singer released his first album in 2011, about five years after Swift.

"This album was streamed 26 million times in the first week on Spotify, and that means 26 million people have heard my album," The Guardian quoted him as saying. "That means a tenth of them might consider buying a ticket or going to a festival, and that's enough for me to tour very comfortably."

"I know a lot of artists are a bit iffy about it, and to be honest, I did get a royalty check from Spotify that was about 4 pounds ($6.35)," he added. "It's one of those things, but for me, the more iPods, phones and computers that I'm on, the better, because I just want to play. That's what I enjoy."

Anna Webber/Getty Images for Atlantic Records

U2 recently drew criticism for releasing their new album, Songs of Innocence, for free via an automatic download to people's Apple's iTunes in what also marked an "experiment" of sorts. It backfired. Users were annoyed to discover the files in their accounts and complained they took up storage space on their devices. Bono apologized for the move in a Facebook chat, adding, "Oops."

"We got a lot of people who were uninterested in U2 to be mad with U2," he said at the conference. "And I would call that an improvement in the relationship!"

"And we were paid," he added. "No one values music more than the members of U2. To us music is a sacrament, it's a sacred thing. I think artists should be paid way more than they are. But the greatest way you serve your songs is to get them heard."


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