Spotify just got a whole lot easier for classical listeners

One year ago, practically to the day, I posted this picture of what it looks like to search the complete Haydn symphonies on Spotify and lamented

“Please: we’ve had digital music for nearly two decades now. Can we start to get our act together on this?”

Haydn-metadata

I mean, that list of results is basically useless. The legacy of a digital music tagging system that is designed for songs and albums, not works and movements.

Well, thanks to a tip-off from Ulyssestone (now on Spotify’s staff), whaddya know – today, the same page looks like this:

Haydn-dorati

Good work everyone who made that happen. This is more like it.

The news gets better: slowly but surely, composer names are being added to the database too. Take a look at this image (from Ulysses’ blog):

Now we really are getting somewhere. It’s not ideal, sure – where there’s a second performer it’s not immediately clear which name is the composer and which is the performer. And the composer names thing only applies to Naxos-distributed labels so far – but that’s tens of thousands of albums already. However, this is definitely progress (from a very poor starting position), and it’s good to know that people are at least working on this stuff. Before long it will be possible to do a classical search on Spotify and reliably be able to find what you were after. Imagine.

 

Does Spotify pay? Another look at the numbers

Despite this blog’s basic remit to cover contemporary classical music, one of its most popular posts has been ‘How much do musicians make on online?‘, a quick analysis of a graph published by Information is Beautiful about the relative remunerations of different ways of selling music.

That graph is widely-known, but it’s also four years old now. And since it was produced, Spotify have opened up a lot about how much they pay artists. It turns out that the Information is Beautiful graph was wrong on how much Spotify streams pay by around a factor of 30.

As Spotify themselves now point out, thinking of their royalty rates on a per-stream basis is a bit misleading anyway, since they make their calculations based on a percentage of the total revenue pie. So the more subscribers there are, the larger the effective royalty rate. But back in July 2013, when they started to release this information, they suggested that a figure of between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream was not a bad basis for calculations. As their subscriber base grows, so that figure will go up.

Anyway, apropos of not much, I thought I would use these numbers to do a quick tot-up of how much money two famous Spotify objectors – Radiohead and Metallica – might have made from the service. I took the figures for number of plays given for the top ten songs on the artist’s Spotify page, and multiplied them by both the low and high estimations of what Spotify says it pays out on average per stream.

Bear in mind that these numbers are not externally verified – they’re what Spotify tell us is going on – but they are worth considering in the context of some recent debates over the long-term viability of paid-for streaming.

Radiohead

Thom Yorke has called Spotify ‘the last desperate fart of a dying corpse‘, and in October last year pulled his Atoms for Peace album, made with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, from the site. Yet here’s an idea of how Radiohead are actually doing out of Spotify:

radiohead-top10

That makes 107,302,714 plays (as of Friday 28 March). Based on Spotify’s estimated per-stream pay out, that’s somewhere between $643,816 and $901,342. OK, computer.

Metallica

Despite dragging himself through the mud for a decade over Napster, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich made peace with online music in December 2012 and Metallica’s back catalogue came on stream. In fact, in the same month that Yorke and Godrich made their comments about Spotify, Ulrich claimed that ‘Spotify is working right now‘. The delay in joining probably accounts for Metallica’s fewer plays, but the numbers seem to bear him out:

metallica-top10

That makes 67,151,066 plays (as of Friday 28 March). Based on Spotify’s estimated per-stream pay out, that’s somewhere between $402,906 and $564,068. Sad but true.

None of this is a definitive answer to the ongoing future of music debate, but I think it’s useful to see figures like this while that debate is being had.

More of Mode’s Cage Edition reaches Spotify

Mode Records continue to add recordings from their Complete John Cage Edition to Spotify. The always-vigilant Ulyssestone alerted me over the weekend to the latest additions. All are now included in my Complete John Cage Edition playlist. They are:

  • Vol.8 Europera 5 (mode 36)
  • Vol.11 Orchestral Works 1 (mode 41)
  • Vol.13 The Piano Works 1 (mode 47)
  • Vol.15 The Lost Works (mode 55)
  • Vol.17 The Piano Works 3 (mode 63)
  • Vol.38 The Number Pieces 4 (mode 186)
  • Vol.39 The Number Pieces 5 (mode 193) [NB: Mistagged on Spotify as Vol.38]

The total playlist now numbers 33 albums (out of 45), and 426 tracks.

Cage Edition on Spotify – now even more complete

A few more of Mode’s John Cage recordings have recently appeared on Spotify. I’ve added them to the Complete John Cage Edition playlist, in sequence with the rest. They are:

  • Vol.4 Music for Merce Cunningham (mode 24)
  • Vol.7 Freeman Etudes, Books 1 & 2 (mode 32)
  • Vol.9 Freeman Etudes, Books 3 & 4 (mode 37)
  • Vol.45 The Works for Percussion II (mode 243)

The total playlist now numbers 26 albums (out of 45), and 320 tracks.

Hat tip to Ulyssestone for alerting me to these.

Radio Rambler fans: It has been a while, I know, but look out for an update to your playlist in the coming days.

The (incomplete) Complete John Cage Edition on Spotify

Apropos of nothing at all, but feel free to attach Jubilympic branding to it if you so wish, I’ve compiled as much as I can find on Spotify of Mode Records’ Complete John Cage Edition into one monster playlist. It adds up to 441 tracks, or more than one full day of music.

It’s not the complete run of what is published: not all of it is available digitally (Vol.1 is only available as a very limited run LP, for example), and some volumes (such as Vol.31),  are only available on DVD. But it’s still pretty good, especially with the more recent releases. With some help from Ulyseestone I’ve managed to wrestle the following from Spotify’s less-than-perfect search engine:

Vol.2 Atlas Eclipticalis with Winter Music (mode 3/6)
Vol.4 Music for Merce Cunningham (mode 24)
Vol.5 Complete String Quartets 2 (mode 27) [first three tracks missing because of mislabelling]
Vol.6 Roaratorio; Laughtears; Writing for the Second Time Through
Finnegan’s Wake (mode 28/29, 2-CDs)
Vol.7 Freeman Etudes, Books 1 & 2 (mode 32)
Vol.8 Europera 5 (mode 36)
Vol.9 Freeman Etudes, Books 3 & 4 (mode 37)
Vol.11 Orchestral Works 1 (mode 41)
Vol.12 The Number Pieces 1 (mode 44)
Vol.13 The Piano Works 1 (mode 47)
Vol.14 Piano Works 2: Sonatas & Interludes (mode 50)
Vol.15 The Lost Works (mode 55)
Vol.16 The Piano Concertos (mode 57)
Vol.17 The Piano Works 3 (mode 63)
Vol.18 The Choral Works 1 (mode 71)
Vol.19 Number Pieces 2/Complete String Quartets 3: Five3 (mode 75)
Vol.22 Works for Violin 3 (mode 88)
Vol.24 Works for Saxophone 1 (mode 104)
Vol.25 The Piano Works 4 (mode 106)
Vol.26 Orchestral Works 3 (mode 108)
Vol.27 Works for Violin 5 (mode 118)
Vol.28 The Piano Works 5 (mode 123) [NB: Incorrectly labelled Piano Works 6]
Vol.29 The Piano Works 6 (mode 147)
Vol.32 Number Pieces 3: One8 (mode 141)
Vol.33 Works for Violin 5/Complete String Quartets 4: 44 Harmonies;
Cheap Imitation (mode 144/145, 2-CDs)
Vol.34 The Piano Works 7 (mode 158)
Vol.35 A Cage of Saxophones 2 (mode 160)
Vol.37 Complete Short Works for Prepared Piano (mode 180/181)
Vol.38 The Number Pieces 4 (mode 186)
Vol.39 The Number Pieces 5 (mode 193) [NB: Mistagged on Spotify as Vol.38]
Vol.41 Cage Performs Cage (mode 200)
Vol.42 A Cage of Saxophones Vols. 3 & 4 (mode 222/23)
Vol.43 The Works for Percussion 1 (mode 229, CD & DVD)
Vol.44 The Number Pieces 6 (mode 239)
Vol.45 The Works for Percussion 2 (mode 243)

Spotify and such

I’ve been a little quiet/swamped with other things recently, but since my Radio Rambler Spotify playlists were mentioned in no less than the New York Times over the weekend, I thought I ought briefly to pop my head over the parapet.

Steve Smith (of Night after Night) wrote a lengthy introduction to the pros and cons of Spotify for the benefit of its many potential new users in the US. Here’s what he said about Radio Rambler:

[P]laylists assembled by other users have made me aware of recordings I didn’t even know existed. The day Spotify arrived in America, Tim Rutherford-Johnson, an English copy editor and new-music blogger, welcomed newcomers with a brilliant playlist devoted to contemporary-classical riches gleaned from Spotify, including an album of works by the Italian composer Fausto Romitelli promptly added to my to-purchase list.

There’s currently a debate raging on Twitter, across the blogs and in other such hot-headed places about the relative merits of Spotify. Interestingly, the conversation (so far as I’ve been aware of it) has been around its financial value for the artists, and its potential role in saving an ailing music industry. I’m slightly too young to remember the reception accorded to CDs when they first arrived, but I’m sure music-lovers weren’t couching their arguments against the new technology in such economic terms. And anyway, doesn’t this seem like a topsy-turvy way to evaluate a new service – how well it will perform economically, rather than how valuable it is as a consumer experience?

Look, Spotify probably isn’t the answer, or at least the final answer, to music sales and distribution in the online age. But solid-state media probably aren’t either, and, weirdly, MP3s seem even less so right now (who wants to spend their life synching their iTunes library between their phone, iPad and laptop?). There is a gigantic demand for streaming music services. Spotify and other similar applications provide a way of servicing that demand in a way that is both legal and generates revenue. It is the job of record companies to negotiate, on behalf of their artists, an appropriate balance of payments; but can the rest of us – like Steve – not just continue discovering what’s out there?

Welcome to Spotify, America!

Finally – America has Spotify! It’s time to see whether streaming music really can be a viable online model for the music industry and musicians.

It’s also time to admit that Spotify (its search engine and the metadata it has to work with) is massively flawed. It can often seem like a confusing, unnavigable mess. Label search in particular, which should be great, so often isn’t. Fortunately for new music fans like yourselves, there’s Radio Rambler to help you through the maze. Celebrate the arrival of US Spotify by subscribing now to Radio Rambler for semi-regularly updated playlists of the best contemporary composition the celestial jukebox has to offer.

The current playlist looks like this, but I’ll be updating it soon – stay tuned:

Aldo ClementiOuverture
Toru Takemitsu – Ran – Opening Credits / Main Title
Georges Aperghis – Machinations – I
Fausto Romitelli – Flowing Down Too Slow
Aldo Clementi – Fantasia su roBErto FABbriCiAni
Iannis Xenakis – Tetras (JACK Quartet)
Milton Babbitt – Whirled Series
Elliott Carter – Dialogues
James Clarke – Untitled No.3
Graham Fitkin – Log
Salvatore Sciarrino – Let me die before I wake
Jonathan Cole – tss-k-haa
Brian Ferneyhough – Bone Alphabet
Gérard Pesson – La lumiere n’a pas de bras pour nous porter
Kevin Volans – Kneeling Dance
Robin Holloway – Third Concerto for Orchestra
Simon Holt – eco-pavan
Pascal Dusapin – Clam (Solo no.4 for orchestra)
Michel van der Aa – here (to be found)
Toru Takemitsu – Requiem

And don’t forget the International Women’s Day playlist that I put together in March – that’s still available here.

There’s also an archive playlist of all tracks that have previously featured on RR.

Making music pay online: a musician follows up

Bassist Steve Lawson – whose blog is a frequently thoughtful and provocative contribution to the ongoing music/internet/making a living debate – has posted his own thoughts on the Information is Beautiful chart that I critiqued in my last post. Like me, he is sceptical that the information as presented by Information is Beautiful gives a full picture of the economic factors behind physical, downloading and streaming models of music retail. But Steve takes a different, more pragmatic line, clearly distinguishing the different roles played by purchases (physical and mp3) and streams within the whole music-sales ecosphere:

anyone who thinks that Spotify – or any other streaming service based on the same economic model – is going to pay them a wage is on ’shrooms. That’s both a specious understanding of the value of ‘a listen’ vs ‘a download’ […] and also ignores the number of the events at the top of the list that are intrinsically reliant on events at the bottom of the list, that streaming and sales are cause and effect.

Spotify isn’t a replacement for CDs. It’s a replacement for adverts. It’s not stealing money from sales, it’s saving money from promo.

[…]

It’s fundamentally about the costless replacement of the irreparably broken role of the paid ‘gate-keepers’ who acted in the old system as a deeply expensive and impenetrable barrier between musicians and their potential audience.

Read more here. His critique of Spotify may be worth your time too.

A deeper look at how much musicians make online

Information is Beautiful have just published a chart comparing how much artists and labels earn according to the royalty deals of various real and digital music formats. The results are interesting in themselves: to break the US minimum wage of $1,160 every month, a recording artist must sell somewhere between 1,161 and 3,871 retail albums (depending on the deal they strike with their label); but to reach the same figure through Spotify earnings in a month they need to hit over 4.5 million plays. iTunes, Napster, Amazon, Rhapsody and Last.fm all fall somewhere between those two extremes.

That looks like a pretty damning indictment of the digital model of music retail. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

IIB’s chart doesn’t factor in the relative popularity of digital streams over physical purchases. You might need nearly 4,000-times as many streams on Spotify as you do physical purchases, but is that number achievable? How does it look compared to what is actually happening?

To be fair, it probably doesn’t look like a bridgeable gap at the moment: in the aftermath of Michael Jackson’s death Spotify registered around 10 million requests for Jackson’s music in 20 hours. It’s hard to imagine a scenario more likely to drive Spotify demand, but even then we’re talking thousands of dollars, not even tens of thousands.

But that still doesn’t tell the whole story. Online streaming of music is only likely to grow as a retail model so, even if royalty rates don’t improve (and, as the model increases in profitability, those rates can always be renegotiated), artist revenues are going to increase. At the time of its ‘Michael Jackson moment’, Spotify wasn’t even in the US, so was making those millions of plays solely on its recently-established European market. CD sales, even if they will persist in some small number for many years yet, look likely to decrease or bottom out in the coming years: no one is predicting that sales will increase.

What this means is that although the differential of 4,000 Spotify plays to one CD album sale looks a long way off now, it’s only going to get more and more likely as CD sales drop off and streaming grows. And it doesn’t take much of an increase in the per-track royalty rate to rapidly shrink that figure: while IIB quote artist royalties of $0.00043 per track for Spotify, that increases to $0.0022 for Rhapsody, meaning 732 Rhapsody streams equal one high-royalty physical sale.

So the present may not be rosy yet for artists selling their music online, but we have only just begun in the last couple of years to get this right, and it is only going to get better. What is really interesting from the IIB figures, and something that really should prick the ears of artists, is a comparison of royalty rates between labels and artists over the differing formats. The data for the following table are taken entirely on IIB’s chart. Because I’m interested here in the relationship between artist and label earnings, I’ve left out the entries for self-publishing formats.

Format sale price label revenue artist revenue label/artist
Retail CD (high-end deal) 9.99 $2.00 $1.00 2
Napster/iTunes, album 9.99 $6.29 $0.94 6.69
Retail CD (low-end deal) 9.99 $2.00 $0.30 6.67
Amazon/iTunes, track 0.99 $0.63 $0.09 7
Rhapsody fixed $0.0091 $0.0022 4.14
Last.fm* fixed $0.00015 $0.005 0.03
Spotify fixed $0.0017 $0.00043 3.95

*IIB admit themselves that they don’t fully understand Last.fm’s royalties model, so there is the possibility of error in these figures. Update: And they’re beside the point now anyway, since Last.fm have announced today that they’re giving up on streaming. (Thanks Halvard!)

I’ve added the right-hand column myself to indicate the ratio of total royalty earnings between label and artist. A figure of 1 in this column would mean that the artist and label receive an equal share of the available royalties from each sale. Figures greater than one reflect a larger share for the label; less than one a larger share for the artist.

Several things become clear from this. Setting aside the Last.fm figures as a potential outlier, iIt is clear that the best deal ratio-wise is still to get a good contract on physical CD sales but even then the label will make twice as much as you for each sale. Even a bad deal on retail CDs will give you a better cut, proportionately against your label, than the three main mp3 stores, Amazon, Napster and iTunes (no figures here for emusic). Track sales through iTunes, the model everyone gets excited about, offers the worst royalties ratio for artists of all formats surveyed: labels receive 7 times as much of the available royalties than artists.

Now look at the streaming services. They may, on a sale-by-sale basis, offer much smaller royalties than physical or even mp3 sales, but in terms of how much of the available royalty stream is going into artists’ pockets rather than labels’, they’re a much better deal. Neither artist nor label gets treated well by the current royalty models of the streaming services, but that’s largely a function of new technologies entering unknown markets: there’s not a lot of profit to spread around yet. But, within that, artists and labels are being treated on much more equitable terms than they are by any of the physical or mp3 options available: those 7:1 ratios under iTunes improve to 4:1 or better with Rhapsody and Spotify.

If those Last.fm figures as published here are correct they offer an insanely good deal for artists in the long run. But even if those numbers are open to question, Rhapsody and Spotify offer deals that compete well, in ratio terms, with those for retail CDs. If the market for streaming services grows to replace the collapsing CD retail sector, artists will rapidly see the benefits.

Update, 28 March 2014: Since this post was written, Spotify have revealed much more about how their royalty system works for artists. I’ve made some remarks on this in this post.