A Letter To Taylor Swift

Blank Space
Blank Space

Hey bae, we need to talk about how you pulled your music from Spotify.

I remember it happening. I was on a bench at my college’s gym, and I heard the ending melody of T.I.’s “No Mediocre.” I’ve spent enough time immersed in my workout playlist to know “Shake It Off” comes next. Or, well, that’s what should’ve happened.

As you well know, I wasn’t met with a forceful “I stay out too late,” because you decided to pull the entirety of your music collection from Spotify.

Intrigued after my workout, I set off on an Internet search to get to the bottom of why you did this. I came across my answer pretty quickly.

In your recent Wall Street Journal article, you said, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”

This clearly references the idea that Spotify is a free service for non-Premium members, and since these members can listen to your music for free, they’re not providing financial worth to your art.

I see your point, and as a concept, it makes sense to me. Music is art, and you want your art to be held to a standard that reflects compensation.

But pulling your Spotify catalog isn’t helping you.

You’re turning a blind eye to the reality that not all of your fans can afford a $12 album. To a celebrity in your financial standing, it may be difficult to envision, but trust me — it’s a reality that many of us face. When you’re poor, $12 can genuinely be the difference between whether you have enough grocery money for the week.

It also doesn’t help that your audience is most susceptible to being broke. I don’t think you need statistics to know a huge chunk of your fans are teenagers, college students and 20-something recent college graduates. If teenage and college students come from low-income families, they may not have the money to spend on an album. Recent college graduates are also making the lowest salaries in their lives and are likely paying back expensive student loans.

Plus, consider if every artist follows your precedent. If listening to an artist’s album required a $12 prerequisite, how reasonable would it be for anyone of low socioeconomic status to keep up with artists?

Yes, your music is art and deserves reasonable compensation, but the reasonable compensation should be scaled to a person’s background. Music isn’t like fine art hung in the living rooms of affluent homeowners; it’s an inherent cultural underpinning to our society. Almost everyone listens to music. We’re bombarded by it on our computers, radios, offices, headphones, parties and daily conversations. In the same way that you deserve universal compensation for music, society deserves universal access to it.

Lack of access is downright crippling. In the case of mega stars like you who are frequently a topic of conversation, lack of access restricts our knowledge of basic information. It also creates a barrier for the general enjoyment of the arts, something I’m sure you don’t want.

So let’s figure out a way that we both can get what we want. I’ve prepared three options that I believe can make us both happy.

First, I’d like you to consider the idea of putting your catalogue back on Spotify. Seventy percent of their profits go to music labels, so they do care about artists making money. With Spotify increasing as a brand, it will generate more revenue and therefore compensate artists like you more. It may never become as significant as album sales, but it has the potential to become more significant. I promise.

Now, you may think this leaves a hole in your demand: non-Premium users aren’t financially compensating you for your art. While they wouldn’t be paying you money, they would pay costs to listen to your music. In my economics classes, we often talk about costs lying outside the financial. If a user isn’t paying for Premium, they must listen to commercials while online. Those interested in listening to your art must pay a cost of listening to ads — paying with their literal time — to hear your music. Maybe it’s not the form of compensation you’re looking for, but I think it’s a valuable one if you meditate on it.

Second, you could work a deal with Spotify so only Premium subscribers could hear your music. Those that have a premium subscription have to pay $10 a month, so if only those members could listen to your music, they would indirectly pay for your music. Though this could be a difficult cost for lower-SES subscribers, it’s a stronger alternative than the idea of each person having to pay more than that for every album.

Third, if you really insist that people make a direct and intentional payment for your art, you could use a “pay what you can” method. Instead of a flat cost, your online site could have a sales section where the user inputs the price they pay. You could include a suggested dollar donation as the store price, and you could also require a $1 minimum. This way, you get paid for your art and people can afford to purchase it.

Plus, I don’t think this would lead to everyone paying $1 for albums. Businesses like Panera Bread have incorporated pay-what-you-can methods and make approximately 75 percent of the list price. The time it would take to ship CDs would also cause people who can afford your album to buy it in stores. It would just provide your fans, that are struggling, with an alternative to still hear your music, and those that really love it would pay you more.

And luckily, you don’t have to worry about missing that 25 percent profit because you’re a multi-millionaire. You never have to worry about being so poor at 15 that asking for a green pepper starts a fight with your family because someone doesn’t think it’s affordable.

People paying less than the album price for your art may not be the most ideal situation, but think about the alternatives. Though your album sold so well, at 3.66 million copies in 2014, we both know that significantly more people in our country of 320 million people own your album. Illegal streaming and sharing CDs are simplistic and reliable methods that people can use to get music. Since people will utilize these options when they can’t afford your music, providing cheaper opportunities could serve as a compromise that gets everyone what they want.

Taylor, I’ve been a fan of yours since I was 12 years old. I lay on my blue and yellow comforter listening to “Teardrops On My Guitar.” At 15, “You Belong With Me” became my anthem as I developed a crush on someone who didn’t reciprocate the feeling. “22” became the jam that helped glue the highlights of a college road trip in my heart.

So please, don’t leave a blank space in my memories where 1989 should go. TC mark

This article was previously published in the Michigan Daily

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