For this week’s column, I asked a good friend and frequent band-mate – Seattle-based drummer Tarik Abouzied – to give his unique perspective into Spotify (and the streaming model, in general). Tarik had written a column in my stead here at No Treble once before regarding bass playing from the drummers perspective and everybody loved his insights. Tarik writes quite a bit on his blog and Patreon page about the music industry from a myriad of different angles. I’m sure this one is sure to get a conversation started!
This was in response to a general question a reader sent in about my perspective on Spotify as a music platform and whether or not I thought they should provide their music as content. I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer but my take has always been that all exposure is good and having your music wherever people listen to it is a good thing. I never expected to make a significant amount of my money by selling music but, rather, by recording, touring, and teaching it. Tarik, on the other hand, has a lot of strong opinions about… everything. Couple that with a sharp mind and a unique sense of humor and I immediately thought to ask him to expound upon the question.
Here is what Tarik said:
“Put on Spotify.”
“I just listen to Pandora.”
You don’t put on Spotify any more than you put on Comcast. You don’t listen to Pandora any more than you watch Regal Cinemas. You do watch Netflix because they, unlike Spotify and Pandora, invest in the creation of original content. Streaming platforms are content providers, not content creators. They don’t support the creation of music; instead, they actively make its creation harder by both driving down its financial value and, more importantly, destroying the listening experience and connection to artists.
There’s a reason Apple has a whole department of designers and marketers who focus on every detail of their stores and packaging. They want to control and optimize the way their customers interact with and experience their products for the first time. Phones and computers are laid out neatly in a warm, spacious environment free of clutter and distractions. Their website is the same. A tiny logo appears once, dwarfed by a huge banner highlighting the beautiful thing they actually make. The primary connection they’re cultivating is to their products, not their brand.
Contrast that with Spotify’s website:
Spotify. Millions of songs for free.
The thing they make is invisible because they don’t make anything. No wonder it’s free. And though the headline is “Music for everyone,” what do you get when you sign up? You get Spotify. The connection they’re cultivating is to Spotify, not to millions of free songs.
Let’s move further down the line. What happens when you buy an Apple product? You get a beautiful, meticulously designed package that makes the beautiful, meticulously designed gadget inside feel even more valuable and special. Opening the package is such a visceral experience that “unboxing” videos on YouTube get millions of views. The connection to your phone or computer, and indirectly to Apple, has been reinforced a dozen times within minutes of using your new toy. You’re happy, proud, and likely to show off and rave about what you just bought.
What happens when you join Spotify? You’re redirected here:
SPOTIFY. TRY OUR PREMIUM SERVICE FOR FREE AND THEN GIVE US MONEY.*
*(terms and conditions)
Oh yeah, scroll down for music.
Still, no artists featured, and the word “free” has appeared three times. You’ve been presented with nothing of value. All you know is there’s something called Spotify that gives you free music. Assuming you don’t want to sign up for the trial (I don’t), you download their app, which looks like this:
Center stage is Spotify’s playlists of dozens of artists, organized by pop genres and listed under pictures of airbrushed sexy people who are apparently averse to sunlight. On the right-hand sidebar is a list of social media connections in bold, with the songs and artists they listen to in a smaller font underneath. The only pleasure I’ve gotten so far is the appropriately poached picture of me flipping the bird as the header for my personalized playlist.
What are the chances the user will connect to the artist they end up hearing after being bombarded with free offers and selecting a playlist in an interface cluttered with endless lists of songs? More likely, they’ll navigate to a list that matches their mood, press play, and stop paying attention, relegating the work of two million artists to passive consumption. Background music. By design, the most enduring connection will be to Spotify as a platform, not to the artists who supply that platform with its content.
For that experience, free seems like a reasonable price. Why would anyone pay more than $10/month for that?
As a music fan, I find the best way to connect to new artists and the ones I love is to engage with them as directly as possible without any “curating” tech giants in the way. I ask my music-fan friends for recommendations, find venues that host quality shows, mine their websites for new artists, go see openers I don’t know, and listen to radio stations that don’t have a financial incentive to have me care more about them than the music. When I do find an artist I like, I buy physical or digital copies of their music on Bandcamp or the seller they list on their website. I support them, not a company with a multi-billion dollar market cap.
As artists, our livelihoods and ability to keep creating music depend on a supportive connection with the people who listen to what we make. That’s why I will 1) stop uploading my music to streaming platforms until listeners have had a good chance to actively engage with it and 2) continue using platforms like Bandcamp, Patreon, and, to a degree of confliction, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, that facilitate an active, real connection with the people who like what I do.
About Tarik Abouzied: Tarik Abouzied is a Seattle-based drummer and bassist, Sabian-endorsed artist, and founder of Happy Orchestra. He has performed with Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band), Skerik, Brian Haas, Jessica Lurie, Nigel Hall, Mike Stern, Damian Erskine, Joe Doria, and many others. As an educator, he has led clinics and classrooms at universities and schools internationally and maintains a studio of a drum set, guitar, bass, piano, and music theory students. Visit his website for more.