Is Taylor Swift taking a stand against Spotify, or spouting propaganda for Google?

Taylor Swift
Last week Taylor Swift yanked her music from Spotify in a dramatic effort to stand against the devaluation of music … or she said at the time. In an interview, Swift called Spotify a “grand experiment,” that perpetuates the perception that music has no value.” But legendary British folk star Billy Bragg proposed a less benevolent reason for Swift’s split with Spotify: a “corporate power play.”

In a Facebook post, Bragg claims that Swift’s grand stance against streaming music is nothing more than a veil to discredit Spotify as she transitions to become the marquee artist for the forthcoming music streaming service from YouTube (meaning Google), Music Key, which offers access to the entire Google Play Music library, as well as music videos, and other added features. Bragg went so far as to assert that Swift has “sold (her) soul to Google.” Oh no you didn’t, Billy!

Bragg claims that Swift’s grand stance against streaming music is nothing more than a veil to discredit Spotify.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for representatives for Taylor Swift to respond to Bragg’s claims. According to the BBC, a spokesperson for the artist denied the rumor outright, saying, “Taylor Swift has had absolutely no discussion or agreement of any kind with Google’s new streaming service.”

Updated 11/19/2014 3:12 PST: We have been in contact with a YouTube representative who backed up Swift’s claims, telling us that any allegations about Google making a direct deal with Taylor Swift for Music Key are “patently false.” While Taylor Swift’s back catalog of music is available on YouTube, and by extension Music Key, only the first two single releases of her new album ‘1989’ are currently available, including ‘Shake it off,’ and ‘Blank Space.’ We’ve also added information to clarify the difference between YouTube, and YouTube’s Music Key.

It’s perhaps necessary to draw a distinction between the two prevalent forms of streaming services here, which include the free, ad-based format that mimics traditional radio, and the subscription-based model for which most users pay around $10 per month. That distinction is important in this case. Though Swift didn’t explicitly blame Spotify’s free service as her impetus for ditching the site — which has 50 million users, compared to 12.5 million who pay —  her entire tirade about the failing’s of streaming music was based around its perpetuation that music should be totally free, likening free music to ripping off the corner of a painting in a museum. Sony was so convinced Swift was specifically targeting the ad-based model, the company recently claimed it was rethinking ad-based streaming altogether.

(Image courtesy of Billy Bragg)

Spotify has both free and subscription services under its umbrella, and while Google’s new service will be strictly subscription-based, as Bragg points out, YouTube will continue to offer ad-based access to its content, just like Spotify. In fact, we’ve recently been assured by a YouTube representative that all video content available on Music Key will also be available on YouTube, with the biggest difference being added features such as the ability to cache playlists and videos and take them offline. In addition, those who sign up for YouTube’s paid service will get a subscription to Google Play Music, and vice versa.

It would appear, then, that Taylor Swift’s dispute is less of a condemnation of either free or subscription based music streaming services at large, and more of a pointed attack on Spotify in particular. It’s worth noting that her music still appears on several other streaming services, as well.

It should also be mentioned that Billy Bragg is a big fan of Spotify, and not so much of Google. In fact, in his post, Bragg called YouTube, ” the greatest threat to any commercially based streaming service.”

Bragg called YouTube, ”the greatest threat to any commercially based streaming service.”

Why would Google create a service that competes directly with YouTube? Bragg claims that Google is employing the “Starbucks strategy” when it comes to music services. As he puts it, “…it doesn’t matter if your own coffee shops on every corner are competing with one another, so long as they ultimately put all of your rivals out of business.” That’s a rather troubling metaphor for those who use streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Beats Music, and other smaller up-and-comers such as Mad Genius Radio.

Bragg has been getting so much flack for his statement, and his connections with Spotify, the artist has issued another statement on his Facebook page, clarifying his relationship with the streaming service.

While the latest he said/she said is certainly interesting, the larger question at hand is whether or not streaming services hurt or help the ailing music industry and its artists. A lot of numbers have been thrown around from both sides, with Swift and Spotify trading facts on just how much artists actually get paid from streaming services. Billboard even reported yesterday that Pandora has released the result of a new study claiming its service has helped to buoy music sales. Of course, the study the company cited was also done in-house.

As streaming sites increasingly supplant music downloads as the go-to way to listen, the entire industry approaches yet another tunnel on the train of technology, with no assurance of what will be waiting on the other side. From the dawn of Napster in the early 2000s to today’s streaming tumult, technological shifts have thrown a wrench into the way music should be made, and how musicians make a living. One thing’s for sure: there are no easy answers.

We’ll continue to follow this story, as well as the larger moving pieces as the industry continues to evolve. Stay with us for more updates.

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