The other day, I read on Engadget that Taylor Swift is not a fan of the music streaming “experiment.” I’ve been wanting to comment on that for the past few days, when it hit me that I totally have a non-tax blog that nobody reads. What a perfect subject to tackle on that corner of the interwebs!

First of all, calling anything that was available on my wife’s original Zune before anyone knew what a Taylor Swift was (I would have guessed a dry cleaning company) an “experiment” is a bit odd, unless you’re talking about the curious brown and green color combination, but that’s not what I want to talk about right now.

Let’s take the two colors most commonly associated with poop and go with it.
Thanks, um, Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung, for the pic

From what I can tell, Ms. Swift and I don’t exactly live similar lifestyles. I mean, we both live in the Greatest Gosh Darn Country in the World, and we both speak a language that somehow came out of an island a tenth the size of the US (feel free to check my math on that), and I would guess, based on her blond hair and pasty complexion, that we’re both intimately familiar with the pain of sunburns. Beyond that, we’re not exactly running in the same social circles.

I can see how it would be easy to for someone of Taylor Swift’s standing to see the abysmal payout rates of programs like Spotify and think, “wow, that’s ridiculous.” When your latest album goes on to sell more copies than my kids have grains of sand left in their sandbox (we’re not counting the amount they’ve dragged in the house. That comparison wouldn’t be fair), that’s a pretty easy position to have.

How many other artists are in that position, though? Well, since her ‘1989’ had the best selling start since Eminem’s height of popularity over a decade ago, I’d say ‘none.’ But let’s combine all those other best selling musicians and groups like Justin Timberlake and Coldplay and Radiohead. Whether or not you think they deserve it, their music will sell no matter how it’s package (even in a green and brown Zune). Would they have sold better if we were living in the year Taylor Swift is trying to repopularize (1989 – the perfect blend of terrible synth pop and flat top hair), before the internet could figure out whether or not You’ve Got Mail? Almost certainly. But, as much as the recording industry would like those days to return, they’re not.

So what happened in the meantime? Oh, that Napster thing, along with all its successors. How do you convince a generation that grew up trying to rationalize that illegally downloading music ‘wasn’t hurting anyone’ to pay up? I’m not 100% sure, but I think telling them they can have their soul back for the low price of $10 per month is a good start.

I loved discovering new music in college, but when I finally decided that illegally downloading crap didn’t align with that pesky morality thing, I virtually gave up music altogether. The price of a CD or the purchase of a track just didn’t seem worth it after years of binge downloads. The early subscription model of eMusic started to wean me back into the music world, but it wasn’t until the Zune Pass came along (now Xbox Music), that I started really getting into it again. Now I could have all the music I wanted without worrying that the police would shoot me in the back of the head.

For that mere $10 a month, I’ve discovered all kinds of music I never would have listened to before, EVEN IF I had still been torrenting like a madman. Not only is it more convenient to find new stuff without getting digital herpes, but the fact that the music had some cost made me want to enjoy my investment. That’s how I discovered great acts like The Revivalists, Typhoon, and Frightened Rabbit. That’s how I became a fan of Frank Turner and The National.

So how much money does the artist get from me? When using Xbox Music, I can feel a little better about myself because of its relatively high payout. Still, even if I were to use Spotify, which pays a painfully low .5 cents a listen, it’s better than what they would have gotten. Let me use Frank Turner as an example to make it clear (I don’t know how much musicians get from concert tickets, so I’ll guess 1/3 of face):

How Much Frank Turner Makes From Tim Gordon
With Streaming Music: Approximately $10 From Streaming and + $12 in Concert Tickets = $22
Without Streaming Music: $0 From Music Purchase + $0 in Concert Tickets = $0

I swear I’m not a Frank Turner evangelist but HOLY CRAP LOOK IT’S FRANK TURNER
(Thanks Fred Rockwood for the pic in a place that’s easier to sort than my picture collection)

Since I’m an accountant, I can say without reservation that the first one is better for Frank Turner than the second, at least on the individual level.

Now, would a talented musician like Frank Turner be better off in aggregate without streaming? Maybe. He is on the radio every now and then. But considering how many people in my generation were raised with a similar mind set as me, I sincerely doubt it. And what is a handful more album sales to significantly less exposure?

When it comes to even smaller acts that aren’t on the radio, the answer is almost certainly no. For many, many musicians out there, it’s a trade-off between zero dollars and a few dollars.

Considering that I run an accounting blog where I’m happy if I get a dollar in a day, I know that I would choose the latter. Continuing in that thought, had this whole “internet thing” not commoditize writing, Dan Brown probably would have done (financially) better, but thousands upon thousands of amateurs and hobbyist would never have had a chance. Is that right? I’m clearly not unbiased in this, but I think so.

Heck, back to music, several bands allow you to listen to all their music for free! They’re just trying to get their name out. Honestly, most of them will never be successful, even though some are extremely talented. Why not allow them to get paid .5 cents a listen instead of having them pay for the streaming bandwidth?

Where was a going with all this? I don’t really know, I lost myself a few paragraphs back.

Maybe I have the wrong end of this and Taylor Swift will make a huge change to the world by refusing to play her music on Spotify. Maybe this sacrifice will appeal to the Music Gods, who will Descend Among Us to extract more cash out of John and Jane Music Listener and bequeath their gains upon the musicians of the world.

More likely it’ll lead to the Taylor Swifts of the world getting a larger share of the streaming pie, leaving the lowly indie rocker with an even smaller portion of dregs. I wonder if she’d still refuse to stream her music if that ends up being the case.