Let’s answer the main question right out of the gate: the reason Taylor Swift brought her albums back onto Spotify and to platforms she’s overlooked in the past few years, like Amazon Music and Pandora Premium, isn’t because Katy Perry released Witness (although it may have something to do with the timing) or because Swift’s last album, 1989, sold 10 million copies (this is the official reasoning for the release) — it’s because of the new licensing deal between her distributor Universal Music Group and Spotify, and the realities of releasing music in 2017.
The new deal between UMG and Spotify allows for artists to choose to window new albums (or make them unavailable to free users) for up to two weeks after their initial release — a huge win for the label, and a sticking point for Swift. Streams from paid users pay far better than streams from ad-supported users on Spotify, and Swift is nothing if not fully in control of her content and her finances.
In 2014, the last time Taylor Swift released an album, people still bought albums. She pulled her catalog from Spotify the week 1989 was released, stating the service doesn’t pay artists fairly and doesn’t give them enough control over their content. “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music,” Swift told Yahoo at the time.
The experiment isn’t an experiment anymore.
In 2016, streaming became the dominant revenue driver for the music industry — when 1989 was released, it made up 27 percent of the revenue. Spotify grew from 10 million paying customers in 2014 to 50 million this year. Swift can’t ignore that.
Even Adele, a notorious hater of streaming, admitted that she would eventually catch up with the times shortly after she released 25 at the end of 2015, despite holding the album off streaming services for seven months. “I know that streaming music is the future, but it’s not the only way to consume music,” Adele told Time back in 2015. With an older audience used to buying albums, Adele might be able to stand on this for another release. Swift doesn’t have that luxury.
Make no mistake, Swift is one of the shrewdest businesspeople in the music industry, and she will get every dollar she’s earned. But in 2017, keeping your catalog off streaming services won’t help you maximize your earning potential or appease your fans.
You could argue Swift won both of her corporate fights in the music industry. She got Apple Music to pay artists during its trial period, and Spotify agreed to a two week windowing period for new albums. (The latter had far less to do with Swift and more to do with Spotify trying to stay afloat as a company charging toward an IPO, but a win is a win.)
This is simply the first time it’s felt right in my gut to stream my album. Thank you, Apple, for your change of heart.
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 25, 2015
While Spotify may have lost the initial battle, it didn’t lose the war, and frankly neither did Swift. This is a calculated armistice that allows both sides to retreat to their base and claim victory. 1989 is finally on the world’s largest streaming service, and Swift will get paid more and have more control over her content going forward.
The real winner here is the Swift fans and Spotify users, who can finally listen to the most popular artist in the US without hassle.