UPDATE: BILLY BRAGG HAS APOLOGIZED. SEE BELOW.
Yes, Billy Bragg is is the super cool British songwriting icon with a sharp wit and a penchant for social justice that many know and love, and Taylor Swift is the American pop princess with shallow radio singles selling out stadiums and amassing more money than God in a bid for nothing short of world domination. But the shade Billy threw Taylor over her decision to pull her music from Spotify, though conveying some logic and insight, is riddled with spite, and rooted in a wild-ass conspiracy theory with absolutely no factual basis.
In short, Billy Bragg accuses Taylor Swift of pulling her music from Soptify in favor of Google and YouTube’s new Music Key streaming service as a means of making money on an undisclosed endorsement deal, thereby discrediting all of her rhetoric about standing up for the value of art and the fair compensation of songwriters. Bragg says Taylor “sold her soul” to Google.
“But she should just be honest with her fans and say ‘sorry, but Sergey Brin gave me a huge amount of money to be the headline name on the marquee for the launch of You Tube Music Key and so I’ve sold my soul to Google’,” Billy Bragg says (read full statement below). “Google are going after Spotify and Taylor Swift has just chosen sides. That’s her prerogative as a savvy businesswoman but please don’t try to sell this corporate power play to us as some sort of altruistic gesture in solidarity with struggling music makers.”
Bragg’s accusation is that Taylor Swift has become the poster girl for YouTube’s Music Key, but no such relationship exists. A detailed combing of the entirety of Music Key’s internet properties, advertising, verbiage, images, or any other media finds not a single mention of Taylor Swift whatsoever, let alone a “headline name on a marquee” as asserted by Bragg. There’s no “Subscribe to the service Taylor Swift is still on.” There’s no pictures of Taylor Swift. Nothing. At all.
Furthermore a spokesperson for Taylor Swift has confirmed, “Taylor Swift has had absolutely no discussion or agreement of any kind with Google’s new music streaming service.”
Something else not taken into account by Billy Bragg is that Taylor Swift’s music also remains on Beats streaming service and other streaming services beyond Google and YouTube’s Music Key. If her intent was to undermine other streamers in favor of Google, why wouldn’t she pull her music from all streaming services?
The fact that Taylor Swift only pulled her music from Spotify and not other streamers has been one of the most under-reported and important notes to her Spotify decision, and Saving Country Music has been attempting to reinforce that point ever since Taylor’s Spotify decision was made. For most artists, the default in their distribution deals is for their music to appear on music streamers unless it is explicitly stated for it not to. For Taylor’s music to not appear on Google’s streaming services, she may have to serve these companies with takedown notices, meaning just because her music appears on a service doesn’t mean she explicitly decided to have it there. Taylor Swift may not even know that her music is being made available on these new streamers, or it may have to do more with the payouts Spotify gives to artists compared to other services.
Something else Billy Bragg asserts is, “You might ask yourself why Google are setting up a commercial streaming service that will ultimately have to compete with their own You Tube behemoth? My hunch is that they are following a ‘Starbucks strategy’: 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.”
It is somewhat curious why Google needs to have two streaming options under their umbrella, and Bragg may have a point. But industry analysts have believed that Google’s split of their streaming services is because Google Play is meant more for use on mobile devices such as phones, while YouTube’s Music Key is more about integrating music streaming into the already-established YouTube format, which has become one of the leading places to stream music especially for PC use. There may be some overlap in the two services, but they don’t necessarily compete with each other.
Audiophiles, Billy Bragg fans, and people generally distrusting of big music stars and corporations will herald Billy Bragg as a hero for exposing Taylor Swift’s evil plan that attempts to placate music makers while in truth she is undermining them. And yes, there is no doubt that there is a financial motivation to Swift pulling her music from Spotify that music be weighed against her altruistic assertions. But in a word, Billy Bragg’s conspiracy theory is bullshit.
Billy Bragg’s full message:
What a shame that Taylor Swift’s principled stand against those who would give her music away for free has turned out to be nothing more than a corporate power play. On pulling her music from Spotify recently, she made a big issue of the fact that the majority of the streaming service’s users listen to her tracks for nothing rather than signing up to the subscription service.
“I don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free” she said in a statement to Yahoo last week.
These worthy sentiments have been somewhat undermined by Swift making her new album and back catalogue available on Google’s new Music Key streaming service”¦..which also offers listeners a free service alongside a premium subscription tier.
Given that this year is the first to fail to produce a new million selling album, I can understand Taylor Swift wanting to maximise her opportunities with the new record and it worked: she shifted 1.28m copies of 1989 in the first week of sale.
But she should just be honest with her fans and say “sorry, but Sergey Brin gave me a huge amount of money to be the headline name on the marquee for the launch of You Tube Music Key and so I’ve sold my soul to Google”.
If Ms Swift was truly concerned about perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free, she should be removing her material from You Tube, not cosying up to it. The de facto biggest streaming service in the world, with all the content available free, You Tube is the greatest threat to any commercially based streaming service.
You might ask yourself why Google are setting up a commercial streaming service that will ultimately have to compete with their own You Tube behemoth? My hunch is that they are following a ‘Starbucks strategy’: 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.
Google are going after Spotify and Taylor Swift has just chosen sides. That’s her prerogative as a savvy businesswoman but please don’t try to sell this corporate power play to us as some sort of altruistic gesture in solidarity with struggling music makers.
UPDATE (11-20): Billy Bragg has apologized, read full statement below.
I want to apologise to Taylor Swift for accusing her of selling her soul to Google. I have learned that her music will not now be available on the new YouTube Music Key service, which launched this week. This is despite a number of credible sources stating in the last seven days that it would be including yesterday’s CMU newsletter.
My criticism was based on the fact that Swift’s back catalogue was the central feature of a demonstration of the Music Key services given to journalists in London last week, as outlined in the article below. In response to specific questions about Swift’s music, journalists were assured that her back catalogue would be available on the service, including the free tier. This fact was reported in the Observer article that I linked to on my first post on this subject.
Learning that Google were using Swift to promote Music Key gave me the impression that her music was going to be front and centre of their launch, the implication being that her Spotify boycott was a corporate power play, rather than an attempt by an artist to make the point that music has value.
I now realise that I was mistaken in this assumption and wish to apologise to Ms Swift for questioning her motives.
The fact that our music is widely available for free on the internet is a problem that all artists struggle with. While so much material is instantly accessible on YouTube, subscription streaming services will always find it a challenge to build enough users to make music viable for artists, who at the moment seem to be at the end of the queue for remuneration.
The time will surely come when content creators have to band together to challenge deals done between rights holders and service providers, details of which are kept from artists and their representatives. If Ms Swift is going to lead that fight for transparency, she will have my full support.
I would like to add that I will be boycotting the first media outlet to use the headline ‘Bragg makes Swift apology’