To Spotify or not to Spotify

The Modern Musician’s Dilemma

I bought my first record when I was 13 and picked up a used copy of Fly Like an Eagle at the mall. I’ve been buying music ever since. I’ve bought vinyl records, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, CDs, MP3 downloads, and flash drives of music. I’ve paid for streaming subscriptions. I’ve bought new and used. I’ve traded records.

A lot has changed since I bought that Steve Miller record at the mall. Now, it seems like even paying for music at all has become optional.

I’ve Seen Technology Change Over Time

When we were kids, we had an old Panasonic cassette recorder. We’d goof off by recording ourselves doing silly bits and making stupid noises. There’s some weird, addictive magic that happens when you record something and listen back to it.

Later, when I was starting out on guitar, I’d use that cassette recorder to practice. I’d record songs I liked off the radio and I’d try to learn them by ear. I’d record 45 minute chunks at a time. It was like song fishing. Ever since then I always had recording equipment. Over time, I’ve built up a small demo studio where I write and record song ideas. Recording as I go has become part of my songwriting process.

With the advent of digital recording, anyone can record as many tracks as their computer can handle. Artists can record whole albums in their houses, apartments, rental spaces. All it takes is a laptop, a microphone and recording software and you’re off to the races. I think these a great developments, as far as creative freedom is concerned.

But nothing has changed the game as much as streaming

These computer recordings can be made into MP3 or Wav. files and released into the world via the internet, CDs, USB flash drives, etc. They can be listened to on phones, laptops, and stereos.

Whether music is made from a major label recording artist, or someone in their basement, these digital files can be copied and distributed, ad infinitum. Ushered in by Napster in 1999, peer to peer file sharing was the beginning of the devaluation of music. Select, copy, paste, and send. Music became essentially free for anyone who didn’t feel like paying for it. The music industry woke up to the fact that the product they were trying to sell was worth far less than it used to be.

With streaming services available, no one has to even file share anymore. It’s all already there. You can go to Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Amazon and other services and just about every song that has ever been digitized is there for you to listen to. All it takes is a device with internet access. Sure, you have to pay for the device and internet service, but that’s your only investment to access a world of music without having to purchase individual songs.

Musicians need to adapt to a whole new model

As an artist, having your work available for free once it’s released is tough to reckon with. It’s not easy trying to make a living under these conditions. Selling something that’s available for free might not be the most lucrative business to be in, but that’s the business I’m in. Yay!

The landscape has changed to the point where, as an artist, I must choose to either fight this notion, or give in to it. Do I try to appeal to the listener’s sense of value and ask them to purchase something they can listen to for free? Do I want as many people to hear my music as possible, and therefore give it away in the process? Is there a happy medium where some people buy it, and some people don’t?

These are tough questions. Some of my peers will, under no circumstances, let their music stream for free. Yet, some of my peers tell me that keeping your music off of streaming services, like Spotify, is shooting yourself in the foot. If there was some tangible way to see if streaming music for free somehow strengthens an artist’s career, the decision would be easier to make. Having 10,000 spins may equate to zero as far as putting gas in your car, buying groceries, and keeping up with Austin’s rising rent. Or, maybe, some of these streamers would like my music so much that they’d come see a show, or download a copy of the CD in a show of support.

So how can we sustain making music?

Music doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes from people. It comes from people who stick their antennae into the ether, hold their divining rods up into the air, and tap into the greater consciousness of the universe. Hopefully, we reel in something that resonates with others. Being a musician is about being a conduit of communication, in my opinion. It’s a magical thing that happens. I don’t think anyone truly, fully, understands how. The mystery of it is the most fun part. 

Without at least some financial support for what we do as artists, we can’t continue to make art. At least not at a high degree. So working odd jobs, or a full time job, and creating on the side is a compromise. We learn to manage on 4 hours of sleep every night. If you love what you do, you find a way to do it, no matter what. I do it by scraping by and playing 20-30 gigs per month as a side musician. I’ve had day jobs, lots of them. I’ve had good years, and I’ve had lean years. Yet here I am, still doing it. 

I chose this for myself. I have no regrets… other than I wish dabbled in Austin real estate in the early 90’s. 😀

I don’t know the right answer

Do I try to appeal to my audience’s sense of value and make them buy my record instead of steaming it for nothing? Or, do I make it available for free online? I do want as many people to hear my music as possible… but do I really want to give it away in the process? Is there a happy medium where some people buy it, and some people don’t? 

If you know me or are familiar with my music, you might already have faith that this record will be worth purchasing. If you’ve come to this website through word of mouth, the local Austin music scene, or through some internet rabbit hole, maybe you’re not ready to take that chance yet. I do want you to get a taste so you can decide. That’s why when the record is ready for release there will be previews of each song on this website once the record is completed. I hope you’ll like it enough to purchase it.

So, to Spotify or not to Spotify. That is the question… 

I will most likely have this record on streaming platforms. In the end, I believe that people who are in the habit of only streaming free music probably wouldn’t pay for it anyway. I’ll put my faith into hoping there are people who like what I do enough to support me by paying for my music.  If you are one of those people, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

-Matt Giles