An Unlikely Duo: Taylor Swift and Edmund Burke

What do pop star Taylor Swift and political theorist Edmund Burke have in common?  Surprisingly, when the issue is about whether artists should be paid for their music, Swift and Burke are on the same page.

The split between Taylor Swift and Spotify has been all over the news.  The breakup happened right before the release of Swift’s new album 1989, when Swift withdrew all of her music from Spotify.

Taylor Swift – Fighting for the Value of Music

Taylor Swift defended this drastic move saying: “I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free…”  Swift believes Spotify does not fairly compensate its artists; Swift, along with many other artists, believes that Spotify (and other internet music companies) is paying artists way below the true value of the music.  On Spotify’s website they state that they pay the artists $.0006 to $.0084 per stream.  But in Swift’s opinion, this dollar amount is degrading the value of her music drastically.  From a business perspective, when Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify, she won big.  Swift sold more albums in 1989’s first week than any other artists has since 2002.  In fact, 1989 made up 22% of album sales in the US that week.

Taylor Swift made even bigger waves in regards to the downhill trend of the music industry.  Industry experts had a very dismal outlook on the 2014 music industry but 1989 exceeded the expectations of the most pessimistic of experts.  They were predicting that there would be no platinum artists in 2014, but Swift went platinum within the first week of the release of 1989.  1989 is the second most sold album in the U.S in 2014 (with the soundtrack for “Frozen” holding first place… for now.)

U.S album sales have been looking sad lately, but Taylor Swift may be restoring confidence in the music industry.  In August 2013 album sales in the U.S hit an all time low; simultaneously, streaming revenue continued on its upward trend.  Although this could just be a correlation, many think that streaming is causing at least some of the decline in album sales.  Personally, I was planning on listening to 1989 for free once it had been released on Spotify, but due to the breakup, I ended up buying the album.  However, I wasn’t mad at having to pay for 1989.  I respect Taylor Swift as a musical artist and enjoy listening to her music.  I believe that her music is worth that $11.99.

Music streaming first got its start in 1993, but it really gained momentum in the early 2000s, when technologies made it more efficient and logical.  The cassette tape was invented in 1962, and the Sony Walkman was first sold in 1979.  In contrast, free music (at the scale at which it is today) is a very new concept, and thus its long run consequences on the music industry are unknown.

Spotify – The Culprit

Music has been being sold for quite a while.  People have been purchasing records, cassette tapes, CD’s, and digital CD’s for many decades now.  Consequently, the music industry has been around for quite a while as well.  But now, free music streaming is threatening to tear down all that has been built up.  Here is where Edmund Burke steps in to defend Swift’s actions.  He warns that, “it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society, or on building it up again, without having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes.”  Although the modern music industry hasn’t necessarily been around for “ages”, in the decades it has been around music has rarely been as monetarily free as it is now.  By continuing to shift to free streaming, I think we are dismantling the music industry, and perhaps changing it beyond recognition.

The modern music industry was humming along just fine until streaming appeared.  Streaming has not been around long enough for us to fully understand what the adverse consequences may be in a streaming-heavy music industry.  Maybe artists won’t try as hard due to decreased incentives (as a result from the monetary value of their music being decreased).  There could also be fewer new artists, because the music industry cannot afford to help pave the way for these new rising stars.

Taylor Swift wants the music of the future to be how the music of the past was.  She wants music to continue to have a monetary value.  Burke would agree with Swift, and he states that, “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer.”  It has been a “rule” over the past few decades that musical albums should be purchased, and we cannot simply throw out this rule without a fight.  If all music becomes free, I fear that music itself might change for the worse.  I believe that Burke would wish Taylor Swift the best of luck in her fight against Spotify, as she tries to preserve the modern music industry’s tradition of music having a monetary value.

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4 comments

  1. benlangt · November 20, 2014

    I love listening to music, but when it comes to its cost I always try to find the cheapest method. Although I respect what Taylor Swift is trying to do, I definitely would not spend $11.99 on her album or any other artist’s album when I can download those songs for free. I understand that Taylor Swift is trying to maintain that “traditional sense”. But in a day and age when Spotify is revolutionizing the way in which people can access virtually every song for a limited cost, people don’t really care about maintaining the “traditional sense” if it’s going to cost them more money. In regards to Burke, I would have to disagree with him. Even though records, cassettes, and CD’s have been a staple in various places around the world, people need to realize that this change really isn’t that detrimental. Lets be honest, Taylor Swift and most other artists on Spotify make way too much money anyways with tours, endorsements, and other contracts. I could not tell of that many people who still go to stores and buy hard copies of music tracks. It is just not something people value anymore in our society today.

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  2. dinaakhmetshina · November 21, 2014

    I think you did a really great job breaking down the whole Taylor Swift vs. Spotify. I think this is an unusual parallel to draw- Taylor and Burke are very unlikely friends! However, I agree that Burke would argue against streaming (as he seems to dislike change) and support her for choosing to preserve the roots of the music industry. In this case, it makes sense for the artists to demand payment for their work- without this compensation, incentives would lower and the industry would die out. This is a great (even though completely unexpected) example of Burke’s “don’t rock the boat” mentality.

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  3. ashdh · November 21, 2014

    I think that this post is great because it relates a pressing issue of change in the way that music is consumed to classical conservatism. I agree that the increasing digitalization of music sales is detrimental to artists, however the change has positively benefited consumers by decreasing prices for music and making it more easily acceptable. I think that with this shift to music being sold over the internet, people’s value for music has gone down. In this regard, I agree with the author that a Burkean perspective is needed here, as the industry is being changed for the worse with regards to the artists who are the backbone of the music industry.

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  4. johnoett · November 21, 2014

    First, I think you raise a good point about people not respecting the value of others’ work. Many people are starting to think that everything in life is free, that they should not have to pay for music, information, and news. People who complain about having to buy music are disregarding the fact that the artists deserve to be compensated for the time and effort they put into producing the album. That being said, streaming sites like Spotify are not the problem. As you stated, Spotify compensates artists and operates on a legal platform. Your grievances should not be with Spotify, they should be with illegal peer-to-peer downloading. Artists receive no compensation when an album is torrented, and that is a much bigger issue than the growing influence of streaming sites. Additionally, I disagree with your point about streaming decreasing the potential number of new artists. In fact, I think it does just the opposite. New artists frequently stream their work for free online to gain a following, and have been very successful doing so. The electronic artist Kygo started by streaming a few of his songs online, and now he is playing sold-out shows across the world a year later.

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