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Should listeners feel guilty about using Spotify?

January 30, 2013

A long-time friend, upon reading this HuffPost piece from Jason Gilbert, asks the question, “Should we feel guilty about using Spotify?”

Of course not.  There are far too many things to feel guilty about already, most of them more important than whether or not you’re helping a couple of struggling musicians add beans to their rice.  For example, that banana you sliced onto your granola this morning probably left an appalling trail of destructive moral, environmental, and economic consequence, including a carbon footprint to rival that of the Secretary of State.  We continue to struggle with the guilt of allowing our music to be distributed through Amazon, a mega-corporation which exploits its warehouse workers beyond anything we’re facing at the hands of Spotify.

Yes, we are being exploited and only seeing hundredths of a cent ($0.0004) per stream.  We have howled in protest, and publicly agonized over whether to pull our music from Spotify, Pandora, and other such distributors, especially when we read that these companies are paying lobbyists much more than they pay artists to avoid being required to compensate us more than they would wish.

But we’re also very aware that you could have found a way to listen to our music for free if you wanted.

This is the way it works in 2013.  Of course we would rather see Spotify and Pandora take steps to fairly compensate artists.  But we do not place responsibility on the shoulders of our listeners;  particularly people who sincerely believe they are doing the right thing by subscribing to what appears to be a legitimate purveyor of carefully selected music.  In particular, we do not blame our friend, himself a very fine musician who has done as much as any individual we know to commission and champion the work of living composers.

We smile when we see posts on Facebook that tell us someone is listening to Mignarda on Spotify.  We’re thrilled that our recording of Tantum ergo sacramentum – Gregorian chant, for Pete’s sake! –  is approaching 40,000 hits on YouTube, most of those accruing over the past six months.  We’d love it even more if it also meant we were raking in piles of cash.

We are all figuring out this new economic paradigm.  Artists understand the need to adapt because the main objective is for people to hear our music.  Causing listeners to color their listening experience with an uneasy sense of shame will not help artists to thrive and continue to create.

If you like our music, what we need from you is to spread the word.  Come to concerts.  Request us on your local radio station.  Introduce us to your friends who sponsor house concerts or host a public concert series.  Contact us and tell us why you like our music.  Better still, tell your friends about us and post something about how the music affects you.    Most importantly, buy CDs from us, or download music from distributors who compensate artists fairly.  CD Baby, Bandcamp, iTunes, and Naxos ClassicsOnline are all excellent choices, and actually do help put food on the table.

Thanks for asking.

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