The Apple iTunes store, once considered dangerous new territory for the music industry, won over a last holdout — AC/DC — on Monday. But the band’s decision to join iTunes has also revealed that the industry has found a new digital frenemy: Spotify, where AC/DC’s music is still nowhere to be found.
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By putting its complete catalog on iTunes — at the standard prices of $10 for most albums and $1.29 per song — AC/DC, the Australian hard-rock heroes, has followed similar moves by a string of major acts like Metallica in 2006, Led Zeppelin in 2007 and, pivotally, the Beatles in 2010.
AC/DC’s lead guitarist, Angus Young, only four years ago described iTunes’ insistence on selling songs individually instead of as complete albums as being disrespectful. “It’s like an artist who does a painting,” he told The New York Times. “If he thinks it’s a great piece of work, he protects it. It’s the same thing: This is our work.”
But as CD sales plunged and iTunes rose to become music’s biggest retailer — by one estimate it is responsible for 29 percent of all sales in the United States — those bands realized that resistance was futile, even if the service disrupted the way music was sold. Kid Rock, another holdout, is also selling his new album, “Rebel Soul” (Atlantic), on iTunes. “Times are different than they were on the last release,” Kid Rock’s manager, Lee Trink, told Rolling Stone. Among the few major acts withholding their catalogs from iTunes are Garth Brooks and Tool.
Just in time, however, has come the rise of Spotify. It and other streaming services, which let people listen to millions of songs free or by a small monthly fee, have challenged the music industry’s status quo, much the way iTunes did a decade ago.
Spotify is growing quickly, with 15 million users around the world, including four million paying a monthly fee to for features like removing the advertising. But plenty of acts are now withholding their albums, including some very familiar names: the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Metallica, Pink Floyd.
Once again, there is a cultural consideration: not all artists want their music as part of a giant, advertising-supported celestial jukebox that further alienates the idea of an album as a coherent entity. But financial and marketplace arguments are the most loudly debated, and Spotify’s absences have been most visible when it comes to high-profile new releases by artists like Coldplay, Adele and Taylor Swift.
To protect downloaded sales, these and other acts have kept some of their releases out of Spotify, at least during their first months of their release, when records typically get their biggest sales. This windowing strategy has become increasingly common, although there are enough contrary examples of albums that sell many copies and are also on Spotify — like the latest from the British band Mumford & Sons — that the issue is considered far from settled.
So how will Spotify fill in the gaps of its catalog?
One way would be to prove to artists and labels that they can make good money there. Spotify recently raised money at an eye-opening $3 billion valuation — almost as much as the entire Warner Music Group sold for last year. But the payments from streaming services of all kinds for the right to play music has lately become a hot issue, with artists pointing out their tiny earnings from these growing services’ micropayment systems.
Judging from the iTunes story, another way that Spotify might attract artists is simply to become a household name and wait for another new model to arrive and become the next frontier.
By BEN SISARIO (source: mediadecoder)