Make no mistake—Spotify is only interested in selling you Spotify.
On Monday, the Huffington Post’s contributor platform published a story by #IRespectMusic founder Blake Morgan, detailing a heated exchange between him and an unidentified Spotify executive that took place in 2014. Titled “Spotify’s Fatal Flaw Exposed: How My Closed-Door Meeting with Execs Ended in a Shouting Match,” the piece was removed from the website hours after posting.
Morgan’s piece was reposted on the Trichordist, a community blog that is, according to their website, “for those interested in contributing to the advancement of a Sustainable and Ethical Internet for the protection of Artists Rights in the Digital Age.”
He recounts the meeting:
I was a vocal participant in the meeting, and when it was over I found myself surrounded by several Spotify executives. One said, “Blake, I just don’t think you understand, our users love our product because it’s such an amazing one.” Another added, “You have to look past just numbers, our product is so great it’s actually turning the industry around.” This went on for a while, until I finally said to one of the executives, “You keep using that word, ‘product.’ I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m really asking you: what do you think your product is?”
The executive was surprised. He stared at me blankly and said, “What do you mean? Our product is Spotify.”
There it was. It was a shocking admission to me, in earshot of everyone, and one he obviously didn’t think was an admission at all.
“No no…sorry,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief. “Your product isn’t ‘Spotify.’” He continued to stare at me. I said, “Sir, your product is music.” The emboldened musicians standing around us started laughing. The exec smiled and backed away, “Well okay, if you’re going to be like that.”
For those who don’t spend a lot of time considering how streaming platforms devalue artists and users, let’s make this clear: Morgan’s story feels troubling because it illustrates that as a representative of Spotify, the unnamed exec intrinsically ignores what the platform is supposed to provide—access to music—and places emphasis on selling Spotify. It’s a devaluation of music that artists fear when working with large companies, the notion that they are not the priority, that they hold little power—even though it’s their music and livelihood on the line.
Tension between artists and Spotify has existed for years—it wasn’t so long ago, in 2014, when Taylor Swift removed her music from the platform. She understood that her fanbase would continue to buy her album in stores or through Apple’s iTunes, so effectively giving it away (aka, hosting it on Spotify where she, and other artists, make pennies) wasn’t in her best interest. Not all artists are as successful as Taylor Swift, obviously, but it speaks volumes.
Huff Post’s Executive Contributors Editor Bryan Maygers emailed Morgan to inform him the site removed his post, writing: “We’re not making any judgment about the accuracy of the claims made in the piece, but the contributors platform is intended as a place for commentary based on the established factual record, not original reporting.” The reasoning feels a bit thin: A quick search through the contributor section reveals other posts that feature personal accounts...articles that would require additional fact-checking. Could it be that they were concerned with pissing off Spotify?
Over email, Blake Morgan told TrackRecord he followed up with Maygers and the Huffington Post, providing what he described as “multiple” citations of the meeting, but the story was never republished. He wrote:
“I didn’t get a heads up [from the Huffington Post]…but I did get an email from them once it was taken down. I’m disappointed with their decision (and that they say they’re not ‘in a position to fact-check’), to say the least.”
When asked why he waited until 2018 to write about the 2014 meeting, he told TrackRecord:
“I’ve spoken about it repeatedly since then, in multiple speeches, lectures, and interviews. This is the first time I’d written a piece about it (or Spotify for that matter), and this is specifically because of the impending IPO and the recent law suits.”
Morgan’s IPO (Initial Public Offering) language reflects recent reports that Spotify might go public soon. Spotify is actually looking into a DPO (Direct Public Offering,) which means they wouldn’t need to raise additional money but their stocks would be up for trading.
There are potential concerns over the DPO for investors: A recent $1.6 billion Wixen Music Publishing lawsuit (which Morgan alludes to above) doesn’t look too great for Spotify—who would want to invest in a company that violates copyright law and doesn’t compensate its artists appropriately?
We reached out to two music industry professionals who attended the meeting, one who reaffirmed Morgan’s account and asked to remain anonymous, and the other, ECR Music Group’s Janita Maria, who wrote:
“The meeting was on October 6, in 2014, at the Soho House in the Meatpacking district in NYC. Spotify had invited artists to a so-called artists-only meeting. The meeting was actually reported by Billboard.
This was a closed-door meeting with Spotify’s representatives, and only about 40 or so artists were present, along with some of their managers. Spotify apparently wanted to have a dialogue with us artists, but it felt to me that they actually hadn’t come there to listen or have a meaningful discussion with us. They weren’t at all prepared for us to be asking any critical or challenging questions. It felt like we were meeting a bunch of people from a cult—like they’d all drunk their own Kool-Aid.
The exchange happened just after the meeting had ended. Just so you know, Blake Morgan is well-informed about the music industry, and he regularly advocates for artist rights. He was vocal during the meeting—commenting on things, and asking questions. He stood out. Right after the meeting ended, a number of the Spotify people came to speak to Blake, wanting to discuss the issues more. I stood by as the conversation unfolded, angered and in disbelief about the way the entire evening had panned out. I found myself scoffing at what I heard was being said to Blake. In all honesty, I was horrified by the whole event, and have since ended my Spotify subscription.”
The Billboard story Maria mentions, titled “Spotify’s Artist Outreach Mission Leaves Some Wanting More,” reiterates a disagreeable environment, but paints the situation more like Morgan and others went in ready to assert beliefs and the Spotify execs wanted to have a discussion.
When asked for comment on the Huffington Post story, a Spotify spokesperson said they never saw Morgan’s original post.