Today Taylor Swift released ‘Reputation’, an album likely to be among the most commercially successful releases of the year, and yet you won’t find it anywhere on streaming services. Scrolling through Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon Music this morning – places you might have expected to be able try it out for free, just to see what the fuss was about – you’d have seen it was nowhere to be found. No: the only way you’re legally going to hear ‘Reputation’ today is by spending your cash on a download or, if you’re that way inclined, a CD.
In a small way this is laudable simply because Taylor has circumvented streaming services’ infuriating practice of exclusivity windows. If you’re a Spotify user and Jay-Z releases his new album on Tidal, you’re not going to hear it for weeks unless you sign up to Tidal. But with Swift’s release strategy, whatever streaming service you use, you’re at the same ‘disadvantage’ – that so-called ‘disadvantage’ being that Swift wants you to place value on her music.
Signing up to a streaming service generally costs about £10 a month – or nothing if you’re on the ad-funded version of Spotify – and the expectation that we can get music for ‘free’ is a pervasive one. Streaming culture has created an atmosphere where we expect art to be free, or to be included in such a cheap subscription that its artist barely gets any recompense for their work. That’s bullshit.
Yes, it’s easy for an artist like Taylor Swift to take a risk like this knowing that an extremely healthy number of preorders have been made on her sixth album. But by denying streaming users immediate access to her music, she might have made them think twice about how they view it. Streamers may be feeling indignant about the decision to withhold the album from them, but it really wasn’t so long ago (2009) that pretty much all albums were released this way. The speed of the change in our attitudes to music’s value is pretty alarming.
When you had to physically go somewhere to buy a new album, and then spent your hard-earned money on it, you cared about the listening experience a lot more than you do when you play something for free on Spotify. Back then, you might have gathered in a group to listen. You might have lent it to friends. You shared it, you talked about it, you listened to it again and again. It was a communal experience. You didn’t listen to it for five seconds and then skip to whatever was next on the New Music Friday playlist. By releasing her album this way, Swift is undoubtedly recreating that experience for her fans: it’s an atmosphere where music is a precious, almost hallowed thing.
There’ll be some fans who are upset by Taylor’s decision; non-fans probably won’t care in the slightest. But regardless, Swift should be commended for the decision – because it’s a badass decision. Today she’s demanded a fair price for her work by throwing the new normal in the bin. We could all learn something from her.