The Power of Persuasion
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Needless to say, folks weren’t happy, and serious punishment commenced (i.e. customers cancelled their accounts in droves). It took all of two days for one of Instagram’s co-founders to begin the time-honored tradition of backtracking, stating that:
As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos.
Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.
The reason why this episode was even possible was because of the strength of the providers–in this instance, millions of people taking millions of photographs with their phones and tablets who yearn for the aged patina and 4:3 aspect ratio of yesteryear. As a service that allows user-created content to be shared via social networking sites, Instagram is beholden to those users, their sharing habits, and their love of image filters circa 1970, so its no surprise that the company is spinning on its heels to find a more amenable solution to placate their customers.
Online music providers are not immune to such customer uprisings, but it’s usually a much harder slog because of the splintered and diffuse nature of the customer base as well as the fact that the customers themselves are not creating and providing the content–that’s the role of the pesky composers and performers who, for some strange reason, always seem to want their own share as well. There has been a fair amount of rumbling about one of those providers–Spotify–as of late and while it may be more difficult to get their attention as quickly as Instagram’s customers did, it looks to be in the best interest of the content providers (i.e. composers) to bring this issue to light.
The issue in question–the lack of a “composer” field in Spotify track data and the lackluster job the company has done so far regarding composer attribution, specifically in their “classical music” categories–has been getting an increased amount of attention due to the dogged veracity of Minneapolis-based composer Abbie Betinis. Up until now, attempts to advocate for the addition of a “composer” tag (to be included along with the existing track, artist, and album tags–vital for search and browsing) have been labeled as “case closed” by the higher-ups at Spotify (here’s an example).
When Betinis wrote her own call-to-action on Spotify’s discussion board, she rightly assumed that her post would suffer the same fate. After she received a strong showing in the comments section and accrued a high number of “kudos,” her post was not flagged as “case closed”–in fact, she has at least generated a public discussion with one of the staff at Spotify–a far cry from actionable information, but it’s further than most have gotten up to this point. Here’s an excerpt of that discussion, beginning with the staff member’s posting in the comments section:
David (Spotify staff): “May I recommend checking out the Classify app? While it may not help you geek out with others, it might make your browsing a little easier.
In terms of metadata as a whole (rather than limiting it just to classical music), it’s something that has been mentioned in various forms before. It’s certainly something we would be interesting in looking at in the future, as it’s pretty popular with you guys. Keep those kudos coming.”
Betinis: “…Honest opinion: Classify is cute, and perhaps helpful for the casual listener who likes Classical (i.e. capital-C, Classical era) music to “relax.” But, unfortunately, for both the amateur (and I truly mean those of us who LOVE classical-music-with-a-small-c) and the classical aficionado, you can’t be serious. It doesn’t much improve my browsing. There are exactly 2 composers listed in the Contemporary Era category (Glass and Pärt… great choices, though, I’ll give you that)…
In full disclosure, I happen to be on some of these lists myself — aw, shucks — but hopefully that lends some credibility to my comments here. Without my name attached to my tracks, my fans can’t find me on Spotify…Hell, even *I* can’t find me on Spotify…
Classical music is a living, breathing, vibrant world — and only getting moreso, particularly when assessing participation. 42.6 million Americans sing in a choir (more than in 2009). 54% of US households includes someone who plays a musical instrument. Of those, 82% started playing music before they were 14 years old.
What kind of music do we learn to play before we’re 14 years old? Classical music.
You build it, Spotify, and we will come.”
David: “Yes, I certainly see your point.
Classify isn’t actually made by us. The Apps with Spotify are all (with the exception of Radio) made by third parties. While I personally enjoy Classify, it’s probably designed with my casual interest in Classical rather than the hardcore…
In additional to using Spotify to discover music in general, this is something we’re very aware of. You may have seen our announcement regarding on upcoming features related on how you can discover music easily. Hopefully this will better surface such artists for people’s listening pleasure.
Although personally I had a guitar at 14, rather than a violin ;)”
Like I said earlier, it’s not much, but at least the conversation has started. If you are interested in trying to push this issue forward even more than it has, go here, put down your own two cents, and make sure to click the “Kudos” button–that seems to be the mechanism by which they recognize trending topics.
Of course, this isn’t the only issue with Spotify that folks have had–Brian Brandt wrote a thoughtful piece on Spotify back in August and Gabriel Kahane had some wise words about the application over a year ago, while David Macias has tried to clear up some of the confusion on payments from Spotify. But it also bears pointing out that we as a musical community are not completely without leverage or tools within this debate. As with the Instagram debacle, it will take a concerted effort by many to attract the attention of a company as large as Spotify and motivate them to make changes, and we should not be adverse to putting forth that effort.