THE BLOG

Are We Hurting Musicians When We Use Spotify?

06/22/2015 10:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016
Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

If you're a music lover, read on.

I'm always on the hunt for new music and I continue to explore the world of online music. I was an early user of Pandora and have found lots of new musicians that I wouldn't have heard since the demise of record stores with listening stations.

But Spotify, and probably the coming Apple streaming service, takes free listening to a whole new level. You can find and listen to complete albums - with ads if you don't subscribe and without if you pay the monthly fee.

I've seen a number of fantastic concerts in the last year: Rhiannon Giddens, Patty Griffin, Arlo Guthrie, Daniel Lanois, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, David Bromberg and even Barry McGuire (remember - Eve of Destruction!). And lots more I've missed.

Now, I've started to wonder if I'm hurting the very musicians whose music I want to support by using Spotify? If I can find it on Spotify, why buy it? If we don't buy it, will they be able to continue to make new music?

On one hand, Spotify allows me to find lots of music -- new music, old music I haven't heard in many years and other music from artists I like but hadn't heard. For example, after Ornette Coleman passed away, I was able to find many of his albums and get re-introduced to his music. Same with Jean Ritchie.

On other hand, it's so easy to use Spotify that I might be shortchanging the artists I want to support.

So I decided to email directly one of the artists whose music and politics I admire a great deal. It was a cold email across the transom and didn't know if I'd get a response.

I got a response just a few days later that's worth sharing. Here's the response:

"The short answer is this - the best way to support the musician financially is to buy their CD at their show; next is through online and real world record shops. A distant last is Spotify - the revenue is negligible. What I do is research with Spotify and figure out what I really want, and then I go buy it, either on iTunes or at the show; it can be a great tool to discover music. But can we live off Spotify? Definitely not. That's my two cents as a full-time musician!"

My response: That's exactly what I'll do.