Spotify and MOG: Of Pirates, Truck Poo, and 99¢ Thank Yous

"It's great, I never have to pay for music again!" Such was the exclamation from someone I know in regards to Spotify.

I was baffled at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. Because my acquaintance isn't alone in this thought. It's prevalent among many, and it extends beyond music.

What they're really saying is: "I want you to entertain me, but screw you for trying to make a living at it."

What the what?

When I started at Circuit City, back in the bygone era of the '90s, I was forced to sit through a presentation amusingly called "Loss Prevention." As a long-haired, flannel wearing (no judgment, it was the '90s) proto-punk, I remember thinking: "your loss . . . but my prevention? That seems stupid." The presentation, taking place in the dank, under-lit back room of Circuit City Dedham, was a mildly threatening treatise that amounted to: "People steal. You're people. You'll steal."

I remember little about what was actually said (not paying attention to stupid is one of my better traits). The handy pamphlet, though, housed an interesting diagram entitled "Triangle of Theft" or "Pyramid of Pilferage," or something. I may be giving them more credit for alliteration than likely deserved.

It outlined the three requirements most people (hey, I'm most people!) need to steal:

Desire (well, who doesn't want stuff?)

Opportunity (hey, I work in an electronics store now!)


This last one intrigued me, enough that I still remember it well so many years later. They gave examples, like "it won't hurt anyone" and "the company won't miss it." I suppose an extrapolation could be "I needed a new MiniDisc player" or "If I had a StarTAC, people would like me."

I admit to falling into this triangle myself. Not that I stole anything from CC (seriously), but a few years later when music "sharing" really took off, I was on it like it was bacon wrapped bacon. My desire (I want more music) and opportunity (Mmmm, Napster), were obvious. How did I justify it? Well, I wouldn't download music I would have actually bought. That way, in my mind, the artists weren't actually losing any money. I wasn't going to give them money anyway. Fascinating how that triangle works, isn't it.

Here's the thing. Even at the peak of my music "borrowing," I still bought more CDs than anyone I knew. I still do. Why? Because I'd like to thank those who entertain me doing what they do, and do whatever I can to keep them doing what they do.

So my way of saying "thanks for letting me rock out to your new album, Buffalo Tom" is by buying the freaking album. And let's be honest, as far as entertainment-per-dollar goes, is there really any better deal than music? I still get regular enjoyment from CDs I bought years ago (I had all my CDs stolen in 1999, so that's as old as my current collection gets).

Which brings us to Spotify and MOG. These music-on-demand services pay a tiny fraction of what an artist would get had you actually purchased their song. Paying them less for you to enjoy the song just as much... and listen to it whenever you want. That doesn't seem fair.

But like the quote that led off this rant, many people obviously justify this unashamedly unfair deal: "I want music, I can get music, and they don't need my money anyway." Or maybe most people don't give a thought to artists getting paid. Or maybe they think there's some magic dust behind the scenes that results in money.

Guess what, there isn't. The record labels and RIAA make deals with services like Spotify, and the artists have little or no say in the matter.

Why don't I include Pandora and Slacker? Because these operate more like radio stations. A song can be heard by an entirely new audience, acting, in a way, like an advertisement for the band. An advertisement they're also getting paid for. Maybe they'll make new fans, maybe someone will buy the CD or song. I do this constantly. I'll hear a new band on Pandora, check them out elsewhere online, and invariably buy their CD. Pandora costs me a fortune.

But with Spotify and the like, the artist is predominantly just getting money (a tiny fraction of a penny) from people who already know the band, or at least heard of them enough to search and listen. These people have therefore decided not to purchase the song. Why pay for it, when now you can get it free any time you want? Not only are the artists not getting new blood, their existing fanbase is now paying next to nothing to get the same thing.