UPDATE: A few days after Thom’s pulling of music from Spotify, Jay Z drives 14 million streams of MCHG on Spotify. According to Forbes, thats a record! The Streaming debate gets more interesting each day, with some artist pulling out, and superstar artists cashing in….

Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich decided to pull some of their music from Spotify yesterday. “We’re off of Spotify,” Godrich said of their band Atoms For Peace. Twitter erupted, and from my timeline feeds, most people and news outlets seem to think that Thom and Nigel made the wrong move.

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke accused of hypocrisy over Twitter Spotify criticism – Top producer says Yorke’s band devalued digital music when they made their seventh album pay-what-you-like

Didn’t Pink Floyd just put their music into Spotify? And to make it more confusing, before going into Spotify, members of Pink Floyd wrote a scathing letter against Pandora.

This battle over the future of digital music is tough because the fans are happy and already getting the music they want. From the sidelines, it looks like a mess, and I can’t see new consumers paying for subscription services in volume when there seems to be so much confusion. I’ll bet most younger music fans are scratching their heads as they continue to stream and rip mp3’s from YouTube while wondering what all the fuss is about.

Some in the artist community are now confusing the conversation and the future like the major labels did a few years back.

Artists like to give away music for free, it’s a confusing message for fans when you complain about services that are trying to build a new business but not paying you enough.

But this misses the most important point: What are you hoping to achieve by pulling your content? It’s a risky gambit, especially if you don’t have your team ready to track everything so you can make sure the move makes sense. I.e what if you pulled things and it got worse? How will you know? Did your sales go up, web vists go down… there are a million ripples to keep track of. Does it change anything?

Warner Music Group pulled all of its content from Youtube for a year. Nothing really happened. Youtube continued to grow. Fans got what they wanted, artists were pissed, but mostly passive. No sales bump, no crazy shift in market share favoring those who had their content off youtube. No one even talks about it anymore! It’s hard to see a series of artists making a dent by pulling their content.

WMG is also not part of Vevo, and without all that music, Vevo still built a HUGE audience. Warner built their own Youtube channel for their videos only, and it is also doing well.

I worked at Warner though these experiments and I’m glad I did. Fans just moved on to the next thing they COULD stream, the next link in their timeline that worked. At the time WMG wanted to stand up for its rights and make a move to improve the business, but we all learned a lot from the experiment. It was much earlier in the debate, we tracked a lot of data and did it with a strategy and end game in mind. Eventually the WMG catalog went back into YouTube. Turns out it was really hard to tell if there was any positive short term impact by pulling, and impossible to tell if there was any long term impact. There is so much music!!! If your stuff isn’t in there, plenty of other stuff is, and it didn’t seem to drive revenue when you pulled stuff.

There is no need to write letters, or do a blanket pull of your content, just make sure you have a plan!

Try a windowing strategy, put one album in and take one out, do a small test with some content, make fan only music for your site….contribute…make more music so streams go up – play with all the new digital levers you have!

Follow the new generation of youtube stars, who based it all on streams. They didn’t wait for any one to give them the rate they wanted. Sales and money came second. Focus on building significant and repeatable streaming numbers and as an artist, you’ll find a way to make money, and you’ll definitely have fans! The money will only get better, but learning how to build a streaming fan base that grows your audience and business starts now.

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