Nov 5, 2014 · 2 minutes

In the three days since Taylor Swift pulled her entire catalog off of Spotify, there's been no shortage of armchair analysis from journalists and musicians alike. My immediate take was that, as an artist who can sell massive numbers of albums (nearly 1.3 million and counting for her latest , 1989) and who still retains a great deal of control over how her music is distributed, Swift can afford to stay off streaming sites if she wants.

As for Spotify, the immediate blowback will be negligible -- Hey, lots of artists aren't on Spotify. The Beatles aren't on Spotify! But in the long-term, Spotify should be wary of artists like Swift striking exclusive streaming deals with services that can offer much better terms -- like whatever streaming platform Apple launches to replace Beats Music. With its huge warchest, not to mention its ability to sell digital downloads before "windowing" a record onto its streaming service, Apple could conceivably give Swift a considerably sweeter deal than Spotify.

One piece of analysis that makes no sense to me, however, is the idea that Spotify and its listeners are somehow entitled to Swift's discography. It sounds ridiculous, I know. But that's the basic thesis put forth by Tom Barnes in a Mic article published yesterday:

Streaming is the dominant form of musical consumption, and it's only growing. It can one day be a viable model that compensates artists adequately — one that gives casual fans the chance to become real fans and then paying fans. But this can only happen if artists help develop the platform, working with streaming services rather than against them. Swift's 1989 — with all the records it's set to break — is going to look like a victory for the industry's old model. But it's really not. It's only proof that the old model is unfeasible for anyone but music's 1%.
Hold on a second. Since when is Taylor Swift responsible for figuring out Spotify's business model for it? Or even the business model of music industry at large? Should she willingly give up her art at a price she doesn't think is fair, just to help streaming become a "viable model"? And how can the model ever be "viable" if artists aren't paid their fair share?

This isn't to say that every artist should remove their work from Spotify. But if a musician can afford to abandon streaming services and still bring in as much or more money, why should we blame them? That speaks to a problem with the streaming business model, not with the artists who chose a more lucrative path. When so many artists lack control over their own destiny, sitting at the painful mercy of record executives, A&R teams, and technology companies, how dare we shame an artist for exerting whatever control she has?

Yes, I know that Swift is filthy rich with an estimated net worth of almost $200 million. She's no martyr by any means. But I'll never fault an artist for trying to get paid. They're the ones who make all the songs those millions of Spotify users love.

And if Swift can pull it off, good. The system should reward artists who make business-savvy decisions, like retaining the rights to their releases, or turning down cash advances from labels that include onerous stipulations. And if by playing the one bargaining chip she has with labels -- the fact that people love her songs -- she's able to make the new digital music economy just a little more artist-friendly, then more power to her.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]