(USA TODAY) Spotify CEO Daniel Ek is upset.
He's responding in a blog post to the swirling controversy and debate over the value of his site in the wake of Taylor Swift pulling her catalog of music and country star Jason Aldean removing his new album. The moves come on the heels of Jimmy Buffett publicly asking Ek for a raise at a recent tech confab.
Their gripes: Spotify doesn't pay artists enough.
In a blog post, Ek writes, "Taylor Swift is absolutely right: music is art, art has real value, and artists deserve to be paid for it."
Ek goes on to make his case, saying the site was created out of a love for music at a time when piracy was "killing it."
Now, he says, the talk about "Spotify making money on the backs of artists upsets me big time. Our whole reason for existence is to help fans find music and help artists connect with fans through a platform that protects them from piracy and pays them for their amazing work."
Ek says that piracy pays artists "nothing, zilch, zero. Spotify has paid more than $2 billion to labels, publishers and collecting societies for distribution to songwriters and recording artists. A billion dollars from the time we started Spotify in 2008 to last year and another billion dollars since then."
He points out that payouts for a top artist like Taylor Swift (before she pulled her catalog) were on track to "exceed $6 million a year." He adds, "Any way you cut it, one thing is clear — we're paying an enormous amount of money to labels and publishers for distribution to artists and songwriters, and significantly more than any other streaming service."
Still, the numbers tell the story in another way: Spotify pays artists an average of "between $0.006 and $0.0084" per stream, according to the service's website. Swift is selling a deluxe edition of 1989 — with bonus tracks — exclusively at Target for $13.99.
Swift sold more than 1.2 million copies of 1989 in the first week.
She said after pulling her work from Spotify that in the changing music industry "everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment," she said. "And I'm not willing to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music. I just don't agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free."
Still, Ek points out, a lot of people are listening to her for free.
"You can't look at Spotify in isolation — even though Taylor can pull her music off Spotify (where we license and pay for every song we've ever played), her songs are all over services and sites like YouTube and Soundcloud, where people can listen all they want for free."
Ek finally says he wants artists to know he's on their side. "Our interests are totally aligned with yours. Even if you don't believe that's our goal, look at our business. Our whole business is to maximize the value of your music."
He maintains that his site is helping to turn the business around. "We're getting fans to pay for music again. We're connecting artists to fans they would never have otherwise found, and we're paying them for every single listen. We're not just streaming, we're mainstreaming now, and that's good for music makers and music lovers around the world."