As the cliché goes, you’d have to have been living under a rock to have missed the controversy currently unfolding between Kakao M and Spotify regarding the distribution rights to certain artist’s music. Almost a permanent trend in the last 24 hours – whether through Infinity War memes, rage-filled opinions, or helpful threads discussing what we’ve lost as consumers – everywhere you look, there’s a take on what’s went down. But, no matter what your opinion is on the matter, the conclusion should be the same: in times like these, everybody loses. The fans and artists primarily, yes, but the distributors too. After all, what can be gained from something which disadvantages so many, and cuts off artists from fans in a time in which worldwide touring isn’t possible, over bragging rights and corporate insecurity?
Of course, Spotify claim they have been seeking an extension to their deal with Kakao M for around 18 months (in this situation, why choose any other angle), but that doesn’t mean to say that consumer trust won’t have been marred regardless. With platforms such as Apple Music still boasting a comprehensive collection of K-Pop, including some of the hip-hop and indie artists who have been adversely affected by this ordeal, there’s no reason why some who want a quick fix won’t make the jump, or even try something completely new to them such as YouTube Music. It’s unlikely to be a stretch to assume that some people will subscribe to Spotify just to fulfil their K-Pop cravings, so why wouldn’t they go elsewhere if their musical palette could be fed more diversely? Additionally, and despite Apple Music having similar catalogue problems in 2018, there’s no telling how long it’ll take for a resolution between the two corporate giants – if there ever truly is one – so with that in mind, people who are in two minds are more than likely to opt out of Spotify as opposed to stick it out. So, in this situation, Spotify lose.
For Kakao M, when trust was already low, they’ve continued to do little to endear themselves to global fans of K-Pop. They don’t need to, and it’s unlikely to phase them that they’ve frustrated thousands on social media, but it’s not the prettiest of looks for shareholders to see a company’s name dragged through the mud by a meaty sub-section of Twitter users. Cutting off artist’s gateway to international audiences is borderline ruthless, and although the situation will run fiscally and mentally deeper than we are privy to, it’s still undeniably unfair to chip away at the bridge between artist and audience, and blur the lines of how we can consume a genre of music which was rightly becoming more accessible in line with its continuous expansion into worldwide markets. Whether or not it’s a direct response to Spotify encroaching on Kakao M’s territory with their heavily advertised entry into Korea is one thing, but to then starve fans outside of the domestic corporate battlefield because of these failed negotiations is petty at best, and completely useless at worst. With MelOn unavailable to those in places like Europe, North America and other places which sees K-Pop consistently rising in stock, Kakao M have only hindered routes of music discovery for the uninitiated in a standoff which does nobody any favours. So, in this situation, Kakao M lose.
But then are the artists too, musicians who, through absolutely no fault of their own, have been hit hugely (arguably the hardest) by the events of the last 24 hours. Some of the people, like Code Kunst, literally woke up to their discography wiped from Spotify. Others, such as Tablo, alerted fans from the start, evidently furious that artists with no control over corporate big boys have been left to suffer for a indefinite period because of what essentially is petulance. In extreme cases, like Seventeen, billions of streams have been lost. Both companies are blaming each other at the moment, and the musicians who should be at the heart of considerations have become afterthoughts. Whilst these roadblocks continue, bands, singers and everyone in between who once had a direct line to larger audiences will have to sit it out and suffer. So, in this situation, the artists lose.
Apparently a disagreement between our distributor Kakao M & Spotify has made our new album Epik High Is Here unavailable globally against our will. Regardless of who is at fault, why is it always the artists and the fans that suffer when businesses place greed over art?
— 에픽하이 타블로 | Tablo of Epik High (@blobyblo) February 28, 2021
Of course, there are the fans too. Dedicated, passionate people who live and breathe this genre of music who have seen hours upon hours deleted from their playlists in a flash. Will they change how they engage with streaming platforms as a result, turning towards physical media – which does, in turn, better support the artists themselves anyway – or do they hop between the places who can offer the most at that given time? It’s uncertain territory, and a complete headache for the vast majority who just want to be able to listen to their favourite songs without fuss. And, in the long run, without a complete, diverse collection of Korean music on offer from places like Spotify, music discovery is limited, meaning that many acts – for example, KARD – who have huge international followings may miss out on something which is key to their growth. So, in this instance, both the fans and the artists lose.
If there can be a potential positive from this, it’s that things may finally start to change in the music industry, and the methods in which these songs appear on streaming platforms can join the 21st century. It’s about time that some realise that these big, money hungry corporations don’t have their back nor their best interests at heart, and that profit is their only currency. These lessons will have been learned the hard way, but if indie distributors who value the art form end up thriving as a result of this, then it maybe, maybe will have been worth it in the long term. But, for now, all we can do is wait and see.