An aging rockist like me should be psyched. The entire Led Zeppelin catalog is being added to Spotify, and the Sweden-based music service will be fully stocked by this Sunday. They are now up to Physical Graffiti (yes, I check every day, don’t judge). So why am I not FREAKING OUT? Well, first off, every single note of every single Zep song is permanently burned into my synapses. (Lots of lawns mowed with those cassettes cranked.) The most I can be excited for is the convenience—I can now access the catalog everywhere at anytime without having to load songs into a mobile device (or wait for classic rock radio to play “Black Dog” again).
Putting aside any commentary on Spotify’s business model and role in artist compensation, I have a few observations.
The timing is curious. Word is that Jimmy Page is almost finished with a full catalog remaster and that he’s even got some unreleased nuggets to sweeten the pot. This isn’t just a cash grab—the Zep albums were initially remastered back in 1990 as a correction to the existing transfers, which were nigh-unlistenable. Mastering technology has greatly improved since then, even as commercial playback devices and audio formats have become less-than-audiophile. So it’s probably time for a spit-shine.
Typically, I take a skeptical view about withholding product from a marketplace, especially considering the ease with which unauthorized copies can be obtained. But in this case, I think that the Page and co. are missing an opportunity.
Led Zeppelin is still relatively new to iTunes, which everyone knows offers higher margins. Despite its vintage, the Zep catalog remains active and sought-after, and I understand the rationale that there is also money to be made over a lifetime of streams. But I have heard that some fans are already complaining of the audio quality of the catalog on Spotify. So my question is, why not hold out on the streaming service until the CD and download marketplace is saturated? Wait a little while and then offer the collection for streaming with improved sound quality plus extras.
Even though many of us have owned the catalog in several different formats over the years, anytime Led Zeppelin records are released in a new form it’s a big deal. It seems certain that availability on Spotify will impact sales of the remasters in the download marketplace. Hardcore collectors will want the new versions on CD and vinyl, but there are many others who would’ve purchased songs and full records from iTunes. If Led Zeppelin is already available for listening on Spotify—and the expectation is that the remasters will be as well—there is less incentive to buy the downloads. This leaves money on the table.
The only reason I can see for making the albums available for streaming now is that by the time the remasters are ready for release, we’ll have moved that much closer to an environment where access has overtaken ownership. That’s probably an unreasonable expectation at this point, given that total paid subscribers in the US number around five million (compare to 31 million for Netflix and 25 million for satellite radio).
In which case it’s not going to negatively impact Led Zeppelin’s bottom line to wait just a little longer before jumping on the Spotify train. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, after all. Especially if you’re the almighty Zep.
By the way, where the hell is Black Sabbath?