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Taylor Swift tells streaming ‘You Belong with Me,’ and it’s all about timing

Taylor Swift performs during her "1989" world tour in Melbourne, Australia. Graham Denholm/Getty Images

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As of today, Taylor Swift’s music catalog is back on Spotify and the other major streaming services. Swift pulled her music from Spotify in 2014, saying the company didn’t pay artists fairly. But, to borrow some lyrics from a now-streamable Taylor Swift track: “Everything has changed.”

What’s changed exactly? Well, Spotify has given the pop star some of what she wants. In April, the company inked a licensing deal with Swift’s distributor, Universal Music Group, which allow artists like Swift to do something known as “windowing” on new releases.

“Where you say to fans, ‘OK, if you’re a free user of this service, you have to wait two weeks,’” said Catherine Moore, who teaches music technology at the University of Toronto. “’But if you’re a premium, and we want you to be a premium subscriber, you’ll get it right away.’”

Windowing is good for labels and artists because they earn way more money from paid users than from unpaid ones. Swift has other incentives for getting back in the streaming game. It’s now clear to her and other artists that streaming isn’t going anywhere.   

“If you want people to listen to you, you need to be where the people are,” said Larry Miller, who directs the music business program at NYU.

When Swift’s album “1989” came out, Spotify had 10 million users. Now 50 million people use the service and “more than half of the revenues collected by the recorded music industry come from the streaming services,” Miller said. 

Streaming has become a powerful marketing tool. Artists like Kanye West, Beyonce and Rihanna all released exclusive streams of their latest albums before the physical CD or vinyl. And Chance the Rapper managed to win a Grammy this year without putting out any kind of physical album.

Despite its leading position in the streaming field, Spotify is expected to be making more concessions to the big record labels in the near future. There’s a particular reason for that, said Karen Allen, a digital entertainment consultant.

“They’re going up for an IPO,” Allen said. “They have to play ball, basically.”

There may be another reason behind the timing of Taylor’s announcement. Katy Perry, with whom she’s rumored to have long-standing beef, has a new album out today. Coincidence? 

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