Spotify for NC Musicians: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
This story originally appeared online at UNC Media Hub.
Faith Jones says it was fate that she became a musician. But fate hasn’t guaranteed that she will earn money by streaming her music on Spotify.
But as her career builds steadily, Jones still looks forward to the day when she can pop some champagne and celebrate cashing in her first $25.00 from Spotify. She has a single with nearly 50,000 streams, but she hasn’t popped the cap yet.
“As an independent artist, I have to use a music distributor to get my music on Spotify,” Jones said. “You can’t even withdraw money until you make $25, and I haven’t passed that threshold yet.”
Yet Jones isn’t pulling his music from Spotify, even in the wake of recent controversies that saw major artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell abandon the platform. For many local North Carolina indie artists like Jones, Spotify represents a much more complicated equation of money, publicity, and reach.
In 2019, Spotify reported paying between $0.00331 and $0.00437 per stream. Which means that even after successful releases, like Jones’ latest single “Dead Plants”, not even pennies have been paid into these artists’ bank accounts.
So there may be a few other reasons to boycott Spotify other than Joe Rogan.
A month ago, Neil Young wrote a public letter calling on Spotify to choose between him and Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host who has been accused of spreading misinformation about coronavirus and vaccines. Other artists joined Young in his boycott of the platform, including India Arie who cited Rogan’s past use of racial slurs as the reason for his departure.
These artists’ challenge to Spotify quickly became the center of a big conversation about misinformation and free speech online. But other artists want the dialogue to focus on Spotify’s less than ideal payment structures and the exploitation of artists.
For Mipso Group’s Libby Rodenbough, Rogan doesn’t even scratch the surface of the issues surrounding the modern streaming economy as a whole.
“I crave more power for Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, two people I would kiss the hem of their clothes, more power for them to take a stand on something that matters to them. But I have felt like I was missing the point for me,” Rodenbough said. “It just wouldn’t have been the battle I chose.”
Musicians around the world are strapped for cash due to a lack of touring in the past two years of the pandemic, and many don’t have the luxury of opting out of a potential, albeit small, source. revenue and exposure to new fans.
“I feel like as artists now, we just know we don’t make money from streams,” Jones said. “Having started my music career in the era of streaming, I never expected to make money from streams, it’s kind of sad, but I always knew I would have to rely on touring. ”
Whether it’s political hesitation or ownership complications, leaving Spotify isn’t an option for artists who don’t have the privilege of a legacy career like Young or Mitchell.
Spotify’s role in the music industry
Spotify has 381 million users and accounts, including 172 million paying subscribers, in 184 countries. In 2020, Spotify took in $5 billion in music royalties, which is about 20% of recorded music revenue that year.
Spotify has completely changed a music industry that was once dominated by physical music sales. And despite the platform’s flaws, local singer-songwriter Reid Johnson says streaming isn’t going anywhere.
“I noticed that buying music fell off a cliff, probably around 2010 or so. And it showed during touring,” Johnson said. ‘they were like, ‘I can broadcast this at home,’ and it had a lasting impact.”
Rodenbough said a big part of Mipso’s business plan centers around streaming, and despite the platform’s flaws, their Spotify hit, “People Change,” is bringing the band gigs and new listeners.
“Having a song that’s kind of a Spotify hit was an interesting experience, it definitely means you make more money than some people on Spotify,” Rodenbough said. “I meet people at shows, or sometimes people who book us for venues and festivals, who are aware that we have a lot of streams on this song, which is quite a strange phenomenon.
It’s clear that streaming has real power in the music industry. While Mipso has grown in popularity over the past decade, for artists like Doug MacMillan, the lead singer of Raleigh rock band The Connells, even after two decades in the industry, streaming has become a whole new way to experience music.
“Before, if you liked a song, you had to wait for it to come back on the radio or we had to bike to the mall and buy the song at the record store,” MacMillan said. “Now it’s so much easier, music at my fingertips, and thanks to that, we have new listeners and our music is readily available again.”
And the power of Spotify goes beyond money. Platform playlists such as RapCaviar, Top Hits of the day and Viva Latino work like the equivalent of Tower Records or MTV videos. But Johnson said Spotify’s power as a promotional tool for artists was overblown.
“I don’t know of any playlist where an artist would gain a lot of fans, they would gain a lot of streams, but it will be something temporary,” Johnson said. “High streams only inflate popularity, there is no correlation between streams and the draw you might have on a local show.”
Rodenbough also said that a Spotify hit doesn’t necessarily mean people who listen to your song will definitely become die-hard fans.
“They hear your song passively when they’re listening to the playlist, like when they’re studying or working in a coffee shop, which doesn’t mean they’re buying tickets to your shows,” Rodenbough said. “It’s pretty hard to gauge if that translates into a real connection with your group.”
The exploitation of black artists
Spotify’s complications go far beyond superficial promises of fame and poor compensation policies, Jones said Spotify’s willingness to protect Rogan even after a viral video of him using the N-word more than 20 times feels like a betrayal of many black artists like herself. to the success of the platform.
“This platform is making so much money off of black artists in particular, even with all the white artists on it, black music is at the heart of all music,” Jones said. “If I see a web of genres, you know, the center is black people and black music, from folk music to rock to K-pop.”
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has apologized to staff for the streaming service’s ongoing Rogan crisis. Rogan also apologized for his repeated use of racial slurs in previous episodes of his show, The Joe Rogan Experience.
But for Jones, those excuses aren’t enough. Black artists like Jones contribute to streaming funds that Spotify then uses to pay for Rogan’s $100 million contract. Jones argues that this isn’t so much about free speech debate, but more about Spotify showing its true colors.
“The reason people flocked to Spotify is because the music, and the reason Spotify was so successful they were even able to launch a podcast platform in general, is because of the music that was created through the work of black artists,” Jones said. . “So in order for Spotify not to terminate their contract, they feel greedy and show where they stand.”
Bigger than Spotify
Asked in 2020 about the platform’s compensation policies, Ek said, “You can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” Ek’s words were heard loud and clear by everyone in the music industry.
“It’s not caring about the artists or the creative process, it’s a business response to an artistic endeavor and those things just don’t add up for me,” Johnson said. “Actually, they should oppose.”
Ek’s words make it clear that Spotify is not a music or media company, but a product-obsessed tech company like any other, Johnson said.
But music isn’t just a commodity, not for the musicians who work in it anyway.
“I don’t think people really get it,” MacMillian said. “Clearly this CEO has no idea how long it takes to record an album, or even record a few songs. We could get one out in an hour but what for, it won’t be good.
Independent artists who remove their music from Spotify won’t make it clear to Ek or any Spotify executive that an artist’s work is valuable, local artists say. For Rodenbough, while much of Mipso’s business centers around streaming, the choice to leave the platform isn’t so simple.
“I can’t see myself removing my music from Spotify. But I think you can bite the hand that feeds you, in fact I think everyone should be a little more comfortable embracing contradiction,” he said. Rodenbough said “I feel free to talk about Spotify, as long as I have my music there and it’s the only way to travel the world half sane now.”
Rodenbough said it’s all bigger than Spotify.
“No matter the dominant mode of music consumption, artists will be exploited,” Rodenbough said. “If people really want to be good supporters of the arts, then they should push for universal health care and universal child care, things that would make life better for everyone so that artists could live comfortably without having to make a ton of money.”
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