Currently, one of the most pressing question regarding streaming music is: does streaming music provide a livable wage?
For awhile, top tier artists such as Taylor Swift, Thom Yorke, Bob Seger and Prince withheld their catalogs from Spotify, in an opposition to its low payout rates.
In August 2018, Peter Frampton tweeted that for 55 million streams of “Baby I Love Your Way,” he received just $1,700. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke even referred to Spotify’s business model as “the last fart of a dying corpse.”
Fifty-five million iTunes purchases of “Baby I Love Your Way” would have yielded Frampton and the credited individuals on the single $38.5 million.
In 2013, Yorke said, “I feel like as musicians, we need to fight the Spotify thing. I feel that in some ways, what’s happening in the mainstream is the last gasp of the old industry. Once that does finally die, which it will, something else will happen.”
Portishead’s Geoff Barrow stated in an online discussion thread that “if you work the system well, it can make a living. My issue is that for the bands that aren’t like that, it’s almost impossible to make a living as most deals include Spotify.”
The “system” that Barrow is referring to is Spotify’s playlist algorithm, and there’s no denying its allure or its ability to create exposure.
Many songwriters who distribute their songs digitally ask their fanbases to add their singles to a playlist, which in turn adds algorithm metadata to the track.
If enough relevant algorithm metadata is added to the track, the song appears on Spotify curated playlists as well as subscriber’s personally generated playlists such as, “Discover Weekly” and “Daily Mix.”
This Spotify algorithm is perhaps the streaming service’s most attractive quality. Spotify also markets itself as an artist-friendly service, providing an app just for artists to monitor their streams, fans and profiles.
Monitoring the precise payout rate of each streaming service is a futile effort as the rates fluctuate and vary based on record label deals with Spotify and negotiations made with distribution services and independent release services such as CD Baby. The bottom line: payout rates will always fluctuate.
In the past year, songwriters have made significant strides in the fight for fair wages in music streaming. Groups such as SONA, BMI, ASCAP, NSAI and the SGA have been crucial to the coalition that negotiated and passed the Music Modernization Act (MMA).
According to SONA’s mission statement, one of the professional songwriter groups instrumental in the passage of the MMA, “The current rates paid to writers by music streaming media companies are grossly unfair, unsustainable and unacceptable.”
The group has been educating songwriters and music lovers alike on the complex and constantly-morphing digital music industry.
The songwriters should have the final and definitive say on how our work is used and at what price. The current system dramatically under-values their work, and, primarily because of government regulation, they are unable to negotiate in a free marketplace.
The MMA has made huge strides in accomplishing SONA’s goals by trying to increase streaming royalty payouts for songwriters, which would effectively establish a livable wage for artists and songwriters.
On Feb. 5 2019, the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) published a 44% increase in songwriter royalties. In order to make sure all aspects of the music industry, the CRB gave major streaming companies 30 days to challenge the ruling.
Apple Music and Tidal accepted the increase, keeping in line with their position of supporting songwriters. Spotify and Amazon have filed notices of appeal, and Pandora and Google are asking the CRB to “review its decision.” The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) has since called both Spotify and Amazon’s decisions “shameful.”
Spotify has declared war on songwriters by appealing the CRB decision and blatantly denying reasonable payout rates the streaming giant has been withholding since its conception.
In response to the criticism, Spotify responded, “If left to stand, the CRB’s decision harms both music licensees and copyright owners. Accordingly, we are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the decision.”
Spotify’s public relations team and marketing approach has always appeared to support artists in the same way Monsanto advertises they support the environment.
In 2017, Spotify launched the Secret Genius Awards program to honor songwriters and producers behind some of the streaming platform’s most-played songs. Over 90 members of that program, who are songwriters behind some of the biggest hits in music, sent a letter chastising Spotify for creating a songwriter relations program, making them feel that they were working to build a more modern industry, only to appeal the CRB’s decision.
The “Not So Secret Geniuses” asked Spotify to do the right thing and drop the appeal.
There was no absence of backlash from music fans either. On April 5, 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple Music had surpassed Spotify by 2 million subscribers in the U.S.
I ask, as a student, songwriter and someone who works with artists who struggle to make livable incomes, to cancel your Spotify subscriptions.
Canceling your subscription does not have to be an embargo, just a boycott until Spotify renegotiates its stance on songwriter support. Spotify provides a great service to music fans, and they simply need to provide that service in a model that benefits artists and songwriters as much as it benefits subscribers.
Let’s break it down in layman’s terms: a premium Spotify subscription provides you unlimited access to the most extensive library of music available for a mere $10 a month. Apple Music, which supports the CRB’s decision, also charges $10 a month. The difference? Apple Music is paying their artists more and clearly stands with songwriters in a changing music industry. They even managed to do it while keeping their subscription price consistent with Spotify.
Spotify has normalized the idea of not paying for music. But that is far from reality. It isn’t free to run a studio, create music, fund a tour or produce a show.
There are arguments about this that date back to the birth of streaming, but the fact of the matter is this: you wouldn’t leave your restaurant tab unpaid, you wouldn’t refuse to pay for your groceries, so why refuse to pay so little for one of life’s greatest joys?