In Defence of Spotify

Image credit: Spotify

The 21st century has been a tumultuous time for the music industry. The rise of digital music consumption has forced the big record labels into more costume changes than David Bowie could manage in an average tour. Whilst the industry has previously withstood changes like the move from vinyl to tape to CD with relative ease, the speed of digital innovation has proved overwhelming, causing physical music sales to plummet (despite the best efforts of hipsters to support artists by buying £24 vinyl records from Sainsbury’s).

Which is why the rise of streaming platforms like Spotify, or the Jay-Z funded Tidal are a welcome lifeline for the record oligopoly. The incredible flexibility of these platforms has also proved immensely popular with listeners, now accounting for 19% of music revenue worldwide.

This rosy picture is somewhat clouded by the angry red noise coming from some artists, who claim that Spotify is stifling the growth of new musicians and is failing to account for the loss in revenue from physical music. Should we accept that streaming is the only show in town? Or should fans look elsewhere to support their beloved bands?

0.1p. As well as being the ingredient cost for a chips and cheese at Uncle Frank’s, it’s also roughly how much an artist gets paid per stream of their track on Spotify. Ten million streams will get you £10,000. We can therefore roughly estimate that RAY BLK, winner of the BBC Sound of 2017 award, about as successful as an up and coming artist can be, has earned roughly £6,450 from the 6.45 million streams of her debut album Durt since its release in October. Whilst not by any means a fortune, that’s exactly £6,450 more than Drake earned from the estimated 10 million plus illegal downloads of his album Nothing Was The Same. Inarguably, artists working through the conventional “get noticed, get signed, get photographed throwing up at the Brits, profit” route are having a harder time – the number of musicians signed to major labels in the US fell 80% between 2003 and 2013 – but they would be having a far worse time if streaming had not helped reduce piracy levels from their mid-2000s peak.

Competing against “free” is not easy. It’s a dilemma faced by virtually every media industry right now, and has seen Hollywood leap into the protective embrace of Netflix, and newspapers implode or rebrand themselves with ad-riddled online personas. Spotify and other streamers are seen by record labels as their own saviour from the spread of piracy. In this powerful position, streamers can either get into bed with fat cat record labels – Warner Music Group have expressed their deep interest in “turbo-charging” the rate of Spotify listeners paying a monthly fee for premium access – or realise their ability to reshape how artists make money. If they can use innovations like their immensely popular curated public playlists to make independent music available to a bigger audience, artists that choose not to take the aforementioned conventional route and release music solo, exemplified by the proudly unsigned Chance the Rapper, can flourish. The same statistics which showed a huge loss in label-signed acts also showed a massive increase in independent musicians, and streamers should embrace these new entrants to the music market.

Spotify puts millions of songs a keystroke away, but it’s only by resisting the urge to listen to Ed Sheeran’s latest dross for the 679th time this week and trying new music that listeners can make sure Spotify supports the musicians that really need it. 

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