Opinion: Stop Using Spotify
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Spotify Music Streaming Promotes An Exploitative 'Starving Artist' Concept
Growing up, I was a stage kid. I loved everything that resembled art, but I especially gravitated toward the music scene. Of course, back in those days, it was pretty cut and dry to support the artists you liked. The stacks and stacks of plastic-wrapped CDs in my bedroom and framed ticket stubs were a testimony of my faith in the power of music.
The world has changed, and most people don't have grand CD collections anymore. Some people wouldn't have a way to play them even if they did - a report by Statista shows that only 35% of homes even had a CD player in 2016. I can't imagine that number going anywhere but down.
The average consumer, assuming they are anything like me, hasn't necessarily thought much about what that means for musicians. It's easy to assume that, since music still exists, they're getting paid somehow. But this is a complicated issue, and their profits typically aren't as much as you might think.
Why Artists Aren't Making Money From Streaming
Many artists signed contracts that started before anyone understood how the streaming of music would take off. These ridiculously prohibitive contracts often left the power in the hands of those footing the bills, the record companies. It's fair for them to recoup some of their profit - they were the ones who put their money down on a gamble in the first place.
But back when the division of profits was structured with CD sales in mind, it was a system that, while maybe not fair, at least made more sense. Signing away rights to something no one saw as being an integral part of music consumption was the threat almost no one was looking out for. At that time, letting people hear your music on platforms like the radio was how you got CD sales, after all.
Even for the lucky bands, the ones who didn't sign debilitating contracts, streaming apps like Spotify did their due diligence in finding a perfectly legal way to screw them. You can find a laundry list of the various complaints by artists here if you really want to, but the tl;dr is that Spotify believes they don't owe the artists anything more than ad revenue produced during the entire streaming session. They don't pay an artist per play, they simply divide the revenue between every artist on a playlist.
Why People Complain Their Spotify AI Is Bad
It's a frequent complaint you hear on the internet, one I've had myself. "Why is my Spotify AI so bad? Why is it predicting such weird music? This is nothing like what I listen to." (For those not in the know, there's artificial intelligence or "AI" built into Spotify to help predict what you want to listen to next.)
Supposedly, these calculations come from algorithms based on your previous listening and related bands. But most people would agree - there's something off in their math because it often suggests music that just doesn't fit.
So if you're having this problem as well, it's interesting to note that there's a lot of debate and accusations that Spotify inserts "fake" artists into the rotation just to avoid paying the real ones as much. Music purchased for less from "sound production" companies seems to be given an unfair advantage in their rotation, potentially letting them keep a portion of what they should be paying out.
This might be why you keep getting music suggestions that seem off the wall. It's the stuff that's cheap or free, and they're padding their playlists with it. After all, if 10% of the music is just filler in a shell game, you don't have to pay anyone for it.
Of course, Spotify denies this practice. And why wouldn't you trust the ethics of a company that finds it fair to pay executives as much as 7 million dollars while giving the actual music-makers an average of 1/3 of a penny.
And so far, Spotify shows no qualms with the microscopic pay. Former executive Jim Anderson is on record as saying that Spotify was created to address piracy issues, and not pay artists. That sounds a lot like saying that people were stealing from artists, so Spotify just started doing it instead. Anderson continued to up the ante, declaring that artists like Taylor Swift don't need to depend on the scant revenue from streaming in the first place.
Musicians Can't Speak Up About Going Broke
But saying artists don't need this money is a bold statement. While it might be technically true in Swift's case, for every Taylor Swift there are a million artists not in a position to take this loss. Taylor Swift herself has spoken out about the unfairness of the practice, acknowledging at one point that she isn't particularly affected by the outcome of this battle, but other artists are.
So if artists are suffering, why don't they say so? It's purely conjectured on my part, but I offer two obvious reasons:
Artists can't afford to "not play ball" in the music industry. Services like Spotify have become such an integral part that there's really no solution but to lie down and take it, even if it's a losing battle. Some artists have expressed a fear of retribution, should they speak out. This isn't all paranoia - there have been reports along these lines in the past. Again, even Taylor Swift once tried to pull her catalog off Spotify, just to eventually put it back up. If Swift can't pull off this power play in the music business, it's fair to assume no one can.
Artists are in a precarious position to ask the "average person" for sympathy. Many people may share Anderson's rather crude sentiment, assuming that these are all millionaires squabbling over pennies. It's not true and having to pull out big names like Swift's to make this argument should be enough to prove it. But we tend to see celebrities as rolling in excess, forgetting that complicated contracts mean they're often already getting a small piece of the pie leftover once the bean counters are done. Not treading carefully on this issue may come across as entitled or disillusioned to the public.
What's The Answer?
So what can you do? Well, the best way is to support artists more directly with your pocketbook. Buy your favorite music, don't just stream. Attend concerts, and follow their feeds for unique opportunities like live stream concerts and events.
But if you're dedicated to streaming - understandably, it's just so convenient - at least stop using platforms like Spotify that exploit the talent of others to make a buck. Other popular options such as Pandora and Youtube pay even less than Spotify (though without as much complaint of unethical business practices.
There's plenty of research out there on better options, including Napster. It costs (at time of print) $9.99, but also pays out 3x more than Spotify. It's not a great solution, and it's worth pointing out that this still isn't much. To earn a mere $1260 a month, artists still need 137 thousand streams a month. Your favorite band might be splitting that income between 4 members.
There are no easy answers for these problems yet, but it's fair to assume that streaming services will have to find a better way to pay for the content they provide. As consumers, it's up to us to demand that they do. No artist should be able to hit 137,000 streams of their music each month and still be broke.
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Jamie Dixon is a contributing writer here at The Pyrrhic. She's a content writer by profession, but this is more fun. She's also working on her first novel in her spare time.