For those not familiar with it, Spotify is an online music service that allows you to stream music. There are both free and paid options. So, what’s wrong with that? Well, probably nothing if you’re one of the 20 million people who have used the service since its creation in 2008. However, if you’re Thom Yorke – lead singer with the band Radiohead – there’s a lot wrong with Spotify. Last week, Yorke removed his solo music and the music of his side project “Atoms For Peace” from Spotify, saying in a tweet:
“Make no mistake new artists you discover on Spotify will no[t] get paid. Meanwhile shareholders will shortly be rolling in it. Simples.”
He went on to defend those who would call his move meaningless:
“‘Your small meaningless rebellion is only hurting your fans…a drop in the bucket really’ No we’re standing up for our fellow musicians.”
And he’s not alone in his criticism of Spotify. Patrick Carney of the Black Keys said that “Spotify isn’t fair to artists”, while Biffy Clyro guitarist Mike Vennart said, “I’d sooner people stole my work than stream it from [Spotify]. They pay the artists virtually nothing. Literally pennies per month. Yet they make a killing.”
And they’re right, at least when it comes to the amounts paid to musicians. According to Wikipedia, “an artist on Spotify would need over four million streams per month to earn US$1,160 (equivalent to working full-time at a minimum wage job).” One of the most streamed songs of recent months was Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, which surpassed 1 million streams. Using the above formula, that’s still “only” $290 and – let’s face it – no new artist trying to break out is going to come anywhere near 1 million views.
But, here’s the kicker. It’s the same story with all online streaming services. The other big player in the market – iTunes – pays similar rates. I say similar because it’s hard to nail down an exact figure for either service as there seems to be differences between paid and premium users and also depending on the amount of streams.
There were, of course, those who took another view of Spotify. Twitter user @kube555 commented: “Flipside to Spotify coin. I’ve discovered countless new bands through it. In turn leads me to increase their [money] by seeing them live.” Irish journalist Una Mullally seemed to sum up the thoughts of many when she tweeted:
Spotify themselves said in a statement: “Spotify’s goal is to grow a service which people love, ultimately want to pay for and which will provide the financial support to the music industry necessary to invest in new talent and music.
“We’ve already paid $500 million to rights holders so far and by the end of 2013 this number will reach $1 billion. Much of this money is being invested in nurturing new talent and producing great new music.”
So where does all this leave musicians like me and probably hundreds others like me? Both of my albums are available to stream on Spotify. (I release my albums through “CD Baby” and Spotify is one of the many affiliate music sites they send music to.) But, the fact is, given the amount of plays I will get, I’m not going to make much money from Spotify, and neither are any other artists at the same level as me.
But – and here’s the catch 22 – I can get exposure for my music on Spotify. Someone like Thom Yorke doesn’t need exposure; someone like me does. New artists need both exposure and sales, but from Spotify, we’re only going to get one of those things? So, the question is: is one of those things better than none at all?