Along with Christmas/New Year’s Eve we now seem to have another widely celebrated holiday tradition – Spotify Unwrapped. Yes, the streaming giant welcomes artists (and everyone else) to share the annual streaming numbers and the overwhelming joy of spending a year on the platform. While typically a celebratory event, this year’s SU came loaded with an unusually high amount of criticism of its creator. Let us try to analyze why / throw 5 more cents into this debate.
As per Wiki, Spotify started out in 2006 – flash forward to 2021 and Forbes puts its co-founder’s Daniel Ek net wealth at astounding 4 billion (!!!) dollars. Ek also made it into 2012 “30 under 30” by Forbes, among many other accomplishments.
Hidden beneath all those impressive numbers / achievements is a burning question:
How much of Spotify’s earnings goes to musicians, especially independent ones?
Its a tricky question and the answer almost always depends on who you ask. Daniel Ek himself recently provided an answer on Twitter, albeit the one I found a tad lazy/generic:
I guess that depends on the definition… ~70c/$1 or $23bn total payouts as of 2020 to the music industry. That’s about 1/5th of the entire recorded music industry. https://t.co/ZVuiChSAyH
— Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) November 20, 2021
Equating music industry with artists makes no sense as it leaves out a wide swath of unsigned artists / those existing outside of traditional music business system. Even pre-streaming there’s a well documented history of artists getting in spats with major labels over mistreatment – from superstars like George Michael to Prince to casualties of grunge signing bonanza like Melvins. “Laughing with Lucifer at Satan’s Sideshow” off of 1997 Honky LP is a collage of Atlantic Records (aka the label that dropped Melvins year prior) executives talking down to the band
Furthermore, according to Consequence of Sound major labels (namely Sony, Vivendi and WMG) make million dollars an hour from streaming. Undoubtedly these are the same 3 labels that back in early two thousands were up in arms against Napster, Limewire and then-growing army of p2p platforms (with bands like Metallica joining the chorus/birthing a meme)
That same chorus was mostly low in volume in recent years (with Thom Yorke and Nicky Minaj proving to be exceptions). In a surprising turn of events the more recent criticism of Spotify came from Rashida Tlaib, a politician who also voiced her support for Union of Musicians and Allied Workers
In all the #SpotifyWrapped commotion, let’s not forget that while streaming services like @Spotify rake in billions, music artists are struggling to make ends meet. Watch my #JusticeAtSpotify roundtable with four @UMAW_ members fighting for change here: https://t.co/Is9pRk2nCL. pic.twitter.com/yYWz5gsULo
— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) December 3, 2021
And on the other side we got this off-the-wall take from UK band Sleaford Mods (who have a long history of similar/divisive takes/being roasted for the said takes). Prepare for a bit of a coarse language ahead….
Oh shut up about Spotify, ffs. Edgy wankers. It’s here. You can’t do anything about it. It’s grim, but what fuckin isn’t. We all use it. It’s handy. I don’t care about plays really. Artists that do are mostly diluted tossers with no tunes. Who gives a fuck.
— Sleaford Mods (@sleafordmods) December 2, 2021
I’d say this tweet is a little bit more than what it seems on the surface. I was initially as angered by it as most of the people replying, but here’s where I would side with SM – artists shouldn’t blamed for using it in the first place.
It is way too easy to get sucked into an argument that artists sealed their fate by giving music away and blamed Spotify when they saw no returns on investments. The issue is a little bit more complex than that and saying “get off the Spotify” / “switch to Bandcamp” can only accomplish so much
Yep. Seems that the problem of “fair payment for musicians” is far too complex to solve than continually saying “spend more money on Bandcamp” or “get off Spotify” https://t.co/YkUfaTL77F
— Andrew Tasselmyer (@atasselmyer) December 7, 2021
As a culture we need to relearn how to listen – and I’m not just talking about music/records. Its the voices of independent artists that often sound the loudest when it comes to criticism of Spotify/streaming services, be it Damon Krukowski with his excellent Dada Drummer Almanach newsletter or The Anchoress – pay attention to those rather than statements by Warner Bros. or Daniel Ek.
Start a blog, start a zine, start a radio show and give a voice to those that deserve it. Keep the pressure up.