Streaming Platforms Underpay Musicians

A trade union has launched a campaign against streaming giant Spotify, paying artists too little to make money while raising billions for its CEO and investors.

The Union of Musicians (UOM) launched ‘Justice at Spotify’, a campaign to make the streaming service more ethical in dealing with artists, starting October 2020.

“Spotify is the most dominant platform in the music streaming market,” reads the UOM statement. “The company behind the streaming platform continues to add value, but music workers everywhere see little money as compensation for their work.”

It continues: ‘With the entire live music ecosystem due to the coronavirus pandemic, music workers are more dependent on income than ever before,’ the union said. “We call on Spotify to provide increased royalty payments, transparency in their practices and to stop fighting artists.”

At the last poll, the campaign was signed by 19,000 artists, including poet, musician and activist Moor Mother in Philadelphia, and New York-based discussion agency Discwoman, which represents women, trans women and gender-talented talent in the electronics company. music community.

An unfair model

The campaign calls for Spotify artists to pay the minimum US stream per song stream. Currently, artists are paid just over a third of a cent. To put this in perspective, the union claims that it equates to 786 streams to buy a cup of coffee, almost 300,000 streams per month to pay rent and 650,000 streams to be a full-time working musician, which the equivalent of $ 15 per hour. It’s just for a solo artist. A group of three must triple the current numbers.

Spotify’s pay model has been heavily criticized for years, and many artists argue that it privileges established musicians. They advocate for a user-oriented model, whereby the royalties of a user’s monthly payment can be distributed to the artists they listen to.

“Spotify currently pays artists according to a ‘pro-rata’ model, in which all income is added together and then distributed to artists according to a complicated scheme, ‘the union writes.” The pro-rata model means that as artists the top of the pyramid collects a larger percentage of streams, all other artists receive increasingly small payments. “

The union claims that music workers are creating all the ‘enormous wealth’ that Spotify is building for it [chief executive Daniel Ek], its investors and the most important labels “and yet artists” are still underpaid, deceived and otherwise exploited by the company … As Spotify’s valuation increases, we have not seen any increase in our stream payments. “

UK Parliamentary inquiry

Only a few days after the union’s campaign was launched, the British Parliament announced that it would investigate the economic impact of the current on musicians and record companies.

The inquiry notice states that a committee of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will examine the business models of global music streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Google Play, as well as the sustainability of streaming for the music. industry. ‘Music streaming in the UK has generated more than £ 1 billion in revenue over the past year, with 114 billion music streams, but artists can only earn 13% of the revenue,’ the statement said. Streaming may be an easy way for music lovers to access music, but the artists see almost no benefit.

This is not the first salvo that Spotify has experienced. An open letter from a multi-generational cast of songwriters in April 2019 sued the company for requesting a decision from the Copyright Royalty Board to increase the royalty payment of songwriters from streaming over five years by more than 40% increase. Spotify, along with Amazon, Pandora and Google, which also appealed the ruling, argue that this decision would be detrimental to copyright.

How do South African musicians feel?

New Frame has contacted many South African musicians to determine how they feel about streaming services. One said his thoughts on Spotify were ‘really simple’, but he would agree to speak only anonymously.

“The playlists are the gatekeepers, and I can’t fuck with that,” he explains. “Most booking agencies look at your Spotify numbers before listening to your music. That’s what the industry is like right now.”

For every musician who agreed to speak from the record, at least five interview requests went unanswered, or artists were unwilling to speak – even with guaranteed anonymity.

“Spotify is not paying enough per stream,” says the musician. ” An artist can make no decent money from it unless he’s on super popular playlists, which are hard to find for most.

‘If you read the interview with the billionaire Swede [chief executive] A few months ago, he says the new era means artists have to produce even more records to survive. The only reason they even have to be suggested is because of the system they set up [in place], which artists underestimate. ‘

As NME reports: “I said in the original interview that there is a ‘narrative error’ about the idea that Spotify does not pay enough for artists to live on. ‘It’s about putting in the work, about the storytelling around the album. , and to maintain an ongoing dialogue with your fans, ‘ [Ek] said. “I really feel that those who are not doing well with streaming are mainly people who want to release music as previously released.” ‘

Amid international media coverage of the union’s campaign, Spotify has not yet commented. New Frame reached Spotify at their press email address from a November 10 release, but received a notification that there was an email delivery issue.

Boycott streaming services

Another musician says the money artists earn from streaming services is so minimal that he does not even consider it a revenue generator. “I see my music on streaming services as a promotional thing,” he says. “I want the music to be available in as many places as possible. It’s not about the money, although it would be nice to earn real income from streaming.”

The musician says that the revenue earned from streaming is currently more focused due to Covid-19’s impact on live music. “Live music is the real money maker for artists,” he says.

Another musician says the music industry has always treated artists badly. “It’s never been fair. It’s always been hard. It’s just getting harder now.”

The musician says that in the era of CDs he may have sold 5,000 to 10,000 CDs when he released an album, which would equate to between R25 000 and R50 000 profit for him. “But 5,000 to 10,000 streams are not going to get you anywhere,” he says. Without government legislation, he cannot see the streaming services changing the way they work.

But he did point out that there is already awareness among fans about how streaming services treat artists. This has led many people to boycott the streaming services and consume only music through sites like Bandcamp, which provides a fairer distribution of revenue with artists. All the musicians interviewed for this story consider Bandcamp as a source of income for their music.


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