For a man so heavily involved with the music industry, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek does not do himself any favours when it comes to dealing with the musicians themselves. His recent comments in an interview with Music Ally about how it was no longer enough for musicians to release new music every three to four years has prompted widespread outrage in the industry. Add this to the longstanding cries for better pay per stream from both top artists and independent publishers and you have a situation that seems to have reached boiling point.
The tension between artists and Spotify is an ongoing one and comes as no surprise to those familiar with the industry. Since the slow decline of the CD and physical sales when Napster and then Amazon entered the scene, the sale of recorded music has contributed less and less to the income of artists leading to intensive touring schedules and less time to create. When you accommodate the fact that Spotify pays $0.0037 per stream it becomes apparent that this relationship is not sustainable.
To put that in context, the wholesale price of a single peanut is $0.005 which is already more than an artist would earn for a stream. In order to earn minimum wage an artist would need to accumulate well over one million streams and so gone are the days of the independent musician making a living off his CDs. Without never-ending touring schedules and major financial backing a life solely focused on music as a career seems all the more improbable.
There has been serious talk of a boycott. Fans and musicians alike have been calling for change that could come in many forms. A move to another platform perhaps? A reimagining of the entire system? Both enticing options but not without their own shortcomings. For starters, the main contenders for the move would be offers from Apple or Amazon and both are not without their issues. Amazon are instantly ruled out as they pay just as little as Spotify and Apple, though higher paying, are sadly held back by limited software and a certain air of exclusivism as their platform is primarily designed for those who purchase their hardware leaving huge, Android-sized, chunks of the market unaccounted for. We could also consider Tidal; the service backed by rap mogul Jay-Z. Though they do offer the highest pay per stream they remain relatively unheard of and would require a mass education of the public to entice the common man to switch.
While it can clearly be seen that there are viable, more industry focused streaming alternatives with CEOs that understand and value their creatives we must also look at this from Spotify’s perspective. This is a company that has failed to turn an annual-net profit since its formation in 2008 and has continued to speak of upcoming years of losses as recently as May of last year. In turns of streaming services themselves being profitable, as a business model it has not at all proved itself to be practical or sustainable, but this is now what the average consumer is used to. It would be inefficient to spend time looking at a return to CDs or seeing vinyl as competition. For all those calling for a boycott we must listen to REM’s Mike Mills and understand that Spotify is, and will most likely continue to be our platform. To boycott it would be to boycott the three million artists trying to make a living off of it and so we must instead create a dialogue asking for changes from within.