The Week (US)
The Spotify revolt: Music streaming at a crossroads
“Artists’ complaints about streaming are as old as streaming itself,” said Ben Sisario in The New York Times. But an outright rebellion is now brewing among musicians and songwriters that may force the next revolution in how popular music reaches listeners. A year ago, “musicians everywhere” watched their concert dates vanish, and the resulting loss of the bulk of their income refocused attention on how poorly they’ve been paid for years by Spotify, Apple Music, and the other streaming services that currently generate 83 percent of all recorded-music revenues in the U.S. A new advocacy group, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, has been waging a guerrilla campaign against Spotify, which currently pays artists “fractions of a penny.” One study claims that the bottom 99 percent of artists receive an average of $26 a year in royalties from the service. At numbers like that, “it has become nearly impossible for any artist who is not a star to earn a living wage.”
Much of the fight concerns how royalties are divided, said Tim Ingham in Rolling Stone. Spotify currently distributes payments based on artist popularity, which means that if Drake generates 5 percent of all Spotify streams in a month, his record label gets 5 percent of all royalties generated by the fees paid by subscribers— including those who don’t listen to Drake at all. In the U.K., where a parliamentary inquiry is underway that may prompt reforms worldwide, lawmakers have weighed several alternatives, including a system that would divide each user’s monthly contribution among the artists they actually listen to. Still, such proposals “miss the most important answer to musicians’ money woes.” Though music revenues have rebounded in the streaming era, the industry must now find ways to recoup the billions it lost when music’s “superfans”—the ones who used to spend hundreds a month on CDs or vinyl—switched to streaming for roughly $10 a month.
As long as corporate power goes unchecked, “the music industry’s deep inequity will persist,” said Ron Knox in Wired.com. Three major record labels (Universal, Sony, and Warner Music) now produce two-thirds of all music consumed in America, and four tech companies (Spotify, Google, Apple, and Amazon) have “a near-total stranglehold” on the streaming market. “Decades of bad policy got us here,” because “time and again,” antitrust agencies rubber-stamped corporate mergers. Today, independent artists and labels “must rely on—and increasingly pay—monopolists for access to fans.” Fortunately, because Congress seems increasingly willing to take on the tech titans, it’s becoming possible to imagine a better future. “There are more bands, artists, and music today than ever before. Distribution is drastically simplified. The money is flowing. It can all work, if monopoly power in the industry is brought to heel.”