“Enough Is Enough”: Here’s Why Artists Are Taking Serious Action Against Spotify

"Spotify should be fighting for the artists who built it, instead of further undercutting our economic well-being."

spotify musicians union photo

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A union of musicians has launched the ‘Justice at Spotify’ campaign, demanding that the streaming company stop ‘underpaying’, ‘misleading’ and ‘exploiting’ artists for financial gain. Among their demands is that Spotify pay artists a minimum of one cent per stream.

The US-based Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) sprung up at the beginning of COVID-19, as artists and music-industry workers immediately lost a major source of revenue: touring.

In a statement, the UMAW say they want to “collectively take resources and power from the few wealthy companies that dictate our industry” — their first campaign takes aim at Spotify specifically, which, with 299 million monthly users, is the world’s most popular streaming service.

“Spotify is the most dominant platform on the music streaming market,” a statement reads. “The company behind the streaming platform continues to accrue value, yet music workers everywhere see little more than pennies in compensation for the work they make…. Enough is enough.”

The major aim for the campaign is to increase streaming revenue to at least one (US) cent per stream — currently, on average, it’s $.00038 a stream. That’s 263 streams for the average artist to earn $1.

“To put that in perspective, it would take 786 streams to generate enough revenue to buy an average cup of coffee,” the Justice At Spotify site reads. “To pay the median American monthly rent ($1,078) an artist needs to generate 283,684 recurring streams monthly. And to earn $15/hr each month working full time, it would take 657,895 streams per band member.”

“We are asking Spotify to raise the average streaming royalty from $.0038 to a penny per stream. Doing so would give artists a better chance at making a living from their art, and begin to restore the public valuation of music.”

A secondary aim is to create transparency around Spotify’s current deals with the big three music companies, Sony, Warner and Universal, which own the vast majority of music on the platform. In 2019, the three combined were estimated to be earning $19 million a day off Spotify streams — a revenue barely passed on to artists themselves, with companies taking up to 80 percent of an artist’s streaming earnings for themselves.

“Spotify should be fighting for the artists who built it, instead of further undercutting our economic well-being.”

As a result, Spotify doesn’t actually pay royalties directly per stream currently. Instead, they have deals with major labels for access to their catalogues, which are then paid off proportionately to the percentage of how many streams their catalogue rakes in — which are then distributed by the company between artists.

It’s currently unclear exactly how these deals work, but what is clear is that an independent artist receives considerably less per stream than a major-label act.  This is why UMAW are demanding not only transparency but a shift to a genuine ‘pay-per stream’ model.

“The pro-rata model means that as artists on the top of the pyramid accumulate a greater percentage of streams, all other artists receive increasingly tiny payments,” a statement reads. “This model puts artists in competition with each other. We demand the adoption of a “user-centric” model which pays artists directly according to the number of streams they receive.”

Justice for Spotify says the current system not only limits the ability for independent artists to generate streaming revenue but also acts as a de-facto ‘payola’ system, where major-label acts are favoured by both editorial and algorithmic playlists.

“Spotify should not be in the businesses of selling artists access to their own fanbase. Spotify must publicly reveal where existing payola is occurring, and then stop systems of paid access that make an already unequal platform even more imbalanced.”

Finally, they ask that Spotify not treat musicians as the enemy, via antagonistic comments or legal battles over songwriter royalties.

“We demand that Spotify ends these battles, and pledges not to fight artists, songwriters, and other music workers in the future,” says Justice At Spotify. “Spotify should be fighting for the artists who built it, instead of further undercutting our economic well-being.”

In August, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek,  who Forbes estimates to be worth $4.3 billion, suggested that artists complaining about streaming revenue were simply not trying hard enough, and merely needed to continually churn out new music.

“The artists today that are making it realise that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans,” he told  MusicAlly. “It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans…. I feel, really, that the ones that aren’t doing well in streaming are predominantly people who want to release music the way it used to be released.”

The demands have been co-signed by 10,000+ musicians and industry workers within the first 48 hours of the campaign’s launch. Signees include King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Empress Of, Zola Jesus, Amber Coffman, Thurston Moore, Frankie Cosmos, Jay Som and Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto.

Since launching in 2008, Spotify has ran at a loss each financial year, as the Swedish company focuses on growth above profitability. But that margin is closing, and share prices are currently soaring as the company floats through COVID-19 relatively unscathed financially, thanks in part into a push into acquiring platform-unique podcasts.

“The ones that aren’t doing well in streaming are predominantly people who want to release music the way it used to be released.”

While Spotify may point towards their financials this as proof that they can’t pay artists more, UMAW disagree.

“Many claim that such wages are not compatible with Spotify’s current economic system. Our demand is that this model be adjusted so that artists can be paid fairly. If Spotify’s model can’t pay artists fairly, it shouldn’t exist.”

In  April, Spotify launched an in-app fundraising option for artists, allowing a musician to link towards a CashApp, PayPal or GoFundMe as a way for them to earn money during the pandemic.

Spotify has not yet responded to the campaign, and the Union has said they have plans to “escalate” the campaign if their demands are not met. Read more at Justice At Spotify.

Photo Credit: UMAW