Working for a living: to Spotify, or not to Spotify?
So it looks as if we finally need to make the decision about whether to jump at the “opportunity” to become “early adaptors” in response to Spotify’s long-awaited arrival in the US.
From a listener’s point of view, it looks like a no-brainer. For a nominal fee (or less!), you get access to a ginormous selection of music – along with the warm, fuzzy feeling that Spotify is compensating the artists by paying royalties for each stream.
The whole truth, however, is that Spotify pays artists according to a convoluted formula that would bring a wry smile of satisfaction to the face of PT Barnum. Our music has been distributed by Spotify in European countries for over a year and, despite what appears to be an encouraging number of streams, we are still waiting to break that ten-dollar mark. What we make, based on Spotify’s overly complicated formula, is in the hundredths of cents per stream, and we won’t make ten dollars from them for several years to come.
It’s been reported that Lady Gaga earned just £108 ($167 US) from one million plays of her hit “Poker Face” last year. Bob Dylan has pulled his catalog from Spotify entirely. And obviously Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan are at the top of the heap in Spotify’s compensation formula.
Don’t get us wrong – we’re not tarring all digital distribution with the same brush. We love digital distribution for its effectiveness in helping us reach a larger audience. Our 8 CDs are available to stream or download from dozens of sources, including Naxos, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, Rhapsody, Napster, and yes, the European version of Spotify. We are astonished and delighted to see statistics in the many tens of thousands – from countries we’ve never heard of.
But the occasional income we make from other, more musician-friendly distributors like iTunes and CD Baby actually puts food on the table. The occasional cumulative penny that trickles in from Spotify makes us question whether the exposure is worth the exploitation. They’re not technically stealing our music, but they’re certainly not adding any beans to the rice.
Of course, the focus of a streaming service like Spotify is to make music available to a listening audience, and we appreciate that. But what is not apparent in the ‘brave new world’ of digital distribution of music is that compensation of artists who create the music is factored in even less than previously. From the perspective of recording artists, Spotify is a con and another nail in the coffin for real working musicians.