Sunday, May 17, 2020

User error

"Spotify should pay artists fairly": a complaint/rallying cry you hear often from artists themselves, as well as many others - myself included. But what does that actually mean? In an article remarkable for its clear and sober analysis of the key issues, Stuart Dredge of Music Ally sets out to correct some misconceptions and consider how musicians could be better recompensed.

First and foremost, he points out that "Spotify doesn't pay artists or songwriters directly. It pays labels, distributors, publishers and collecting societies, and they then pay musicians" Neither does it pay per stream; in fact, artists receive a share of a royalties pool based on the service's overall streaming figures.

Your knee-jerk reaction, like mine, might be to see these as pedantic if technically correct observations on a business model that allows Spotify to act in a weaselly way. However, for instance, Dredge's first point helps to draw attention to the fact that the levels of payment received by artists are at least partially determined by the contracts they have with the various middlemen - in other words, something over which Spotify has no control but the artists, to some extent, did at the point they were drawn up and agreed.

"The key question to focus on", Dredge contends, is "how Spotify can increase the size of its royalties pool". While the company could arguably pass a higher proportion of its earnings on to artists, the main way in which this increase could be achieved is by raising more revenue from consumers - whether by bumping up the cost of a subscription (which, let's admit it, is incredibly low given the wealth of content to which it gives you access) or enticing/forcing many more free users to switch to the paid model. Dredge doesn't spell it out, but there's an uncomfortable truth to be confronted here (one I've previously hinted at myself) - namely, that if artists are being unfairly paid, then the behaviour of so-called music fans is at least as much to blame as unscrupulous corporations and middlemen.

There have been other mooted solutions - a larger share of streaming royalties or user-centric models, for instance - but, as Dredge underlines, these bring with them their own complications and headaches and raise more questions than they answer. Ultimately, the takeaway from a refreshingly calm and nuanced piece is that the onus is on us consumers to change our ways as much as on Spotify to change theirs.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

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