Every year, Spotify presents its hundreds of millions of users with a nice little gift: their very own listening data, neatly packaged with bright graphics and increasingly grating boilerplate text pretending to be personalized. It’s hugely shareable, inevitably memorized, and generally a reliable mix of precision and hilarious off-base. (Petition to have all playlists simply named “Sleep” excluded from 2022.)
The sad truth, of course, is that all those numbers — streams and minutes streamed and various sub-subgenres of fake-sounding pop — hide the only one that really matters. Now that streaming has largely replaced purchasing as the dominant model of music consumption, the vast majority of artists need you to buy things from them to make a living.
Spotify infamously pays artists fractions of a penny per stream. The actual amount of money that comes back to artists varies depending on how much of the cut labels and distributors take. But most sources agree that Spotify pays between $0.003 and $0.005 per streamand this, before the money is distributed according to the conditions set out in the distribution contracts.
The money isn’t taken directly from your Premium monthly fee (or revenue from the ads you listen to, if you’re on the free tier) and paid out to the artists you personally listen to. Instead, it all goes into one big pot, which is then split between artists (and labels) based on how many of their songs have helped build up Spotify’s billions of streams each month.
Safe to say that Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Nas X secure the bag in other ways, besides having some of the most popular songs in the world. But for smaller artists – even acts with hundreds of thousands of listeners – it’s brutal here.
Peter Hollo is a musician and radio host from Sydney who plays in Tangents, a four-piece post-rock/electronic/jazz band. The group released a double album this year via an American label.
“We managed 170.7,000 streams and 71.9,000 listeners,” he told Mashable via email. “It sounds impressive, but it resulted in triple numbers in our pockets at best.”
Artists are starting to fight back, with a new union protesting at Spotify’s offices earlier this year and since then has constantly campaigned for a fairer model, including a payment of one cent per stream. Some people have been keen to drop Spotify in protest at this power imbalance – either in favor of other platforms that pay (fractionally) more, or to go back to buying music only the old fashioned way, in the form of album and single.
But it’s still a useful and fairly comprehensive platform for music discovery and access. There’s really no shame in continuing to shell out your hard-earned money for this pleasure and privilege, any more than there is in keeping your Instagram or Amazon account because it’s convenient for looking at photos. of your nieces or have things delivered. hurry. (Yes, your ethical mileage may vary, but that’s your decision.)
What you can also do, however, is support the artists who make the music you love.
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Making music is expensive. Even at the most basic level, artists have to pay for equipment (whether a single laptop or several expensive instruments), insurance, paying their managers and crew, accommodation and travel for touring, studio time, paying for mixing and/or mastering, and the costs associated with physically releasing the music – not to mention the countless hours of training, rehearsal and writing and composing leading to the recording of a single song.
It all has to happen, over and over again, so you can put on something to dance, run, cook or sob. And working musicians have had the toughest two years in living memory, with COVID-19 essentially shutting down live music for all but the most irresponsible acts and venues.
So this year, treat your Spotify Wrapped like a shopping list.
“It takes a ridiculously low number of digital sales to eclipse all streaming royalties.”
Watch your top artists and buy them something – anything you can afford. Buy a digital or physical album from their official website or at your local record store. Buy a ticket to their live shows, not just festivals, if you’re vaccinated and feel comfortable doing so – they missed seeing your faces! And grab a shirt or other gear from the merchandising table while you’re at it, if you can afford it. Shows are usually the best place to buy merchandise because usually more of what you pay will go into the artist’s pocket with fewer middlemen and overhead like postage and e-commerce, but online also works.
For digital music, see if you can buy your favorite songs or albums on Bandcamp, a platform that only takes 10-15% of the sale price (and also gives you the option of paying more than the minimum if you wish). Even if you can only afford one song, for the price of a cup of coffee, it will mean something to that artist that you put in the effort and spared the change.
“For digital [Bandcamp is] really the best, but all digital buys are good,” Hollo explained. “It takes a ridiculously low number of digital sales to eclipse all streaming royalties.”
And try to spend your money where it will make the most difference. Yes, you’ve mostly been listening to Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift all year like so many other people, and the money spent on music is never wasted. But the $30 you could drop on a shit sour bucket hat is almost certainly better spent on a shirt or two whole digital albums from that outlier indie artist you’ve been rehearsing all spring long, then forgotten about until your Wrapped reminded you.
Even though it seems like a token gesture to go pay a few bucks on Bandcamp for a song you liked this year, even if you never listen to that copy and keep playing it on Spotify, it’s a convenient and meaningful to help the musicians who got you through this year, so they can get you through whatever 2022 brings.