When I first discovered Spotify I thought I’d stumbled across the best thing ever. If I wanted to listen to B-sides from old Smiths records or the entire back catalogue of obscure foreign bands I could do so, and it was absolutely free. However, Spotify and other streaming services have recently come under intense criticism from artists such as Thom Yorke and David Bryne for making it difficult for new bands to earn a decent amount from their music. So with streaming looking set to become the new medium for experiencing music, is Spotify ripping artists off?
Spotify pays the artist for each time a track is played but the service’s critics take issue with the pittance that this amounts to. ‘Get Lucky’ had been played over 100m times by last August, yet each member of Daft Punk received only $13,000 each. For artists without a huge international hit, earning a significant amount from Spotify is almost impossible, as Grizzly Bear discovered after receiving only $10 for around 10,000 plays; less than they would earn from a t-shirt sale. In fact, to earn the annual minimum wage of £9,435, an artist would need 236,549,020 streams. This is simply not sustainable.
All of this doesn’t really matter too much at the moment as streaming still represents a small part of most artists’ total earnings. However, the way we consume music is rapidly changing. In the five years since Spotify launched, the number of users has risen rapidly to 24m and the company is rumoured to be aiming for 100m in the near future. Just as mp3 replaced CDs, streaming is becoming the new way to listen to music and, to the consumer, it makes perfect sense. Why pay £10 for a CD when the entire catalogue is available for free?
If Spotify does become the main way of experiencing music, then the industry is in trouble. If new artists cannot make a living from their music they’re unlikely to continue for very long. Live shows are not enough without album sales and few people are willing to pay David Bryne to twerk at the MTV awards in skin-coloured pants. The development of the internet turned the music industry upside down and streaming is causing another revolution to which the industry is struggling to adapt. Thom Yorke believes that ‘what’s happening is the last gasp of the old industry. Once that does finally die…something else will happen.’ Whether or not creating music will still be a viable career path when it does is another matter.