On Monday, January 26, famed singer/songwriter Neil Young posted a scathing ultimatum on his website against Spotify. This ultimatum was issued after a series of misleading comments about the Covid-19 vaccine made by Spotify-signed podcast star Joe Rogan. “Spotify has recently become a very damaging force via its public misinformation and lies about COVID”, Young explains. In a letter he sent to his record label, Young made it very clear: “They [Spotify] could have Rogan, or Young. Not both.” Spotify removed Neil Young’s massive and influential discography, choosing to stand with their $100 million purchase for the rights of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Following Neil Young’s lead, many artists have hopped on the “ditch Spotify” bandwagon, including another singer/songwriter legend, Joni Mitchell.
As a music streaming service, Spotify has one job: to stream music. Yet, the company chose Joe Rogan over Neil Young. This prioritization of misinformation over music based on profit places a worrying reflection upon Spotify’s attitudes towards the artists they host. Since then, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has assured users that they are developing “measures to help combat misinformation and provide greater transparency.” As music journalist Ben Beaumont-Thomas aptly points out in an article for The Guardian, “In a 1,100-word opening statement announcing Spotify’s successes, he used the word ‘music’ only once.” Regardless of how this situation eventually resolves, Spotify’s choice is only the most recent in a long series of harmful and exploitative actions.
“The only goals stated by Ek are about numbers – not art, not creativity.” -Neil Young
Spotify has run into a lot of trouble ever since the service launched in 2006, yet it still holds the biggest market share out of every streaming service – more than doubling that of its biggest competitor: Apple Music. Spotify rules over the music industry with an iron first since streaming is by far the primary way people listen to music. This power has led to many questionable business practices and a troublingly low pay rate for artists.
Reports on how much streaming services pay artists is very inconsistent. The prevailing understanding is that Spotify pays artists less than $0.005 per stream, with Apple music paying closer to $0.01, and Tidal is estimated to pay about the same. Often this money doesn’t even go directly to the artists, instead being split amongst rights-holders and record labels before going to the artist. These are abysmal numbers, especially for smaller artists, or middle-sized artists. Even some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Taylor Swift and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, have complained about how unfair streaming payouts are.
While the dismal payouts are an issue that can be seen across the board with streaming services, Spotify seems to be the worst of the worst. Spotify is more than twice as big as Apple Music, yet it still gets away with paying less than half as much. Spotify has also reportedly indulged in “pay for play” schemes where music labels pay the platform to obtain placements on popular playlists. Just last November, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek directed more than 100 million euros (funds amassed from the consistent exploitation of artists) towards an independent artificial intelligence company that focuses on the development of AI weaponry—because we all know how much artists love war.
With all of its recent controversy, could this finally be the end of the line for the music industry’s largest streaming giant? Uhhh, no. Probably not. Spotify is the dominant platform, and boycotting can only go so far, especially with a lack of solid alternatives. It also doesn’t help that Spotify is integrated into how we socialize with music; when I send music to my friends, I send them Spotify links – when I make playlists for people, I create them on Spotify – when I am playing music on desktop, I use Spotify. I pay for Spotify, even though I mainly use Apple Music and hate Spotify with every fiber of my being. The only force that can change the predatory nature of Spotify lies with the same record labels that are benefiting most from the streaming model. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell leaving is a small step forward, but the absence of an artist – even a huge one – has not seemed to push consumers to cancel subscriptions in the past. Most likely, this bold move by Neil Young and Joni Mitchell will not have an impact on Spotify as a whole, but there is hope still.
Emerging music services are attempting to fix the issues with the current streaming model. The “stream-to-own” model is a promising one, it employs a system where streaming a song costs a very small amount of money that increases upon subsequent streams. Once you stream the song enough, you then own the song. This keeps the opportunity cost of streaming new music low, while also paying artists well. Bandcamp is a service that has become a bit of a favorite among independent artists. It uses a pay-what-you-want model, facilitating a hybrid between a music streaming platform and an online music store. Bandcamp is also praised for its “Bandcamp Fridays” where all purchases made on the site go directly to the artists. Even though Bandcamp is loved by artists and fans alike, most agree it is not a sustainable solution.
Jess Williams is a first-year exploratory major. They can be reached at