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Spotify and the Downside of Streaming

July 11, 2016

written by Erin Diaz

Relevant Magazine reported on June 21st that Taylor Swift and hundreds of other artists are "petitioning to Congress to update the legislation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow them to be paid properly and have more control over the way their music is used on the website." Many people know at this point that Taylor Swift seems to be the captain of the "artists should make the money they deserve" team, and for the past couple of years she has spoken out against streaming companies (especially Spotify). Besides Swift, artists such as Beyonce, Adele, lead singer of Radiohead Thom Yorke, Bjork and countless others all agree that they are not being compensated properly for their music from streaming sites. And as convenient as Spotify and other streaming sites may be, it’s time we ask a tough question: Are we cheapening music, and for that fact artists as a whole, by not buying albums directly anymore?

Artists are getting upset, and mainly it seems as though the biggest artists are the most angered. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they have already been discovered and now they are feeling frustrated at a lack of compensation. Some of the most important female singers in the world are all choosing to be off of Spotify, and this is not something that can be ignored. Clearly, Spotify is causing certain artists and their work to feel undervalued. Singer Bjork made a statement to Billboard in early 2015 stating, "To work on something for two or three years and then just, Oh, here it is for free. It's not about the money; it's about respect, you know? Respect for the craft and the amount of work you put into it."  

Robert Johns brought up this issue on our blog about a year ago and made the point that he uses Spotify strictly to discover music. From there he purchases the music that he finds and enjoys. While this is undoubtedly the best way to support artists and the music that you enjoy from them, it wouldn’t be a huge statement to say that most people do not use that model. Non-upstanding citizens like me simply subscribe to Spotify Premium and take advantage of the wide library of music that is offered to me for $9.99 a month. Yet, I cannot deny that from time to time, I pose the aforementioned question to myself about the cheapening of music. Is that what I’m doing? Is that what we’re all doing? When it comes down to it, Spotify does not pay its artists enough for them to live off of if Spotify earnings were their only income. Spotify pays an artist between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream, which is possibly a decent amount for artists that have their music streamed constantly. Yet, smaller artists struggle greatly from this amount.

This issue has been brought up for a while now, and it’s just the beginning. The recent petition for the updating of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is just the push that the war between dissatisfied artists and streaming sites needed to continue. We the listeners can only wait and see what ends up happening with the digital streaming debacle. Yet, in the meantime we can try to figure out what it means to stream songs that are important to people even though the people aren't being compensated in the way they wish to be. It's a tough question to pose, but what I believe is most important is that we are always conscious that we are not undervaluing music or the people who write and perform the music we love.

What do you think about the petition? Should Congress update the law in order for artists to have more control?