Pezzner: Im certainly not counting on Spotify financially, but they are an unavoidable piece of the machine that makes up my music career.
Pezzner: "I'm certainly not counting on Spotify financially, but they are an unavoidable piece of the machine that makes up my music career." Brit Hansen

Inspired by the tweet embedded below, I wondered how musicians on Spotify actually feel about the streaming service, which has been sending artists year-end stats, seemingly as if to rub salt in wounds. Most of the musicians who responded to my query grumble about the poor pay rate, although a few—all electronic musicians, for what it's worth—have accrued some decent money in 2018.


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According to Investor's Business Daily, Spotify ended the September 2018 quarter with 87 million premium subscribers globally, up 40 percent year over year. The Swedish company's "earnings showed an operating loss of $7 million on sales of $1.57 billion in the third quarter. Its revenue rose 31% year over year in local currency. Spotify earnings are reported in euros." Spotify pays around $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream to music rights' holders.

Way back in 2012, Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi) wrote a damning article on Pitchfork about Spotify's miserly pay-outs; shortly after, David Macias, president of Nashville-based label services company Thirty Tigers, rebutted him on Hypebot. Six years later, we're still having the same arguments. Read the musicians' responses below and perhaps gain some clarity on the issue.

Pezzner
The service doesn't amount for a lot, but occasionally a song will get put into a Spotify curated playlist and I'll get some money paid back in royalties. I'm certainly not counting on Spotify financially, but they are an unavoidable piece of the machine that makes up my music career. (The link to his stats show 48,243 fans, 1,760 followers, 11k hours, 65 countries,123k streams.)

[Anonymous]
I’m one of those [artists] that actually thinks Spotify has been a good thing, for the most part. For me, at least..

My total streams are 5 million for 2018. So, it’s about $20K total and about $10K after I split with my label. That is about average for a modestly successful musician like me, I think. Obviously, that is not a “salary.” But, I do think it’s important to point out that Spotify is just a fraction of a working artist’s total income. The label doesn’t only put our music on Spotify. I get a statement that shows streams from a lot of different streaming services, as well as downloads and physical sales. This doesn’t count track licenses and touring income, either.

My main issue, I guess, is that it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be when people just downloaded our music for free. And I sometimes worry that all the smack talk about Spotify just makes people not feel so bad about downloading free copies of music. But, for the most part, I think fans have gravitated towards streaming services, because it’s so convenient!

Andrew Rohrmann (scntfc)

I suppose I'm one of those artists who is theoretically doing okay from Spotify. my year-end "wrapped" deal is telling me I've had one million streams over the last year. Specific numbers are difficult to grab, since my distro's accounting access is a shitshow, but I can say without a doubt that the income is nowhere near minimum wage.

Kirk Huffman (Real Don Music)
First, I have a whole outlook for my music/art that I’ve developed based on three things:

1. That I will likely be a poor musician/artist.
2. My successes are defined solely by me.
3. Lower expectations and expect rejection.

The Spotify data is a more fascinating experience than it is a validating one. There are two arguments for Spotify:

PRO: It’s instant, free, and fairly democratic access for both ordinary music listeners and audiophiles alike.

CON: Notoriously low royalty rates which superficially benefit the consumer over the artist, and the resulting data point playlist passivity and echo chamber effect.

I see valid points in both arguments.

I have always had to navigate the gray area between both while using all the things I learned in the time before streaming services to develop a personal philosophy that is feasible for what I’m doing. I’ve been fortunate with the bands/musicians I’ve played and worked with to have a solid base of 200-300 supporters who consistently purchase my limited runs of physical vinyl and merchandise, which have a far greater financial return than does streaming.

That all said, what makes me nervous are the mirrored ripple effects of the music industry being a microcosm of our “winner take all” economy as a whole.

Ten percent of Spotify artists dominate 99 percent of the plays on a platform that pays $0.00037 per stream in an industry that pays artists 12 percent of its $43 billion annual revenue in a world where 1 percent of the globe's population owns over 50 percent of its wealth.

Spotify has never posted a profit in its 10 years of existence and is founded on an unsustainable business model which relies on a monopolized music industry to provide the very goods for their “product,” and yet, Spotify’s CEO is worth around $800 million.

What happens beyond the homogenizing of sonic aesthetics is similar to what happened recently with FilmStruck, which despite its successes and fandom, was discontinued by Warner Bros, largely seen as too niche a service to continue...

Boots Riley recently tweeted that he owns physical copies of all his favorite films, records, etc. because he fears the collapse of streaming services will leave us all unable to enjoy the intended listening/viewing experiences, and furthermore that capital will be the definitive decider in why art or artists get exposed and will discourage accessible opportunity to creating and experience new and exciting works.

That gate-keeping perpetuates inequality.

There’s already real speculation that streaming services will inevitably consolidate and morph into record labels to “manufacture stars.” And this just goes back to the larger question of, are these economic gains worth what we lose culturally? And it exposes the larger migration away from the '90s/Nirvana austerity, that you couldn’t get pleasure from being involved with a “sell out” corporation and the catch-22 that artists face today in not being able to afford to exist, be heard, or even complain in the face of companies/services who have cornered communications and averted anti-trust lawsuits to an extent that their brand consequently becomes a part of yours and you complicit in all the negative effects that they produce.

I don’t lean toward either side of those listed pros and cons regarding Spotify as a whole, but I do know I am neck-deep and navigating these waters, good or bad.

Chris Pollina (Eldridge Gravy & the Court Supreme)
Eldridge Gravy made $127.83 off of Spotify in 2018. That's $10 a head and another $7.83 for the bank. Start adding these figures up and tell me this isn't the business to be in!

Anders Covert (Quantum Eraser)
I’ve usually withheld my releases from them, but this year I put one song on Spotify for the first time. I made 7 pennies from 26 plays. I’m probably not going to release anything else with them, because why bother?

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Kylmyys
Obviously we are not the most popular music act, but I find it pretty crazy that we had about six streams per day in 2018 and made about enough money to get lunch at Dick's Drive-In. I have no idea what it costs to run Spotify, as I think someone mentioned they have been talking losses, but this is just another example of how music has more and more become a disposable commodity.

I understand that some see musicians as bohemian slackers, although this is plainly not true, as making music can be one of the most emotionally taxing and cerebral things a person can do. It can also be exhilarating , as you know, but it is pretty discouraging at times to think that all that time and effort that you put into making something that takes time, effort, and guts to do barely equates to any monetary value. This includes playing shows.

We are currently getting into music licensing for TV/film and radio, and there is actually a huge potential to make money from your music in that route. We are cool with this, but some artists might see it as jeopardizing their authenticity and genuineness. However, we believe that you can have both pots on the stove and still be happy as an artist.

Total Minutes: 13,000
Total Streams: 2,000
if your rate is correct that is $0.0037 (2000) = $7.40

I researched this and found a rate of $0.0038 which would still be under $10 (about $7.60) for all that listening. Ah, music is so cheap to enjoy on Spotify.

Total Fans: increase 45%
Total Fans: 142 (yay! We want more lol)
Total Followers: 14
Total Countries: 26

Pat Thomas (A&R rep for Light in the Attic, Omnivore, and Real Gone Music; drummer in Mushroom)
In the old days, you wake up and realize, hey, I don’t have Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust on CD. So you stroll down to a record store and while you’re walking around, you see a cool Light in the Attic reissue or here’s a new album on Bloodshot. You walk out with anywhere from two to five things. On Spotify, you wake up, you realize you don’t have Bowie, or you feel like hearing Bowie, you go to Spotify and they have Ziggy Stardust, and you’re done. Who made money? Bowie, maybe, made a few pennies. The record store made nothing. The three or four random purchases you might’ve made in the store don’t exist.

That’s my beef with Spotify—maybe a bigger beef than the crummy royalties they’re paying. The physical product element is gone and the random, impulse buying is gone that benefits two or three or four other record companies, a record store, and two or three or four bands. You multiply that by thousands or millions of people and all of a sudden it’s why labels and record stores are really struggling. That’s a lot of impulse buying that just vanished. Let’s face it: Very few of us go into a record store and buy just this one thing. Most of us pitter around and walk out with a handful of things.

I tell this to people and some of them look at me like I’m crazy. Why? It can’t keep going the way it’s going.

Spotify doesn’t provide liner notes or musician credits. Going to Spotify, you want a nice piece of prime rib, but instead [it feels like you're going to] McDonald’s and [getting] a Big Mac. Empty calories, dude. I know you’re a vegan, but you get my point.

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