In the first part of our three-part feature, we talk to some artists who have removed their work from Spotify.
Spotify has come in for plenty of criticism since its launch in 2006, mainly for its royalty payment system and for its royalty rate (an estimated $0.00318 per stream). The streaming platform have also been heavily criticised for creating fake artists which they deny, and for platforming pro-fascist content.
This month, Munich label Illian Tape and their artist Skee Mask removed their music from the platform. In a statement on Twitter Skee Mask (real name Bryan Müller) said he’d return to Spotify once it “starts (somehow) becoming honest and respectful towards music makers”. He cited the recent news that Spotify CEO Daniel Elk invested 100 million Euros in Helsing, a European defence AI company.
— SKEE MASK (@sk33mask) January 2, 2022
Perhaps it’s Spotify’s prominence in the space that singles them out for much of the industry’s criticisms, but it’s worth noting that Google/YouTube pay way smaller royalties than Spotify and also invest in defence and the military. Additionally, YouTube’s recommendation algorithms have also come under fire for channelling viewers towards hate speech and extremism yet they don’t seem to receive the same criticism as Spotify.
But then again, is it fair to compare a paid-for streaming platform like Spotify with a user-curated platform like YouTube? And what about the role of the major labels in this? They take a large percentage of streaming royalties, they hold shares in Spotify and wield huge influence. Surely the major labels shouldn’t be left out of the discussion.
The streaming debate is a complicated one so we thought we’d talk to some artists and labels who have removed their work from Spotify to try and understand some of the nuances of the debate.
Toronto house DJ/producer Demuir (Hot Creations, Rawthentic, Desolat, Moxy, Edible, Sola, Nauts, Bambossa) has been removing his Purveyor Underground label catalogue from Spotify.
Why are you removing your label’s music from Spotify?
Spotify’s business model simply does not cater to or care about underground electronic music so much.
If they did, they would provide a streaming rate that is substantially better than what their model is predicated on. Secondly, it’s obvious that Spotify only benefits the major labels and content attached to them. Even that math, although favourable to the majors, is not what it should be for artists when you dig in further.
Lastly, your margin of revenue is substantially higher by making your music available to a fan base that will seek it out on other platforms like Bandcamp, Patreon, and Beats Union for example.
If I could, I would remove ALL my music from Spotify, but that music is what I licensed to others labels who may have major label backing or see Spotify as a viable marketing strategy for them. That’s why a high portion of the new music I make will not be on those labels going forward.
Aside from what I have already mentioned, my biggest criticism of Spotify is the sham they create to give a sense that a million streams, for example, means more, thus giving a false sense of value.
I invite anyone to do the math on a million streams and see what the net gets to artists. They also play on egos with these corny performance-based summaries that they send out at the end of the year as a way to thank artists for their art/content whilst paying next to nothing for it.
What’s the alternative?
The strong alternative is Bandcamp, Patreon, Beats Union, Juno, YouTube, and Beatport. I can only say what has worked for me as an artist and for Purveyor Underground.
So many people told me I was crazy for removing the label’s catalogue from Spotify from a marketing and financial perspective, but I can happily say they were wrong because people will go where the asset (art/content) is when they want it.
YouTube pays a much smaller royalty rate than Spotify; are you considering taking your music off there too?
We have music on Youtube as part of the marketing ecosystem and it works for us because we don’t have everything up there.
Also, DJs and audiophiles already understand YouTube compresses the sound so they go purchase it from the other platforms or just enjoy listening on their phone. Regardless, YouTube presents a great funnel of consumers that can easily be monetised to other platforms.
Scott Diaz is a UK DJ / Producer / Remixer who releases on labels like Defected, Simma Black, Armada Deep, Large Music etc. He has moved his label catalogue to Bandcamp and removed it from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora (with a couple of exceptions for collaborations).
What are your criticisms of Spotify?
I should state that I’m not against streaming as a concept or an idea. The convenience is fantastic. But the royalty rates paid to artists are abysmal.
The only way you could even try and circumvent that as a label is to release volume – that is to say if each release makes X amount, and you build the visibility with consistent releases ‘on the shelf’, then the more catalogue you build, the greater that monthly payout should be, of which you as a label can then take 50%. But I’m strongly against the ‘volume game’. There’s already way too much average music and that whole approach smacks of a lack or quality control, a lack of artistic intent and so much else that is just immediate red flags to me.
It’s way too stacked in favour of the majors. Platforms like this one were meant to democratise the music industry and make it fairer. They should remove the free account, for starters. If they cared about artists and compensation, they’d do it, but they don’t. They care about taking the artist/fan relationship and placing an advertisement for Mercedes bang in the middle of it.
What’s the alternative?
The alternative is building a more engaged fan base of loyal listeners and true fans who want to support what you do in a tangible way, whether that’s via Traxsource, Bandcamp, Patreon or another platform. I think we have to accept that this listener base is far smaller, but I’ve made the argument several times that “what good is a stream or a listen in isolation if the relationship doesn’t continue from there?” I think we need to keep having the conversation about streaming royalty rates and the disparity between Daniel Ek’s net worth and the reality of 98% of artists whose music is on his platform.
We all need to ask ourselves “what is the difference between a passive playlist listener (lean-back experience) and somebody actively engaging with your music?” I might sound ungrateful here, but I do not class listeners (in this sense) as fans. I think there’s an important distinction. I’d like to see a shift where we aren’t all so willing to give our music away for free in the name of unquantifiable ‘exposure’.
Perhaps then the listeners might have to work a bit harder to find the music they love, and then they’d actually be engaged with the art a little more. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my behalf but you then have a greater chance of those people becoming real fans that, y’know, spend real money with you.
Producer and DJ Steve Cobby was one half of uber-downtempo-ists Fila Brazillia as well as recording as Solid Doctor, The Cutler and (as one-third of) Heights of Abraham. He took the decision to remove his Déclassé label from Spotify.
Why did you remove your labels’ music from Spotify?
I wanted to see if more traffic/customers made their way to my Bandcamp portal and invested in my work directly. I had read of a grassroots artist in the US that had done so and seen that happen and so wanted to see if it applied to my situation. I’d also started to consider if the ubiquity of streaming took away some aspect of the ‘magic’ I didn’t mind being a bit hard to find again. Or discover for that matter. Like buried treasure.
They could definitely improve their royalty model. But then so could YouTube and all the others. They all take the piss. Soundcloud’s made the right noises and moved to a theoretically fairer model but I’ve yet to see any sign of others following suit.
I’m in a better position as an owner/operator than many artists as I don’t have a label to split anything with to further dilute to remuneration.
What’s the alternative?
‘You Can Find Me On Bandcamp.‘ That’s the name of the only track I’ve put on streaming services this year. A fans suggestion that I thought would be a mildly amusing way to make a point. But jesting aside Bandcamp is my platform of choice as I deal directly with fans and has been since 2014.
I offer all the work to stream or download in all formats and also vend all the physical merch through that portal. Vinyl crowdfunding has been added to their services and I’ve done four successful campaigns in the last 12 months with them as well.
How do you see this situation between artists/labels and Spotify developing?
Predicting anything in these mercurial times appears to be a foolhardy mission. I know streaming is slowing down according to industry reports and larger labels are looking at starting up their own services. Push-back on Spotify seems to be increasing. The fact you’re doing an article is evidence of that. It will be interesting to see where they are in a year or so.
In part two, coming next month, we speak to more artists who are rejecting the Spotify model. In part three, in March we will look into artists, labels and publishers who are actually making Spotify work for them.
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