Justice At Spotify Protests All Over The World
Everyone knows about it, but this seems to be a lost cause. Could streaming-platforms like Spotify pay musicians more?
On Monday, ‘Justice at Spotify’ protests were organized in 10 U.S. cities and 31 cities around the world, calling for ’increased transparency in the company’s business practices,’ as well as ‘an end to lawsuits filed against artists’, and ‘a user-centric payment model that pays a cent per stream.’ The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers participated in demonstrations at Spotify offices all over the world (US, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Central and South America) and in particular outside the Spotify Office in New York City (located at 4 World Trade Center).
‘Spotify has long mistreated music workers, but the pandemic has put the exploitation into stark relief,’ said UMAW organizer Mary Regalado. ‘The company has tripled in value during the pandemic while failing to increase its payment rates to artists by even a fraction of a penny. Musicians all over the world are unemployed right now while the tech giants, dominating the industry, take in billions. Music work is labor, and we are asking to be paid fairly for that labor.’ UMAW organizer Zack Nestel-Patt added in a statement. ‘Spotify is threatening musicians’ livelihoods everywhere, and it’s way past time that we stand up together to demand more.’
The music business is reflecting what has been happening in every economic sector during the pandemic, the big tech got richer, much richer and the rest got poorer. As it has been already debated many times, the pro-rata model used by Spotify brings 5.6 percent of revenues to the top 0.4 percent of artists, while it pays most artists, who get fewer streams, some super ridiculous amount of money; less than $0.0038 per stream!
Spotify has the lowest rates of any platform, but this is beyond the point, streaming platforms have changed everything for musicians and there’s probably no turning back. It’s great that musicians are protesting but this is very little disturbance for Spotify. The company, with its 345 million users and 155 million subscribers in 2020, is the biggest company in the genre. At the risk to sound like a broken record, Spotify should pay the artists more, but it’s important to repeat that it is not that simple:
First, Spotify actually doesn’t pay musicians directly, it actually pays labels, distributors, publishers, and collecting societies, and they then pay musicians. Thus, musicians’ streaming earnings depend on the contracts they have with their labels and any possible changes would require their agreement of these labels.
Then the above amounts (for example the $0.0038 per stream) could not be doubled or tripled, because this is not how Spotify calculates, as the system doesn’t really pay per-stream. There is a royalties pool and each artist’s royalties are based on the share of streams. If Drake gets 5% of all the streams on Spotify, his rightsholders (label, publishers,…) get 5% of the royalties pool, and even if you never play Drake’s music, he gets 5% of your subscription. Even if you only play some obscure indie musician non-stop for a year, his rightsholders will only receive whatever ridiculous percentage of the royalties pool, equal to the percentage of all the streams the musician receives on Spotify. People would prefer a user-centric model where your money goes to your favorite artists instead of the current pro-rata system, but the proposition was rejected by Spotify
Thus, to increase the money paid per stream a musician receives, Spotify would have to increase its royalties pool that currently represents 65% of its revenues. But it’s not so easy to do, the system is complex. It is completely unfair to the artist but I doubt these modest protests will even open a conversation that Spotify and rightsholders don’t want to have.