The way we consume music has been changing for a long time. It’s a rarity to find someone who still buys hard copies of CDs these days, but the vinyl revolution has led to more sales that way. Mostly, though, we seek streaming platforms such as Spotify and the newly arrived Apple Music for our tunes. But even with 10 million paying subscribers and 30 million people who use the platform for free, somehow artists are still not getting the pay they deserve.
Elly Jackson, better known as La Roux, is the most recent artist to rare up Spotify’s payment. In a sarcastically composed Tweet, she stated: “Thanks for the £100 for this quarter…one more month and I might be able to afford your premium service. Lucky me!” Of course this isn’t her only source of income, but there are students who earn a higher wage than that for three months. It isn’t as though her latest album, Trouble In Paradise, didn’t see success either- The Guardian named it the best pop album of 2014. So why the lack of money? She may be more under the radar now, but £100 for three months is still absurdly low.
We all remember the disgustingly catchy ‘All About That Bass’ which erupted last year, throwing Meghan Trainor into the world of fame, whilst also receiving more than 178 million Spotify streams. Problematic as the track is, what is more problematic is that the track’s co-writer, Kevin Kadine, received just £3,716 from its streams (still more than La Roux, admittedly). The writer stated: “that’s as big a song as a songwriter can have in their career…but you’re making £3,716. How do you feed your family?” Put like that, there’s definitely something unjust in the system. Songwriters will likely go uncredited because the artist is at the forefront of the track, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get a fair wage from the music. Such was the case with Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’, which saw the writers receiving just £8,000 from the 168 million Spotify streams the track got. But who’s to say that they would have received any more than that if hard copies of the albums were bought?
Go to Taylor Swift’s Spotify profile, and there’s now a gimmicky plea to get her to return to the platform using lyrics from ‘Love Story’. She left Spotify in November last year, following the injustice of their pay to artists – who only receive up to £0.01 per track play. When Swift rocketed into the limelight for taking a stand against Spotify, some argued that she was just doing it to boost album sales, which probably worked. It isn’t as though she’s the only one to leave Spotify, either, she’s just the one who made the biggest deal about it. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke also removed his solo projects from the service, and The Beatles, AC/DC and The Black Keys are not available on it either. The issue is; these artists can afford to go without the promotion and streaming of Spotify, landing those that can’t in a catch-22 situation.
In the case of La Roux, even at less than 1p per stream, with the 100,000,000 streams her tracks garnered, she should have been entitled to £700k – a far cry from the £100 she received. Spotify could do more, obviously, but the unfair money distribution battle is amplified by the label that the money initially goes to. That said, at least there is some money bouncing around, rather than illegally streaming artists’ work. Spotify’s money issues aside, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker spoke of illegal streaming and downloading, saying it really wasn’t a big deal. What Parker flagged up is that the important element in these debates is music. Swift herself said “music is art”, so why is all of the concern about money for art? What’s important is that people are listening and connecting to the art that you make: that should be why you made the music in the first place.
I will side with Parker on this one, it is the music that’s most important. But here’s a message for Spotify: buck your ideas up, make use of your 30 million paying subscribers, and give artists and songwriters the money they deserve for their art.