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To Taylor, With Love

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To Taylor, With Love

This morning Taylor Swift published an open letter to Apple about their music streaming service. This got me thinking about Spotify and free content in general (I am always thinking about free content to be fair). Her blog post is about Apple, and the unfair way they expect artists not to be paid for three months while they offer new members a free trial. This is clearly wrong of Apple and exploitive of musicians.

I am not informed enough to weigh in on the Apple debate, however I am a podcaster, who uses their service. And I am a user of Spotify, which is another platform she has slammed before and even taken her music off.

Being more aware of Spotify and how that operates, I thought I’d look into how that can be improved and if it does… the competition for Apple to “follow suit” increases.

Current Spotify Royalty System –

 

Subscribers pay £10* per month for Spotify

Spotify takes £3 of that as a fee (30%).

The leftover £7 goes into a royalty bucket

 

Artists are paid by the number of plays they get.

 

*£9.99 if you want to get picky.

 

In this model the royalty bucket is shared among artists across the site. Meaning the artist who gets the most plays gets paid the most across the whole site.

 

Why this sucks

 

In this system, if I never listen to Lady Gaga (one of the most played artists on Spotify) some of my £10 is likely to go to her. Because she’s been played MUCH more than all the artists I am listening to. This is called a parimutuel royalty system.

 

This means artists who I enjoy and want to support get little to nothing due to their plays getting massively outweighed by bigger, more mainstream artists.

 

Why does this matter to me?

 

A little while ago Spotify said they’d be adding podcasts to their service. Something I was excited about. I think it’s (potentially) a great way of getting discovered and expanding the audience of a bootstrap show like mine. However, this adds more competition in the market and means if someone who uses spotify only listens to me and say Queen (for arguments sake) we won’t get an equal 50:50 split of the left over £7 from their subscription. Because all the subscription payments go into a large bucket which is shared over all artists (or content providers) across the site.

 

What would make more sense is if you took each Spotify subscriber on a case-by-case basis. Take the £7 each person is donating to artists and evenly share it over the content providers they’re listening to.

 

Under this new (proposed) system –

 

Subscribers pay £10* per month for Spotify

Spotify takes £3 of that as a fee (30%).

The leftover £7 goes into a royalty bucket for that individual user.

 

*again, £9.99 if you’re being picky.

 

Artists are paid a percentage of the royalty bucket based around the percentage of plays you did.

 

It means that your £7 is split on the artists you actually listen to and enjoy.

 

Here are some bands I’ve been listening to –

 

 

Spotify Subscription £10 Total plays 301
Spotify fee £3 Rate per play (old system) £0.02
Royalty bucket £7
Artist Plays Old System New system
The Front Bottoms 89 £1.78 £2.06
Metallica 76 £1.52 £1.76
Anthrax 46 £0.92 £1.06
Dan Mangan 32 £0.64 £0.74
Billy Talent 27 £0.54 £0.62
Slayer 25 £0.50 £0.58
Weezer 4 £0.08 £0.09
Fall Out Boy 2 £0.04 £0.05

 

So all the artists who I listened to would get paid more. And so they should.

 

This would mean independent artists would make more from their work and mainstream, managed artists… well it wouldn’t make a massive difference to them as most of the royalty money goes direct to their label anyway.

 

Although the numbers are only slightly higher, they’re also slightly fairer and encourage artists to make more music as they know they can make some money for their work. It also can help fund their future work.

 

Take The Front Bottoms. I listened to them 89 times. They get paid £2.06 which is 28p more than the old system. That doesn’t sound like much but imagine if that happened across 100 accounts. That’s a few quid going their way and the pennies add up.

 

Personally, I think it doesn’t need to be limited to Spotify. All independently produced content could use this system.

 

I would prefer to know my £7 is going to the artists whose work I enjoy rather than the ones I don’t just because they’re more popular.

 

Spotify should be rewarding content providers by the amount they’re appreciated, after all they’re bringing the audience to Spotify as much as Spotify is bringing the listeners to the musicians. How many times have you seen that an album is available on Spotify and jumped online to listen to it? It’s the artists that did that work, not Spotify.

 

I think Spotify is an amazing discovery platform for audio-artists but they need to get this right if they’re going to continue and not piss off a lot of their content creators.

 

I support musicians I enjoy by going to see them live or buying merchandise. I don’t bother buying albums anymore so for me to know my money is being fairly distributed to the talented people I decided to listen to would make me a happier user of the platform.

 

I should point out, that all of Taylor’s points overlook the fact music was a product and now it’s a service. She acknowledges that she makes a good living from live shows and this isn’t about her getting paid more for her songs. There’s so much competition in music (or comedy, or podcasting) that giving it away for free makes sense. If you can make a tiny amount for it, so be it. But that tiny amount per day (or per month) adds up over time. Not only in cumulative plays or sales, but in terms of building a relationship with your fans / audience which can lead to them supporting you in other ways… like live shows. Or merchandise.

 

I believe in free content being the first step in a relationship with a potential fan who will support you (maybe not in terms of money) later down the line. If you liked this blog post, please consider sharing it. Also I’m writing a book on the power of free content. It’s a how-to guide for artists who want to build an audience / fan base. You can sign up to my newsletter here to find out when it comes out later this year. Or just give my podcast a go.  Thanks for reading. Si

 

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Simon Caine is a comedian, author, podcaster, writer and social media manager. He's the host of the Ask The Industry Podcast (iTunes link) , writer of jokes for Twitter and teller of gags on the London comedy scene. He's also the person writing this and it is taking all his willpower not to make a "Simon Says" joke.
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