Here’s what Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said:
There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough…
The artists today that are making it realise that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans…
I feel, really, that the ones that aren’t doing well in streaming are predominantly people who want to release music the way it used to be released.
But musicians are mad. The usual suspects have surfaced to say the same things they said about former Pandora CEO, Tim Westergren, nearly a decade ago.
From David Crosby to David Lowery, they’re calling Ek names and claiming he doesn’t understand the difference between art and a commodity.
In the shell of a nut, here’s the deal.
You have mega artists, such as Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen. I’m a big fan of both.
In 2018, Swift was the world’s highest paid musician. She took in $99.6 million. Touring made up $90.5 million of that total (90.9 percent). Springsteen was second on that list at $53 million. Touring comprised 96 percent of that total.
While big numbers to most of us, sales and streaming contributed very little to either artist’s tally. Swift generated $1.5 million in sales and $5.67 million in streaming revenue. Springsteen took in just $498,600 and $814,800, respectively.
Of course, there’s literally no chance most musicians — regardless of talent — will make it that big. However, the income breakdown proves instructive.
In the present, non-pandemic environment, musicians — regardless of size, scale, or popularity — tend to make their money by going out on the road. There was a day — long ago — when Swift or Springsteen could have relied more heavily on sales. Having produced throughout the album sales era, Bruce certainly profited from that category more than Swift.
Due to COVID-19, nobody’s doing live tours. So everyone’s taking a relative hit.
Artists — at all levels — have had to adapt.
If you’re at Springsteen’s level, you don’t have to do anything. You’re already filthy rich.
Swift could do the same, however, as Ek noted, she got creative with her recent release of Folklore, which came less than a year after her last album, Lover.
It’s unfair to expect a local, independent, working musician to pull off success like Swift does. But that doesn’t mean her approach isn’t instructive.
So let’s take it down a notch.
One of my favorite bands is Old 97’s. Their lead singer, Rhett Miller, also records and performs solo. While I don’t know his revenue breakdown, I’m confident Rhett makes a vast majority of his money from touring with the band and on his own.
When the pandemic hit, Rhett aggressively moved to live streaming shows via StageIt. Again, I don’t know his numbers, but I’ll assume he’s making less money than he did pre-pandemic. He’s on the verge of releasing an Old 97’s record. He’s doing what he has to do, at his level, to get by. To survive.
From here, you have the millions and millions of musicians around the world who will never come close to attaining Rhett Miller’s relatively modest financial and popular success, let alone Swift or Springsteen’s.
But here’s the dirty little secret they don’t tell you when they curse streaming music services such as Pandora and Spotify. They never made any money in the first place. They have always struggled.
It’s not as if Pandora and Spotify swooped in and took away the working musician’s livelihood. Most artists weren’t making bank during the album age. In fact, they probably had less of a chance at monetary success than they do now.
Platforms such as Spotify and Pandora provide exposure that never used to exist just as Medium opens up the possibility of getting paid for a whole host of writers whose work never would have seen the light of day via traditional publishing avenues.
Indeed, musicians — at every level, but absolutely at the “lowest” levels — should be thanking Spotify, not chastising it.
They should take Ek’s words to heart. Because he’s right. Many independent musicians aren’t working hard enough. And they’re definitely not working smart enough.
Making music your career tends to not produce huge financial rewards. That’s just the way it is. That’s why we have “working musicians” in the first place. They’re not only cobbling together music-related gigs to make ends meet. They’re often doubling as bartenders and servers just to get by.
That’s hard work.
Sitting in your home studio or wherever making your art — that’s not hard work. That’s the dream. The hard part is finding a way to work smart. To take your small odds of success and parlay them into something bigger. Into anything that can allow you to do what you love and make a living at the same time.
Like Ari Herstand, who embraced streaming and the attendant new world of being a musician and turned it into a business.
You also have to be good. If you’re not good — or you can’t find a large enough audience that thinks you’re good — you’re not going to make money.
Just because you appreciate and value art and think you’re a good musician doesn’t mean others will appreciate and value your art and think you’re a good musician. No matter the music business landscape, that has been and will always be the reality.
And what’s with the outcry over getting paid anyway?
The artists bashing Ek — many of whom have done quite well for themselves — seem to be making selective distinctions between art and commodity.
Don’t confuse art with commodity, but pay me what I think the market should value me at.
In effect, by complaining over how much money they (don’t) make, they’re subscribing to — and asking to profit from — the very system they despise. A system apparently antithetical to the core meaning of their creative endeavors.