As Neil Young boycotts Spotify, local artists struggle to earn royalties on the platform
When controversial American podcaster Joe Rogan was paid $220 million by Spotify, Neil Young pulled his music from the platform to protest Rogan’s anti-vaccination views.
But local artists say they don’t have the luxury to follow suit, although they share similar concerns about Spotify allowing anti-vaccination views to air and paying artists little.
Auckland-based rapper and producer Mazbou Q says Spotify’s relationship with musicians is a reluctant necessity.
“Being a musician and not being on Spotify is like selling a food item and not having it in the supermarket,” Mazbou Q said. .”
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But with the ability to reach more people comes the sacrifice of making far less money, he said.
He compared Spotify’s artist reimbursement to online music store Bandcamp, which allows listeners to directly download music for a price set by the artist.
“On Bandcamp, people can buy my album for $15. Bandcamp takes 15% off, so for every purchase I take home $12.75,” he said.
“If someone streams my album on Spotify, I could get a fraction of a penny. The difference between $12.75 and a fraction of a cent is huge.
Mazbou Q said he has earned thousands of dollars from sales and live performances during his eight-year music career. From Spotify, he estimates he earned around $100.
But New Zealand-born, Hong Kong-based musician Luke Rowell, who performs under the name Eyeliner, said he has earned enough Spotify payments to pay for his weekly groceries.
And if Rowell got 250,000 streams in a month, he could pay the rent.
Rowell has found success on Spotify, one of his songs has over 1.5 million plays, but even he fears Spotify’s model of paying artists fractions of a penny per play is hurting the industry music in the broad sense.
“There is a huge wealth inequality that is happening. Emerging artists struggle to find their audience on the platform because the refund is so low,” he said.
“I fear that without support musicians from marginalized communities, young musicians or musicians in less privileged economic situations, will be put in a situation in which they cannot succeed.”
Rowell said that despite problems with the company, unless you’re Neil Young, a household name with a huge catalog, there’s no way to strike.
Figures from Recorded Music NZ show that between 2018 and 2021 streaming doubled from 1.4 billion to 2.8 billion streams per quarter.
During the same period, sales increased from 420,000 to 150,000 units per quarter.
Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) is a non-profit organization that collects payments from streaming services and radio stations and passes the money on to the musicians, producers and songwriters who own the rights to the music.
The association’s chief operating officer, Anthony Healey, said while sales have fallen in recent years, revenue has increased because of streaming services.
In 2021, distributable income reached $442.6 million in New Zealand and Australia.
But if the money has increased, the number of musicians has also increased. Which meant the pile was spread over a lot more people, and individual performers weren’t necessarily paid more, he said.
“I can’t stress enough how difficult it is for songwriters to live on digital income alone,” Healey said.
According to Healey, revenue generated by Spotify through advertisements or paid subscriptions has been broken down into three groups.
The record companies received between 50 and 70% of the money. Spotify received 20-25% and institutions like Apra 12-15%, which it passed on to artists minus its operating costs.
Healey said the way to get artists to pay more is to get consumers to pay more.
“Spotify has 150 million paying subscribers and around 400 million total users. So there are a lot more people using the platform than there are paying for it. The free model devalues music at the point where the returns for artists and songwriters are paltry.
In the last quarter of 2021, five of the top 10 songs streamed in New Zealand were written by LAB, a band signed to the Loop label.
Loop executive Mikee Tucker said streaming is neither good nor bad, just the way recorded music speaks to a new generation.
“I think a lot of artists complaining about the lack of revenue in the Spotify era would have complained in the CD era as well,” he said.
“You don’t just put music on Spotify, and it magically starts making money. There’s all kinds of elements and a lot of luck that goes into it.
For the most popular streaming artists on his books, Tucker estimates that 60-80% of their revenue comes from Spotify.
But even with his artists topping the streaming charts, he said Spotify’s payment system could be better.
“Are Spotify’s streaming and royalty rates fair?” No. But do I accept the status quo? Yes.
“Without Spotify, we could have no revenue from recorded music. At least they found a way to monetize the Napster template, which previously gave it away for free.
Tucker said that if Spotify and streaming allowed artists to keep some income, for 80% of artists, that income wouldn’t be enough to pay rent.
Spotify, head of music in New Zealand and Australia, Alicia Sbrugnera, said the company has made progress in being more transparent with artists about how the services platform’s finances work.
Spotify began posting detailed breakdowns of its payment system on its website last year, but Sbrugnera said there was still work to be done.
“We also recognize that we are far from done. We are committed to continuing to grow the pie so that the dramatic artist revenue growth you see on this site can continue and propel even more success in music.