Billionaire says musicians are broke because they don't work hard enough.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek denied criticisms that Spotify pays insufficient royalties to artists:

Ek claimed that a "narrative fallacy" had been created and caused music fans to believe that Spotify doesn't pay musicians enough for streams of their music. "Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape," Ek said, "where you can't record music once every three to four years and think that's going to be enough."

"Beg for scraps or you will starve", he did not continue.

Spotify's stock value hit all-time highs of $50 billion this summer even as questions about the streaming platform's compensation of artists remain unresolved.

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45 Responses:

  1. This is part of why I opt to do my musical shopping on Bandcamp rather than rely on a Spotify subscription for new music. Spotify is unfortunately going to screw over smaller streaming folks like (and in some ways already has) because the listening habits of folks have shifted to services like Spotify. Their dipshit CEO is going to poison streaming for everyone by making statements like this and labels are going to reciprocate by going to congress (again) to make sure that Spotify pays.

    I'm not saying that we need to return to the (broken) models of the past, but recognizing that Spotify is just a piece of this broken puzzle. We need to do better about ensuring that musicians can get paid via merch, Patreon, and (eventually) live shows. Part of that is through places like Bandcamp. Removing Spotify from the equation will help save smaller streaming services and help us figure out how best to proceed.

    Music and radio was already a shit business before Spotify. Spotify just escalated the absurdity of radio rates at scale, and managed to convince a lot of investors along the way.

    • jwz says:

      I've been buying from Bandcamp when possible because my impression is that that's the channel where the artist gets the biggest cut -- though it's hard to tell.

      I've also heard anecdotally that sometimes even buying CDs from the band at their gig (which you'd think would be the best way) often isn't that great, because the label basically makes them pay retail for the discs.

      "If you want to make music, you'd better also be good at the unrelated skill of selling shirts" isn't really ideal either, but here we are.

      • Definitely depends on the arrangement and if there's a label involved. Most of the bands I follow are either self-funded or on a decent label, but I'd like to think that even $.30 or so from a CD sale via a label is better than the pittance that 10-20 Spotify plays would give them.

        I think of one piece of Herbie Hancock's biography that stood out for me, where he got the advice to own his own music rather than the labels. he was one of the few Jazz artists not to negotiate his rights away, and it pains me how many artists not only did that back then but continue to do so today.

      • BHN says:

        It sounds like musical artists need themselves some good old-fashioned labor organization.

      • J Greely says:

        "We realized that what it all comes down to economically is that the performance is a promotional device for a t-shirt selling business." -- Homer Flynn, The Cryptic Corporation

      • iadams says:

        Yes, and for best bang for the buck, there’s Bandcamp Fridays for the rest of the year.

    • Dude says:

      If it's an indie act - especially one with folks I know - I'll definitely go with Bandcamp. Not only do they go easy on their cut (which they've completely waved for the rest of the year), but they actually offer FLAC and WAV files for those of who think music should sound better than shitty MP3s. Saves me the trouble of having to rip hi-res versions from the CDs. (Amazon has claimed for years to offer HD audio formats, but they're either hiding it so well that no one can find it or the folks at Amazon are a bunch of fucking liars.)

      Between "Operation: Varsity Blues", the Spotify comments above, Ivanka's "just get a new job" bullshit, and, y'know, having lived in US my entire life, I suddenly felt the need to revisit this video about a classic Simpsons episode:

  2. Kyzer says:

    This quarter, Spotify made an operating loss of €167m and a net loss of €356m. Perhaps they should take out loans to bump up those artists royalties and go even deeper in the hole?

    There are other platforms, so take your music off Spotify and wave goodbye to their millions of paying subscribers if their money's not good enough for you. But remember a high payout rate is a sign of low usage-rate on the platform, more so than it is a sign of the service's fairness to the artist.

    Imagine that every customer would stream just one song per month. In that case, the per-stream payout would skyrocket to $5 — but no one would really win. It doesn’t matter if you get 5000 streams worth $0.001 or a single stream worth $5 — the artists would still make the same money. The only change is that their music would be played less.

    Musicians are broke because there's a deadly virus that spreads through crowds and it has killed off their largest revenue stream, live music. Sorry, that's the actual reason, there's not a moustache-twirling villian you can blame this on.

    • Dude says:

      Musicians were broke and getting screwed over by Spotify (and labels) before COVID-19. The virus just exacerbated what was already happening. It's the same thing that had Trent Reznor to release Ghosts I-IV online with the equivalent of a tip jar and what had Eddie Vedder railing against Ticketmaster in the '90s... and why indie venues need the Save Our Stages Act and the RESTART Act.

      The only reason it doesn't seem as if there's "a moustache-twirling villain you can blame" is because there's more than one. The Spotify CEO is just one of them.

    • McDanno says:

      Or, OR, maybe they could charge the people using the service enough to cover the costs of running it! Crazy idea in nerdvana in 2020, I know, but it just might work. Another $3 a month would probably cover that loss, even with the potential loss of subscriptions (where they gonna go, Pandora?). But nah, the circumcised penis in a sportcoat running the company needs a sixth house. Guess the artists' only choice is the scraps!

      (Also, spending $40m a quarter on google clown services when you're that scale is probably not the best use of that money.)

    • dave glasser says:

      I mean, you are assuming here that "flat monthly rate subscriptions to all music" are the only business model.

    • Zyni Moë says:

      Probably you are too tiny to remember, but once upon a time in the long ago days musicians played gigs so to make publicity for their records. Touring is very shitty life (I know this) but if people see you play gig perhaps they buy a record, and you make a decent living. Some did. Now thieves (only some of them can we call thieves: the others too are thieves but have lawyers) steal all the money from the records, so musicians must live in their van for ever, and try to make money from gigs (many never did that in the long ago: gigs lose money so you can make money on the records). Touring is still shitty but all they can do now.

      It is this change, from chance of reselling music, as record, many times to being a serf selling only labour that counts. Spotify ... are helping drive this.

  3. MattyJ says:

    How is it that so many tech CEO's use the same stylist, the one that only knows how to do 'the Blofeld'.

    • Dude says:


      Although he really isn't memorable enough to be a Bond villain. He's trying to be the imitation of a Bond villain (and he isn't memorable enough for that either):

      • Aidan Gauland says:

        So... you're saying that all the big-business shitheels are copying Musk? Are we sure they're not copying the same thing he's copying?

        • Dude says:

          I didn't say anything like that. The previous commenter joked that tech CEOs are being styled like Blofeld, so I put in a photo of Elon Musk literally trying to look like Blofeld.

          • Aidan Gauland says:

            Ah, sorry, I misunderstood. I think the followup comparison to Scorpio threw me. Better finish my morning caffeine dose.

  4. Craig says:

    Well between about 2000 and 2015 I gave zero dollars to the music industry. Not because I was stealing music, I wasn't. But because I reached an age where I had a few hundred CDs, so plenty to listen to, and the fun of gambling on the other 11 tracks of the CD that I'd never heard had worn off.

    Yet, I now give about $120 a year to the music industry through Spotify, which is significantly more than I gave in the 10 years prior to not giving anything. I don't know how this can be a bad thing when they've turned no revenue into a steady repeatable stream.

    • Dude says:

      It's a "steady repeatable stream" for Spotify, not the musicians. The latter make literal pennies to the former's multiple dollars. Every time musicians try to fight back - be they Beyonce or Taylor Swift (temporarily) removing their catalogues or some local musician who just doesn't want to play ball - Spotify tries to crush them the same way Amazon does.

      • Craig says:

        Shrug. That's the same business model as the major labels had for decades. Squeeze the vast bulk of revenue as "expenses" and give pennies to the artists. I don't see why Spotify is unique here with the exception that Spotify is giving consumers a clearly better experience than the major labels did.

        • Dude says:

          Aaaaaaand that makes it right... how? Just 'cause labels fucked over muscians for years, now it's somehow okay for Spotify to do the same?

          That's bullshit. That's something I'd expect to hear from a label exec. And musicians still get nothing out of it.

          • Dude says:

            Don't know why I'm so bad at embedding lately, but:

          • Craig says:

            I don't know that I said it made it right, or wrong. Doesn't Spotify exist _because_ of the major labels? Perhaps your anger should be directed at the original sinners that have happily continued to exploit the vast majority of artists while an exceedingly small percentage of major acts get paid. Spotify provides a materially better consumer experience than the major labels provided through retailers and Spotify enables the long tail allowing artists that can't get into Target a slice of the revenue pie. All the while the labels continue to insist on control of artist catalogs through Spotify's distribution uploading scheme. Spotify is a puppet, a function of the labels, and I'd think they are quite pleased with the misdirected anger you all display.

            The real solution is to give artists back their music and then let them choose where to host it. The labels aren't about to let that happen but they are quite happy to not have you yelling at them.

            • Dude says:

              You've spent every one of your comments praising Spotify whilst dismissing its poor treatment of musicians with bullshit "that was there before Spotify existed" excuses. How do you expect musicians to "[get] back their music" when labels, who have all the leverage, continue to use Spotify, which strengthens that stranglehold?

              Melvin van Peebles famously said "Hollywood has an Achilles' pocket-book" and that metaphor extends to rest of the entertainment industry. As long as you - yes, you - prioritise the "convenience" of services like Spotify over those that are more supportive of musicians means that you're no different from people who choose the "convenience" of Uber over their inexcusable and downright evil track record. It means that you are actively contributing to the problem.

              If your conscience can live with that, that's on you, pal. I'm done.

              • Craig says:

                The comparison with Uber is invalid. Uber has no underlying evil organization that controls its drivers. Uber _is_ the underlying evil organization. Spotify is simply the replacement for Tower Records, but the underlying evil organization is the major label cartel. All I'm saying is your anger is misplaced. You can continue to tilt at windmills all you want, the labels find that quite convenient.

      • Elusis says:

        Serious question: how does this compare to what musicians got for radio play?

        Like, if Band Z got 1 cent every time WKRP played their song to a guesstimated audience of 100,000 listeners (guesstimated through very science-esque audience-modeling surveys), do they now get 1/100,000th of a cent every time 1 person definitely plays their song? Or is the revenue per listener way off from what it was when income was derived from radio play?

  5. Jonathan says:

    I’m not trying to defend or absolve Spotify but the labels are getting away with PR murder by being conveniently forgotten in these write ups. Especially the big ones who had all the leverage when they negotiated licensing deals with Spotify. Their artists may not be being remunerated properly but I bet those execs are filling up their gold swimming pools quite nicely.

  6. db48x says:

    I think in the long run the music industry will contract a great deal. We can now keep all music available forever, so there's less need to create new music all the time. The amount of music that gets created every year is insane; there's no way anybody can listen to it all. You can't even listen to everything new in the one genre you like most, or catch up with the last hundred years of music. All of that combines to drive the price of music down to zero. Good thing the cost of reproducing it is effectively zero as well.

    • Zygo says:

      So what you're saying is: the only way for the industry to win is to make it a felony to listen to the same song twice.

    • Dude says:

      Music is not "available forever". Digital or physical, it's subject to the limitations of its storage format.

      Besides, a company like Apple or Amazon can wipe out all you music (even your own personal things) if you use their players.

      • db48x says:

        True, but storage gets cheaper all the time. Drives have been getting larger and less expensive and more efficient and easier to manage continuously since they were invented, and it's not like we're anywhere near the Berkenstein bound. And individual pieces of music don't get any larger once created. Odds are then that the total cost of replacing your storage media will go down each time it needs to happen, meaning the total cost of ownership is a convergent sum.

        Even if the storage cost never becomes literally infinitesimal, it's already a small fraction of the music industry's costs, and getting smaller even as the amount of music available grows.

        On the other hand, it's possible that there are other important costs that will grow faster than the cost of storage shrinks. For example, eventually the cost of indexing, searching, and understanding a large collection of digital music might become the new limiting factor.

        • Dude says:

          That doesn't account for bit rot or the fact that keeping a tangible, analogue copy of something - even if to use for an updated digital version - is still more practical than a digital one, even if the digital one takes up less space.

          And that doesn't even account for access from the gatekeepers. As mentioned above, a company like Apple or Amazon can wipe out your entire library if you're storing it on their platform. That's a "fuck you" to the very consumers who's money they're taking, and the fact that the lion's share of those profits still go to someone other than the creator is a "fuck you" to said creators.

          Spotify and Amazon's "low price" bullshit is just as harmful to the arts as a Dollar Store is to a neighbourhood economy: it still places control in the hands the greedy rather than the needy. That's just plain wrong.

          • db48x says:

            Bit rot is a real problem, but one that is easily solved. Simply hashing the data as you ingest it and then keeping multiple copies of it will allow you to discard rotted data and replace it with a fresh copy of the unrotted data. Or you can use ZFS, if you want an even more automatic system. Even if you only have a single hard drive in your computer, you can use ZFS and set copies=2 on your filesystems. This will ensure that all data blocks are stored twice, and all metadata blocks three times. None of the solutions to bitrot really increase the cost of storage much.

            I'm purposefully ignoring the gatekeepers; I'm only saying that humanity as a whole can store our digital cultural artifacts forever. It's certainly not impossible for a monopoly power to deny access to those artifacts to consumers, or for our collective stupidity to result in permanent losses.

            Also, I don't make the assumption dollar stores are harmful to the economy. I've read articles that state that they are, but there's never any evidence in them, just correlation and supposition.

            I also didn't make any assertion that any current sellers of music were laudible. I only state that music is cheap, abundant, and readily available to anyone who wants it. Naturally then the price will be low. Individual artists might wish that the prices were higher, but on the whole low prices and high abundance are better for humanity than high prices and rarity.

      • Nick Lamb says:

        Nothing is forever, but PCM data is tiny and easily duplicated so it's close enough to forever for practical purposes. I'm sure even now an artist somewhere is lobbying to be able to charge a fee when children inherit their parents' collection of MP3s.

        • Dude says:

          I know. The first link I shared above mentions Millennial Discs (so named because they supposedly last a full millennium). But just as the universe itself will one day collapse into itself, so too will every copy of Prince's lost live album fade away - be it through bit rot, lost masters, or (accidental) damage to personal copies.

  7. margaret says:

    same with writing. demand is going to slow down because now for the first time books have a long shelf life. the only thing keeping the music industry alive was sales of that replacement chic eight-track.

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