Spotify has been a hot topic for debate over the last few weeks since Taylor Swift pulled her music from the service, claiming that she wasn’t receiving enough money in royalties from the streaming service. However, not all artists feel the same way and, perhaps surprisingly, some independent artists have jumped to defend the music service.
Ben Berry, an independent musician and songwriter, wrote an op-ed for Wired where he explained his thoughts on Spotify, noting that he has a “different point of view” to the likes of Aloe Blacc and Tom DeLonge who have both spoken out against streaming recently. “For my young band Moke Hill… Spotify hasn’t been a negative, but an enormous positive,” he writes.
“We laid the foundation for Moke Hill with an EP that came out at the end of 2013, then worked on new material to complete a full-length release as a basis to secure label, management and booking partners. Over the course of this year, with no marketing, PR or label support, Spotify has exposed those songs to an audience who would otherwise have little chance of finding us. At last check, our song ‘Detroit’ has been streamed 310,187 times.”
It’s fair to argue the value of Spotify for independent artists is in getting their music heard by people that wouldn’t hear it any other way. In days gone by, a band like Moke Hill would have had to work hard to secure gigs and spend a lot of time touring to get their music heard. They would have had to spend money getting CDs pressed and relied heavily on fans to spread the word. And at the end of all that they’d be doing well if they’d actually made any money from their music.
However, that’s not what happened for Moke Hill. Instead they used a distribution service to put their EP onto digital service and didn’t press any physical copies. The service takes 15% of what they get paid by Spotify but they’ve still been paid $910.43 by Spotify just for one track, Berry says. “This means we’re getting paid approximately 0.4457 cents for every stream.”
Using this number to estimate what a popular song might make from streaming, Berry works out that Spotify would have paid out more then $1.5 million for Avicii’s track ‘Wake Me Up’ that Aloe Blacc wrote and sings on. However, Blacc’s issue with payments for streaming is based more in the fact that songwriters are missing out.
Berry admits that it’s hard to judge what artists actually receive from the streaming service. “The biggest issue with most of the arguments against Spotify is that we don’t know the terms of the artists’ contracts. What are the details of their label deal? Do the songwriters have a publishing deal? Did the songwriter get an advance on his publishing deal? What is the songwriter’s split on the song(s) they wrote? Without any of this information, we can’t tell exactly what is happening to the money after Spotify writes the cheque.”
However, as Berry rightly notes, “it isn’t Spotify’s fault that the money isn’t making its way to the artists”. Artists, particularly those at major labels, will have deals with publishing companies and labels to get the protection, distribution, expertise and exposure. But with that, comes a cost. “Let’s not blame Spotify because a label or publishing company is taking a cut of what Spotify pays, based on the terms of whatever deal they made with the individual artists,” Berry says.
However, he is also keen to note that he’s not criticising artists for speaking out against Spotify. “I have nothing but respect for Taylor Swift and Aloe Blacc and any musician trying to do this for a living.”
However, regardless as to how big artists signed to major labels feel, Spotify has worked for Moke Hill – and works for other independent artists too. “We’ve spent next to nothing to get our songs on Spotify and it has exposed us to tens of thousands of people around the world who never would have heard our music otherwise,” Berry says. “Spotify is not only paying us, but building our fan base while paying us, which will eventually make it easier to sell tickets to shows.”