In 2010, I wrote a piece here — entitled Navigating The Stream — before Spotify came to America. As I fan, I was super excited.
Over three years later, I’m not only still very excited about streaming as a fan, I find it ridiculous how these new platforms have been attacked so extremely over the past year. I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions that were prevalent throughout 2013 and are sure to be a large part of the conversation at Midem 2014.
1. Spotify is not the enemy. If you’re going to hate on “Spotify,” correct your misnomers. Spotify is one of many streaming platforms. If you’re against this new technology, make it clear you’re not into “streaming platforms” as a new technology as Spotify is one of many choices for the consumer including Rdio, Rhapsody, Deezer, Beats Music (soon) and more.
2. Know your rights. The toughest thing for me about people lashing out against streaming platforms this past year is that many were my favourite artists. Some were smaller artists. Regardless, if artists aren’t happy with their streaming payouts thus far, they need to examine who owns their music’s rights. If the music was recorded pre-2005, it’s most likely a label; which is fine. But ask your label what’s up, not the streaming platform. Streaming platforms by nature are obligated to pay rights holders, which before the new music industry, was for the most part record companies and publishers. Therefore the headline “Spotify doesn’t pay artists” is actually accurate in a way. They pay RIGHTS HOLDERS! If that is a concern to you as an artist, own your rights and/or license your music to labels as opposed to selling your master recordings.
3. If you’re going to complain, make a suggestion! The folks at all of the streaming platforms are good, music loving people who also had to pony up a ton of money to get pre-digital rights holders (i.e. record companies) to allow them to exist in the first place. The intention here is good and makes sense. Fans can now listen to music anywhere and everywhere. No more storing files, ripping CD’s or lugging physical goods around. Debate is a wonderful and healthy thing. But if you have a complaint, please come to the table with a suggestion of what you propose we as an industry do instead of providing music for consumers via streaming platforms.
4. Give it a second. Since Spotify seems to be the platform folks love to rag on, understand that this is a brand new technology that has only been in the United States for two years. Should we have shot down cars, televisions, cell phones, vinyl or CD’s within two years after they came out? The more fans and users we have on streaming platforms, the more rights holders and, therefore, artists will get paid.
5. Face the facts, you might not be that big. I have worked with artists of all sizes throughout my career. Building a long-term and sustainable career is a ton of work. To me, a successful musician is one who does not have to have a day job any more. But often times, that isn’t enough for people. One of my artists called me after hearing another artist complaining about his streaming payouts on NPR and asked me if his music should be on “Spotify.” The artist he had been listening to received a few hundred dollars based on the amount of streams of his music. My artist who called me had exponentially more streams than that artist on one of his albums alone in a month AND owned his rights. The NPR artist was also an 80’s musician and had no choice but to sign his rights away to a record company at the time. Thus, work hard to grow your career and be aware of who owns your rights as maintaining them while growing your fan base often times yields the best results for the artist as revenue flows directly to them. To understand more on streaming platform payouts, please refer to David Macias of Thirty Tigers’ blog post breaking it all down.
At the end of the day, music has evolved into an intangible good that, for better or for worse, is free for the consumer. I don’t believe there will ever be a “replacement” for selling physical goods and even downloads short of a time machine. Get over it. Life and technology evolve. We need to be applauding the streaming platforms for spending the necessary money to exist in the first place and then work with them to continue to grow to be successful for the benefit of all involved.
The revolution is here and it’s ours to define it. So please join the party to help shape the modern music industry as it’s actually quite fun and exciting.
Emily White is the co-founder of Whitesmith Entertainment, through which she manages artists such as Brendan Benson and GOLD MOTEL. Meet her at Midem 2014!.