When Coldplay announced they weren’t releasing their album on Spotify a few months back, it got me thinking; I’ve been streaming music for a couple of years now and I’ve never thought about how this is affecting everyone. Is this service really that beneficial to the music industry? Is it beneficial to me as an artist? While it does offer up a chance to be discovered by new fans, the fact that it’s free and so easy to use lends to more serious consequences, like substituting actual album sales. So much so, that I think free streaming services like Pandora and Spotify represent the most recent dagger into the filleted heart of the record industry.
So I dug around a bit. Spotify is, by all accounts, an extremely successful company. Most recently they’ve been given a soft valuation (based on paid subscribers) of around 4 billion. The average artist, however, see’s none of that revenue. I mean, 4-8k for every 1 million streams? That’s larceny. On the surface, it appears that Spotify is simply taking advantage of content that didn’t belong to them. By paying out ridiculously low royalties, it looks like they’re simply taking advantage of artists and labels alike, all while still spurning a profit of roughly 65-70 million a year. For once in my life, I felt bad for major record labels. Honestly, I felt for them.
But then I stumbled upon this: http://tapeop.com/blog/2014/06/25/why-and-how-spotify-managed-get-such-low-royalty-r/
“In exchange for access to the music catalogs the labels own, Spotify gave the labels Spotify stock. Said stock is sequestered into the labels financial structure in a way that gives artists no access to the proceeds of this deal. Labels then agree to the lowest royalty rate in history, leaving even the biggest artists to collect paltry sums while Spotify and the labels build stock equity on their (the artists’) backs.”
The one moment I have ever felt sorry for the recording industry and it turns out they’re just wolves in sheeps' clothing. I’ve never been a fan of the RIAA. I grew up loathing them. They represented everything I hated about establishment and big business. They were excessive, they were deceptive and they represented collective entities that constantly took advantage of an honest, hard working labor force. They were the poster-child for taking advantage of their labor force.
As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand their desire to survive as a business has morphed into this innate, venial lust for completely and utter greed. There is no honor among thieves, and the record industry is the biggest Thieves Den I have ever experienced.
But then I started thinking about it a bit more. This is way more than a Thieves Den. Thieves just steal. The kind of deception that these major labels showcase on a constant basis — that’s something far more sinister. It’s reminiscent of this undeniable propensity for evil. For that reason, I have no choice but to make the following statement:
Major labels are Voldemort
Even when they are at their lowest point, major labels continue to utilize all of their strength towards their pure evil agenda. Even when they are at their weakest, they continue to take advantage of those weaker than them. They continue to manipulate, deceive and destroy all things good. They don’t take the time to reflect, nor do they attempt to change for the good. Instead, like a parasite, they find willing and able hosts to feed off of while they gain strength. For that reason, I have no choice but to make the following statement:
Spotify is Professor Quirrell
Spotify is just as guilty by association. It too has the capacity for evil, but unlike Voldemort, Spotify is weak on its own. Spotify can’t achieve greatness on it’s own. It can only be noteworthy as a mere host. It provides sustenance while Voldemort can get stronger. This vile, vat of an entity provides no inherent value or contribution to anything aside from being a means to an end. It’s a pathetic vessel of evil: an oil tanker sitting on top of a school of baby dolphins, a Boeing 747 filled with blood diamonds. Hopefully you get the picture, they’re evil too. Evil because while Spotify and major labels mutually benefit from their deal, talented artists everywhere continue to see little, to no revenue, a trend that major labels continue to support even when no one is buying albums anymore. They’ll find a way to make money and screw artists in the process.
So that begs the question. Who is there to stick up for what is good? Who is there to defend against evil, against cowardice and against deception?
You, the artist, are Harry Potter.
While what I’m saying about Spotify might be news to you, the fact that artists are getting screwed is not news to you. You’ve heard this all before. You’ve got the proverbial scar on your head. And unfortunately, there will come a time, where you must fail. Chances are, you’ve already experienced it. Chances are, you experience it on a daily basis. You kick and claw your way through the social media jungle as you try to turn heads and ears. You put every dollar you have into pushing your content out to the masses. You are your own label. You are alone and no one expects you to succeed because no one is there to help you. You, the artist, must fail so that Voldemort can be weakened. You must fail so that Voldemort can finally be turned into a mortal.
The thing about the exchange of commodities is that a business is only as strong as its revenue stream. If we as a collective of artists are to do anything to stop this Voldemort of an industry from continuing to Avada Kedavra our fellow friends, we too must suffer.
As painful as it has been to watch indie labels crumble as the album sales bubble popped, and as painful as it has been to watch as the masses translate the ability to download music for free to an entitlement to free music, it continues to be a necessary pain. Artists will have to continue to suffer and continue to have to find their own success, away from major labels, in order to shift the balance of power. The only thing that makes major labels a viable force is their ability to make money. Once that stream is sufficiently threatened, only then will they begin to make changes.
The internet has done a glorious thing for artists, it’s given us freedom. As difficult as it may seem, now is the age for the self-made label. You have the ability to produce content, to reach booking agents, to reach press outlets and to reach fans. You can build your own following through traditional grassroots tactics and when you do, you can utilize services like TuneCore to distribute your music on your own. You can take advantage (for now) of social media to spread content, peak interest and drive the development of your brand. No, it’s not easy doing it on your own, and it’s much easier to have someone else do it, but you can do it and you can be successful at it. More importantly, you’re not entirely on your own. You have other artists, likeminded in their struggle and resolve to connect with. You can trade shows, trade features, maybe even trade fans (I’m not sure how that would work.) The point is a community out there and chances if you’re open and honest, they’re willing to help.
So let this serve as your rallying cry. Don’t give up. Keep going. Now, more so than any other time, is your time. You’ve got the Sorcerers Stone. You’re up against Professor Quirrell. Don’t let Voldemort win. Pick up your wand.