Is Spotify bad for music? Yes

Over the past couple of weeks those who are concerned with such things have been considering the impact that the world’s most popular music-streaming service, Spotify, is having on today’s music industry.


Thom Yorke kicked things a while ago off by pulling much of his back catalogue from the service in protest at the appalling way it treats the musicians whose work it seeks to profit from. Then David Byrne threw his hat into the ring last week in support of Yorke. Byrne’s article for The Guardian went so far as to suggest that “the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left.” The situation may not be all doom and gloom, as Byrne suggested, but services like Spotify aren’t helping artists at the moment.

Services like Spotify are certainly the future of music consumption but this doesn’t mean that we should blindly follow where the technology takes us. As music fans we need to be concerned about the welfare of the musicians. Without them we’d be hard pressed to find any music to listen to. For smaller acts, who Yorke in particular speaks out in defence of, there simply is no way of financially justifying pursuing a career in creating their art. An artist would have to sell 155 CD albums to sustain themselves at the level of national minimum wage (US figures), yet on Spotify they would need to hit 230,000 plays of an album a month to meet the same level.

As it stands, Spotify isn’t a sustainable alternative to record sales. It may be that we, the consumer, have to value the music we listen to a little more and pay more for whichever service we choose. Or Spotify and their ilk need to adjust their business structure and ensure that the artist receives a sustainable share of the profits and it isn’t split primarily between themselves and the record labels. Bands also make much of their money from touring, so more people need to go to the gigs of their favourite artists to help them make their living.

As consumers, and especially as students, Spotify is a godsend for music lovers. If you want your music for free without resorting to thievery, you can, provided you have the patience to sit through adverts after every three or four songs. If you want to get rid of the adverts and have the capacity to use the service on your mobile, for a nominal monthly fee, you can. It sounds almost too good to be true. Yet, as with most things that sound so good, there is a catch. The artists whose work we consume and sometimes grow to love are getting shafted. Unless, of course, you’re a mainstream act with mainstream funding and mainstream levels of popularity. But such a set up only leads to mediocrity, musically speaking. Just give Mumford and Sons a spin if you don’t believe me.

Gang of Four’s Dave Allen came out in defence of Spotify a few days ago, saying: “we are in the midst of new markets being formed” and as such it wasn’t the fault of the service providers that musicians were getting the rough end of the deal. In pointing out the on-going development of the marker he’s correct.

Although this does not mean that musicians should sit back and wait for things to settle until they get their fair share. They need to speak up and make sure their interests are given priority when the labels make the deals with the providers for their work. As music fans we also have to ensure that our consumption ensures that the artists are rewarded for their work and can continue to make music, rather than going for whatever’s cheapest.


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August 2021
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