Spotify logo. Credit Alexander Shatov via Unsplash

The streaming data binge

By Michael McCarron

Spotify’s obsession with data should not come at the expense of smaller artists.

Enter Spotify, the most popular streaming service in the world. Home to your favourite music artists, podcasts, and audiobooks, all but the press of a button away. What’s more, it’s accessible, and completely free (if you can stomach a persistent wave of advertisements) According to official Spotify statistics, by late 2022 over 456 million MAU (Monthly Active Users) were recorded on the streaming service. That’s a lot of inescapable Snapchat stories about Ed Sheeran’s placement on your friends’ Spotify Wrapped come late December.

It is undeniable that streaming services act as an essential multipurpose tool for listeners in the 2020s. Spotify allows great convenience for its users to listen to their favourite artists anytime and anywhere around the world, with minimal user cost. All the while, it grants a personalised experience with a “Daily Mix” and “For You” playlist. Furthermore, Spotify offers in-app features, such as downloading tracks to use without internet access (though exclusive to Premium users), collaborative playlists for your house party bangers, and the potential for users to ‘follow’ their favourite artists to hear the latest tour and album information from them, meaning you’ll never miss them in town. 

Another facet of the streaming site is that user data is recorded each time a song is streamed. This can be the location, age, or gender of the user – all of which may be important to an artist if they’re trying to read their audience and determine tour locations. However, this tool is perhaps a double-edged sword. Fires have blazed over the decades, spawned from the negative impact of downloading and streaming music on artist revenue. In the early 2000s, music became increasingly available on digital formats, which meant piracy became increasingly popular: a simple process which saw artists’ wallets cry in pain. All that was needed to commit piracy was for a member of Blackbeard’s cutthroat crew to purchase a sought-after album and a case of empty CDs, and within a few hours everyone had the album (not to mention all the dodgy MP3s which would become available for illegal download online). Whilst Spotify is not a piracy network and is fully legal, it offers a service in which artists’ main revenue sources, CD albums / singles, are cut out of the equation to many of their followers. In addition, the current revenue system employed by Spotify favours more popular artists: the more an artist is listened to, the more revenue they will generate. Is this really the fault of Spotify, or just how the music industry works? Niche music appeals to a smaller audience, which means less money will be generated compared to a majority audience (the mosh pits are always worse though, so who’s really winning?).

Whilst streaming does help artists’ music hit the radar, the revenue it directly makes is incredibly minimal, particularly for smaller niche artists. Contrary to popular belief, a single stream does not generate a fixed sum of cash for an artist. Spotify has stated that revenue from streaming is paid to the rights holders of the music (record labels). This payment is then divided between the artist who owns the recording royalties, and the song owner/writer for publishing royalties. Of course, Spotify cannot control contractual agreements artists and record labels have, which is why payment is not fixed across all artists. 

Despite this, it is important to understand that Spotify does not simply appropriate music and redistribute it to a paying audience. Spotify sells itself as a personalised music service, which algorithmically builds playlists packed to the brim with music you may enjoy. Importantly, artists can withdraw their music from the platform providing they have control over their distribution rights too. Spotify is not as “shady” as some may believe, but support for smaller artists could be considerably better.

In the meantime though, all you can do is keep listening to your faves, get their numbers up and brag about it to your mates in your Spotify Wrapped come December. They can’t survive without fans, so if you’ve got anything left in your piggy bank, crack that baby open and cop yourself a new t-shirt or an album!


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