This current era of streaming hegemony needs to stop , and it can, if you’re willing to make your life just a little bit more annoying.
On 25 October, it was leaked that Spotify are planning to make further cuts to their already stingy payments to artists for streams on the platform. Minimum stream numbers are needed for any payment to be made, and detected fraud or other kinds of “non-musical” content (like white noise) will be penalised.
On 17 October, music distribution and social platform Bandcamp laid off half its staff, including the entirety of its “Bandcamp Daily” writing team and the entirety of the Bandcamp Union bargaining team. This follows from the platform’s sale from Epic Games to music licensing firm Songtradr. A week later, the editorial director of Bandcamp posted on Instagram about the layoffs, describing Bandcamp Union members as “privileged tech workers cosplaying as Amazon warehouse workers. TL;DR: Fuuuuuuuck Bandcamp United.”
It’s fair to say that the disparity between the vast majority of musicians and the vast majority of music listeners has never been this great. Consumers are sewn into a framework of absolute convenience; the word “Spotify” has become something of a proprietary eponym for “music platform” or “music” in general. We speak of Spotify as if it were a neutral marketplace, or an embodied reality for how music gets to be heard. Those who are at least vaguely aware that Spotify is a bad deal for artists can use Bandcamp, but even then, Bandcamp is often the only way people sell music, at least in a conventional sense. The lack of alternatives and the hegemony of streaming means that Bandcamp is conceptualised as another neutral provider, another empty space.
These are not empty spaces. They are large corporations with ideological standpoints on how artists and employees deserve to be compensated for their labour. Should they present most consumers with that ideology directly, they would be appalled, but the trick is that they don’t need to. Not only are there no practical alternatives, but I would argue even imagining alternatives is practically impossible. Our 21st century experience of music is inextricable from these platforms.
We should be living in a world where open-source, communally owned platforms facilitate the transfer of money in exchange for music and provide soft journalism highlighting the range of art available to the waiting consumer. We can live in that world. Bandcamp, at its peak, taken in isolation, took us maybe 60 percent there. But the internet today is a world of extractive third parties, not neutral spaces, and yet we act as if the latter were true most of the time.
After this article is published, my plan is to migrate all of my music listening offline and delete my Spotify account. I also plan to delete my Bandcamp account and where possible buy music either physically or through other platforms. Some good alternatives currently being built include Resonate, Chris Grigg’s Ampwall, and there are ways to get music hosted on itch.io, a site largely used to sell independent games. I’m calling on you to do the same. It will be annoying, and it might cost you more, but I am firmly sure that a clean break is the only practical approach. The people who run these companies have views you probably strongly disagree with, and if you’re willing to stand for those views, you can afford to make your life a little more annoying.