Spotify is the “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”. Discuss. Thom Yorke’s soundbite made waves around the world last year, as the most high-profile criticism of Spotify – and by extension streaming music services – by a musician.
His Atoms for Peace bandmate Nigel Godrich has also spoken out regularly about his concerns over Spotify, while David Byrne penned an op-ed piece wondering about the negative impact of streaming across a range of artforms. Today at the By:larm conference in Oslo, a panel session explored all this from the perspective of artists and managers.
It comprised Anna Melkild and Ingrid Rennemo from hotly-tipped band Sassybeat; Eivind Brydøy, a Norwegian manager of artists including Kaizer Orchestra, Janove Ottesen, Frida Amundsen and Thea & The Wild; Erik Eliassen from the band Sirkus Eliassen – one of the most popular artists on streaming services in Scandinavia; and Sumit Bothra from ATC Management, who manages PJ Harvey, The Boxer Rebellion and The Staves, among others.
Eliassen talked first. “In general, I’m pro but I see both sides, and I understand there are a lot of sides to it. For consumers, it’s mainly good, and also for artists it’s mainly good. But not all artists,” he said.
“New technology, and the way media works right now, people have such short attention spans, you have to grab them immediately, and that’s part of what works with our songs: it invites people in really quick. People from the first listen feel this is something they wanna share.”
How about Sassybeat? Melkid: “We are very optimistic about streaming: you don’t have a choice, you have to adopt it,” she said. “Streaming services are really focused on single-song radio hits. But when you see our streams on Spotify, all our songs are streamed equal times, so I hope that means people are listening to albums. We’re very big fans of the album format.”
Bothra was asked for his view as a manager. “I embrace innovation, and most artists do. It’s up to us as managers to work with our artists and labels – where we have labels – to harness the community that’s around that innovation,” he said.
“The music industry has gone to a premium model to now very much a volume model… I’m always for artists being paid a fair share, but I understand the volume model, I understand micropayments, I understand what that reach gives me… it doesn’t worry me at all, and neither does it our bands.”
He said that his company are looking at better ways to make use for streaming platforms, from doing exclusive sessions to approaching people with powerful playlists and trying to get them to work with their artists.
“Although a few plays may not count for as much money, what we do get now is transparency and data… We see value in the insight these platforms allow us as well,” he added.
“When you are doing deals with labels or distribution partners, do ask for transparency, to have a look behind the curtain on these services so you have data that can help inform your touring plans or release strategy… Do insist on that every time: it’s important.”
He also said it’s up to managers and artists to make the most of these platforms. “If you’ve got an issue with how much you’re getting paid by these services, if the micropayment model is of concern to you, it’s also up to you to right the balance by way of premium offerings,” he said.
“We know that vinyl is on a massive resurgence right now, selling tickets now is easier now for my bands than ever in the past because we have a much deeper reach due to services like SoundCloud and Spotify: we can go fro a 500-capacity venue to an 800-capacity venue in a mater of months, which is a bigger jump than wold have been possible in the past, particularly with emerging bands.”
“We do sell an awful lot more tickets than we did, and I think that is based a lot on the streaming models. We have easier access to fans around Europe. With the streaming models we do have a better chance to sell tickets,” agreed Brydøy.
Eliassen talked about how Sirkus Eliassen uses YouTube to make music available for fans to share on Facebook – “it’s a way lower bar for people to check it out… when you share an iTunes link, no one really cares” – while Sassybeat’s Melkild talked about their use of YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify and WiMP.
“There is coming more people to the concerts because the streaming services reach a lot of people, but there’s not that much money in the streaming for us, and we don’t really know how much we get. But there are definitely more people coming to the concert. But there is not that much money in the concerts either, so trying to survive as a non-established artist is hard,” she said.
Back to Bothra, who pointed out that
“In my experience, there are different agendas,” he said, citing The Boxer Rebellion’s example of running their own label to release their music. “In their case, all they ever wanted to do was to be able to do this full time, and to be able to survive doing it. And most of my artists are career-driven artists. What they want from life is to be artists until the wheels fall off the wagon, and to be able to do that. And it’s not about chasing the cheque,” he said.
He also talked about SoundCloud, and the way labels view it differently to many managers and artists. “They have vast catalogues that they’re managing, and they don’t want to set bad precedents… that can oftentimes be at odds to what I need,” he said.
“If I’m working with a label saying ‘take all of your artist’s music off of SoundCloud because they’re not paying us for it’, I may be the only voice in that room fighting to keep it up, because the data and insight I get from it is invaluable to me and my artist, and I can use that to further their careers.”
He also talked about The Boxer Rebellion’s decision to put their albums up on YouTube, not because they expected to make lots of money from it, but because: “I needed data, I needed insight, I needed to know where this band’s fans were,” he said.
“We now know we have a sizeable fanbase in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, and as a resul of that, we will be taking the band out there. And we’ve had success in getting promoters on the ground to book a band they’ve enver heard of. We’ve used YouTube for that purpose, so it has not been about the pay rate for me, as far as YouTube’s concerned.”
Brydøy talked about getting offers of concert bookings from countries like Romania, and an offer of a yoghurt commercial in Russia, as a result of music being available to stream in those countries.
Bothra talked about international releases on streaming services, and what he sees as the pointlessness of labels trying to stagger the rollout of a new track or album globally – Sassybeat’s album, for example, is only available on Spotify in Scandinavia, but not in the UK.
“When it comes to international and you’re based here and strike a deal with a label… personally I am all about the global footprint. I don’t believe in this day and age trying to stagger releases due to territorial constraints or company constraints, it’s a total red herring,” he said.
“The moment that music is out, someone is going to rip it and stick it on YouTube in the blink of an eye. And their video will always be the first when someone searches for your music. That can be a pain in the ass to move, unless you take it down – and we don’t like to take down videos uploaded by fans of our bands.”
Sassybeat’s Melkild said that the band own their own master rights, and sold them to Universal in Norway – so they’re hoping to license them out internationally. “We hope for the next album that we could finance it with advance payments from other territories as well,” she said.
What are artists and managers doing with Spotify and streaming services other than just putting their music up? Sassybeat has a profile on Spotify, and links to Spotify, WiMP and iTunes from their various social media profiles. Both band members run their own playlists on Spotify too. “We get new followers there every day, so we’re slowly building the fanbase,” said Melkild.
“We make party music, so we try to make party playlists and try to encourage people to put our music in their party playlists, especially around the weekends,” said Eliassen, who noted that radio stations in Norway also maintain their own playlists on streaming services, which Sirkus Eliassen’s tracks find their way onto.
And that was a wrap!