Spotify is firmly in the sights of a new artist-focused campaign launched by the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) in the US. Called ‘Justice at Spotify‘, it’s a series of demands for the streaming service.
They include: paying artists and rightsholders at least one cent per stream – “Many claim that such wages are not compatible with Spotify’s current economic system. Our demand is that this model be adjusted so that artists can be paid fairly. If Spotify’s model can’t pay artists fairly, it shouldn’t exist” – switching to a user-centric payouts model; and publicly disclosing all its contracts with labels, distributors and management firms.
More transparency around its finances; stopping “payola” (seemingly a reference to paid on-platform advertising for music: “Spotify encourages labels and management companies to pay for plays on the platform…”); full credits for “every musician, producer, audio engineer, mastering engineer and all others involved in the work of recordings”; and ending its appeal against new songwriter royalty rates in the US.
These are important topics, but the campaign is a reminder that one company isn’t solely responsible for, and certainly can’t solve, many of these issues alone. For example, Spotify can’t unilaterally introduce a user-centric system without the agreement of labels (one or more of whom’s resistance has so far blocked Deezer from even trialling such a system), publishers and collecting societies.
Detailed credits would be excellent, but Spotify can’t magic them up: they would need to be provided by rightsholders. As fun as it would be to see Spotify channeling Kanye West and tweeting out all its contracts, there are two sides to every NDA, so that’s another demand that could only be met if its industry partners agreed. Which they won’t.
As for one cent per stream payouts… Spotify doesn’t calculate payouts per stream: they’re based on a percentage of its revenues, divided by share of streams on the platform. Doubling or tripling the payouts wouldn’t involve changing a ‘per stream’ figure on Spotify’s system: it would require doubling or tripling the revenues, and thus the royalties pool.
There are valid discussions to be had around how Spotify can increase that pool significantly, from raising its subscription prices to shaving its share of the revenues. We explored those in this article in May. But as the #BrokenRecord campaign in the UK has acknowledged, the wider context is of questions for everyone in the royalties chain – labels, publishers and collecting societies included – about increasing musicians’ earnings from streaming.
That’s the nuance that a campaign training its sights on streaming alone – and indeed, a single streaming service – misses. UMAW’s mission statement includes “ensuring musicians receive the royalties they are owed” and “establishing more just relationships with labels” too, so it is aware of the bigger picture, at least. It’s really good that organisations like this are getting involved in the streaming debates though. The more they can tie the strands of the bigger picture together, the better the chances of securing positive changes for their members.