The outstanding violinist Tasmin Little caused a murmurette across social meejah the other morning when she revealed that her 5 to 6 million streams on Spotify over the past six months had earned her the princely sum of twelve pounds and thirty four pence. I write it in words so that you can be sure that I have not put the dot in the wrong place, but here it is in figures just to drive the point home – £12.34.
Now, Tasmin has a publishing contract and her recordings are presumably owned by her record label, so more was undoubtedly paid for the streams, but unless she has a deal in place that is utterly lopsided then I still reckon that those streams earned her and and her publisher combined around £100 or so. While it is fairly well known that artists receive substantially less than a penny for each stream on Spotify, maybe it takes a set of figures like Tasmin’s and an artist of her repute to drive the point home forcefully.
The thing is that Spotify, unless you want to have your listening interrupted by advertisements – sorry, “purchase opportunities” – every fifteen minutes or so, charges £9.99 a month for the pleasure of access to its libraries, and this model has made its owners very, very rich indeed, and I have no doubt that other revenue streams also contribute to their fantastic wealth, but for an artist to have to get several million streams to have to earn enough to subscribe to the platform for even a single month is a little unbalanced, to say the least. It is not as if, to the best of my knowledge, Spotify is ploughing that money back into the industry, supporting artists through its own record label, promotion, commissions, or anything similar. It piles them high and prices them low and pays its staff – the artists – nothing (legal disclaimer: not quite nothing).
Mind you, that business model of selling piles of cheap and convenient stuff with the absolute minimum of overheads has done folks like Jeff Bezos and the always endearing Mike Ashley proud – you want a toilet break, we’ll take it out of your wages, that kind of thing – and while people like Tasmin, people like me, can take our toilet breaks as and when we need them, the fact remains that Spotify exploits its artists shamefully and shamelessly. You cannot even argue that it is the fault of publishers who own the recordings, for I have various efforts up on Spotify, all fully owned, and expect to go to my grave having earned not a single penny from them. It is a little like the Ivor Novello Academy stating the other day that its members would lose, on average, £25,000 each over the period of the coronavirus – who on earth are these songwriters earning so much money over three months or so? Publishers, most likely, not individuals, else the figures are skewed decidedly upwards by the Adeles and Sheerans of this world, just as that 2014 Sound And Music report found that the average composer earned around £3,600 per annum from commissions but that excluding the top 1% of earners dropped that average to £2,700.
Anyway, Spotify costs £9.99 a month, which is roughly the price of a CD, so, yes, continue to use the service if you wish, but if you find a recording that you really, really enjoy then please consider buying a physical copy either directly from the artist themselves or from their label, easily done. I make a point of doing this with obscure bands, for whom every penny or cent counts, and the same with composers, which is why my collection contains discs by Ian Wilson, Francis Pott, Paul Ayres and the like. Most of us – composers, songwriters, performers – rely on something like teaching to get by, and I am one of the very, very lucky few to be able to pick and choose whether I do that, but imagine how many prospective talents are lost through lack of income, how many more would flourish if they got even a modest proportion of what they deserved.