OPINION: Does Spotify CEO Daniel Ek's vision of music production work?

"As of 2018, BuzzAngle states that album sales are down eighteen per cent whilst streaming has increased by over thirty-five per cent."

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says working musicians may no longer be able to release music only “once every three to four years”. The above statement may alarm some, but upon closer inspection there may be some merit to what the Spotify CEO states and why some may also agree with him.

Undoubtedly, streaming has overtaken physical album sales. As of 2018, BuzzAngle states that album sales are down eighteen per cent whilst streaming has increased by over thirty-five per cent. It also states that of all the music that US fans listened to last year, seventy-seven percent was through music-streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, whilst seventeen percent of that was through album sales and six percent through single sales. These numbers clearly show that streaming services are trumping sales of physical albums and songs. With this in mind, how individuals consume music has clearly changed, so why not the regularity of releases by artists too?

Some artists have already adapted to this change regarding releasing music. Rap music has certainly adapted to mirror what Ek has said. For example, Lil Lotus has, so far in 2020, released four EPs, two singles, and a full album of twenty-two original songs. He is also a member of If I Die First, a post-hardcore band with a throwback sound to the early 2000s (that have released one of the best EPs of 2020, might I add).

Another band that has certainly changed their methods of release is The Acacia Strain. They have released six EPs in the last year, with five of them being collaborated into a full scale album that was released last week, titled Slow Decay. Guitarist Devin Shidaker explains that “With Slow Decay…we thought about how everything has changed over the past few years with how we consume music. When you put out a record, you have this huge hype train of everyone going ‘the new record is out on this day’ and ‘check it out on this day.’ And then you do some tours on it but you’re not keeping it in everyone’s mind”. The intent with this method of release is that a new EP once a month gives fans something to look forward to on a consistent basis and keeps the songs fresh in their minds.

In terms of revenue, Quartz states that Spotify can pay an artist anything between $0.006 to $0.0084 per play. On the other hand, the streaming service Tidal pays $0.011, which after one thousand streams, amounts to $11. The same number of streams with Spotify amounts to a measly $1.80 according to Dino Oliveri, who runs a website which analyses streaming services and data. To add insult to injury to both fans and artists, Spotify also offers a free version which is heavily supported by ads.

Oliveri states that: “this is not a good thing for artists, mainly independent ones, because to have a significant amount of royalties means to have millions, if not tens of millions of streams coming from a very fragmented and volatile audience. Practically impossible”. A free but heavily supported by ads version of Spotify causes fractures between paying and non-paying fans, which may mean some artists miss out on potential revenue.

An argument can be made supporting what the Spotify CEO, Daniel EK claims about artists changing how they release music. But to do this, surely a compromise could be made in the form of increased revenue from Spotify streams? Other streaming services pay more, so why can’t Spotify match or even increase the amount of revenue per stream?

Since the advent of streaming, music has become extremely accessible. Releases are absorbed on a much quicker scale, and arguably, fans don’t fully appreciate the months or even years of hard work that goes into an album when they press play on Spotify on release day. The musical landscape is constantly evolving, with digital becoming its permanent backdrop which allows fans to access music instantly. If this is the current situation, EK’s statements that working musicians may no longer be able to release music only “once every three to four years” may, sadly, just be correct.

Words by John Canham.

2nd August 2020.

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