The Brag Media
Opinion September 10, 2020

An Open Letter to the Spotify AUS/NZ exec team, from an indie artist

Alex Andrews of Larsen
An Open Letter to the Spotify AUS/NZ exec team, from an indie artist

To the heads of the Spotify table in Australia,

As a member of an independent Australian act, I can see that Spotify pays my band around $0.004 per stream on the music we have published on your platform. We have 200 followers and a handful of songs that have over 1,000 streams. This is by no means an impressive effort, but one that is a very similar situation for thousands of Australian musicians across the country.

Check out Larsen’s single ‘Silhouette’:

The current minimum wage in Australia is $740.80 per week. To achieve that minimum wage through Spotify streams alone, Australian artists would have to accrue 185,200 listens every week.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek recently said in an interview with Music Ally, “it’s in our company mission to enable more artists to live off their art, and it’s really coming through in the numbers […] you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough. The artists today that are ‘making it’ realise that it’s about creating a continuous engagement […] about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.”

While it would be easy to make sweeping, generalised statements about the independent music industry at large, I can only comment on my personal experience with my band and our situation. I’m going to use our last batch of singles – one of which at the time of writing is still to be released – as an example for why Mr. Ek’s statements around artist work ethic – and how it goes hand in hand with the ability to live off of their art – are not only painfully tone deaf, but insulting to the artistic community at large.

My band recorded three songs in late July of 2019. We chose a local Adelaide production engineer because they did their work for a bargain price and the product sounded excellent.

We had all three songs mastered by an outside source. The engineer charged us $320 per song for tracking and mixing, and the songs were mastered for $150 each, totalling $1,410 for a production quality of which we can be proud.

To make that amount back through streams on Spotify alone would require all three songs to get 117,500 streams each. Our most listened-to song at the moment has attained just 8,205 streams in the 14 months it has been available to the public, and this is with an inclusion in the Spotify AU editorial playlist Local Noise. However, the $1,410 we spent on production is obviously not the only expense for those three most recent songs.

We spent $175 on single art across the three songs, as well as $600 on a film clip for the single due to be released later this year. We also spent a further $1,650 on PR for said single. This totals an expenditure of $3,835, bringing the necessary number of streams to 319,583 per song to recoup the money spent on production and marketing.

Check out Larsen’s clip for ‘I’ll Be Fine’:

Taking that into account, I would also like to point out that our band released a five-track EP in 2015, an eleven-track album in 2017, and five separate singles between March 2019 and April 2020, with an average of three months between single releases. This fact alone proves that release frequency for the artist is actually not the problem, as Mr. Ek suggests. Paying the artists that use your platform less than half of one cent does not support Spotify’s claim that one of their company missions is to help artists to live off their art.

Stream Larsen’s 2017 album Weightless Again:

I recently signed a petition demanding that Spotify change its streaming royalty policy to one that pays artists 1c per stream for every time a user listens to more than 30% of a song – the current listening parameter. Between 20th October 2016 and 30th August 2020 our band has accumulated 38,900 streams on Spotify, earning a total of $155.60 in that time – the cost of mastering one song in our latest series of recordings plus change.

That $155.60 covers just barely over 4% of what we spent on our music in the last 12 months – money used to get our music to a professional and marketable audio standard, at below-market rates. Had the payment policy been 1c per stream from the beginning (as opposed to $0.004), our 38,900 streams would have amounted to $389.

I view that number as monumental for an original band to make from Spotify streaming royalties alone, and while it would just cover the cost of the three singles I’ve used as an example, it should be noted that I have deliberately left out the expenses we’ve worn over our years as a band.

From EP to LP to social media marketing, to touring, to film clips and every other expense in between that original and independent bands incur, that total expenditure easily reaches over $10,000.

I could go on and on with more figures and monetary values, but frankly, it’s too depressing to delve into so deeply. My bandmates and I put so much of our hearts and souls into the music we create together, and I know that this is a true sentiment for so many other artists across the nation and the world – both like and fundamentally unlike us.

Spotify is a company whose revenue topped out at $7.3 billion last year, has had an average yearly revenue increase of 29% since Q1 2016, is worth $26.9 billion dollars as a public trading company, and recently spent $100 million on securing the exclusive rights to an already famous and wildly successful podcast.

All of this, while maintaining a $0.004 per stream payment policy for its artists.

To me, this demonstrates that Spotify does not really, truly hold the interest of the artists “near and dear” to them. Quite the contrary: the Spotify streaming platform in its current form, with its current artist royalties policy, is a raw and unfair deal for the creators that the company claims to value so highly.

This is not new criticism; for years, many artists of a much higher profile than me have levelled objections to the meagre amounts of money the platform pays to content creators. All of it has been ignored.

In my opinion, this only proves that the last thing that concerns Spotify as a music business entity is the livelihoods of the people that have given their platform a reason to exist in the first place.

Alex Andrews
Drummer for Adelaide alternative rock band Larsen

Watch Larsen cover ‘Where Is My Mind’ by Pixies:

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.


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