For users Spotify is great. The service marries the convenience that apps like Napster showed the world in the 90s, with the ability to actually pay for your music to keep folks like the RIAA off your back.
But ask a musician about Spotify and the good feeling you have about the service will sink into despair faster than a sack of rocks in the Vaal.
Spotify doesn’t pay artists very much. Exactly how much an artist earns per stream of a song is not a known and we have searched far and wide for that information. For instance, this report from Quartz in 2018 suggests Spotify pays anywhere from $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream. Earlier this year Ditto Music suggested the figure was far lower at $0.00437 per stream.
This preamble is to highlight just how problematic Spotify’s latest announcement is.
In a press release on Monday, Spotify said that it was testing a new feature that would allow musicians to boost a track so that it is potentially heard by more people.
“Artists tell us they want more opportunities to connect with new listeners, and we believe our recommendations should also be informed by artists—their priorities and what they have to say about their music. And soon, we will roll out a test of a service that gives artists a say in how their music is discovered,” wrote Spotify.
Spotify says that it will do this by allowing artists to add a signal to personalised listening sessions. What are signals?
Signals are what Spotify refers to user events as. When you skip a song, that’s a signal. When you open Spotify at a particular time of day with regularity, that’s a signal.
All of these signals feed Spotify’s algorithms which make it as good as it is.
Now, Spotify isn’t letting musicians manipulate signals for free. While there is no entry fee to do this, musicians could earn less as a result of adding signals to personalised listening sessions.
“To ensure the tool is accessible to artists at any stage of their careers, it won’t require any upfront budget. Instead, labels or rights holders agree to be paid a promotional recording royalty rate for streams in personalised listening sessions where we provided this service,” explained Spotify.
But it gets worse.
If you opt to add a signal to a session and the song you’re promoting doesn’t, it won’t feature in other sessions.
“If the songs resonate with listeners, we’ll keep trying them in similar sessions. If the songs don’t perform well, they’ll quickly be pulled back. Listener satisfaction is our priority-we won’t guarantee placement to labels or artists, and we only ever recommend music we think listeners will want to hear,” added the music streaming service.
Musicians will have to take a gamble then and with earnings as low as they are this may not be a gamble worth taking.
Record labels on the other hand might see this as a great marketing opportunity and who cares if the artists get paid less because that’s the attitude of record labels at large.
Thankfully this feature is just a test, at least for now. Spotify will begin testing this feature in its Radio and Autoplay formats though if it proves to be a success it might expand to other playlists within the service.
Of course, we could be wrong and we would be willing to concede that if it turns out to be the case. With that having been said however, given how little Spotify pays artists already, asking them to take a lower cut in hopes they earn more through wider reach seems like a reach.