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‘Necessary evil’: Some artists say can’t quit Spotify

WASHINGTON (AFP) – After music legends Neil Young and Joni Mitchell quit Spotify over a COVID misinformation row, some lesser-known artists have said they simply couldn’t afford to leave the world’s largest music streamer – despite their concerns.

The row sparked a discussion about other artists exiting the platform of more than 170 million subscribers in a stand against Spotify’s partnership with podcaster Joe Rogan, who has been accused of promoting vaccine falsehoods on his show.

But the opportunity for less well-known artists to reach a large audience and potentially get paid for streams of their music means they feel obligated to stick with Spotify, even though many said the streaming giant unfairly compensates them.

“For me, Spotify is kind of a necessary evil,” said Leo Sidran, musician and host of the podcast The Third Story. “To leave Spotify would be a decision to eliminate an enormous potential for people to find me.”

The music business has always been a tough one for performers, but the decline in major record labels’ absolute power as industry gatekeepers has given rise to a new landscape that has its own pitfalls.

Acts with smaller followings have to do a lot of their own promotion, which makes platforms like Spotify or other streaming programmes – and their music-hungry audiences – a way to get onto listeners’ playlists. “It’s crucial to be heard,” said New York-based jazz guitarist Michael Valeanu.

“I think those platforms are how people consume music these days.”

Valeanu had not listened to the Rogan podcasts in question and so was undecided on the controversy at hand – but said he was willing to quit Spotify simply because he said the platform does not fairly distribute revenue among artists.

For example, Valeanu said he has been paid only about USD500 across platforms, largely from Spotify, for his roughly 10-year-old first album that has been streamed “thousands”
of times.

Spotify told AFP that as of 2020, it has paid over USD23 billion in royalties to rights holders – including over USD5 billion in 2020 alone.

Artists’ streaming payments are tied to how in-demand they are, so there will be a financial impact for popular performers such as Mitchell and Young – and for their record companies.

Billboard magazine estimates Young’s decision to pull his music from Spotify will cost him personally around USD754,000 annually, while the impact will be a roughly USD272,000-per-year loss for Mitchell.

Young’s Twitter account directed fans to head to Amazon Music to stream his tunes, providing a link and noting “all new listeners will get four months free”.