Musicians say their battle with Spotify goes far beyond Joe Rogan
- More musicians have joined Neil Young in leaving Spotify in protest of vaccine misinformation.
- But some artists say their issues with the streamer go far beyond Joe Rogan.
Singer-songwriters Graham Nash and India Arie joined the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell on Tuesday as artists pull their music from Spotify in protest over vaccine misinformation spread on "The Joe Rogan Experience."
But smaller, lesser-known artists who don't always own their recordings and can't simply leave the streaming giant are using the momentum to discuss other issues facing the music industry.
"The focus initially starts on issues to do with Rogan," Thomas Gorman of Belly, the alt-rock band that was the first to replace its profile photo and banner image with bright green "Delete Spotify" graphics, told Insider. "But I think what a lot of musicians and artists in our position are trying to do is use that as a way to open the conversation more into labor practices and usage."
The central grievance is Spotify's "streamshare" business model that often pays about $0.0038 per stream, which independent artists have protested against for years. While artists are paid less than a penny per stream, Rogan's Spotify contract was valued at $100 million.
"Our problem is that the Spotify platform was built on the work of musicians and artists," Gorman said. "For them to turn around and give a huge amount of money to a podcaster that is spreading information that potentially might prolong this pandemic."
A representative for Spotify did not respond to a request for comment as of publishing.
For many musicians, touring is the sole revenue source left "in the era of streaming," he added. But when concerts are canceled because of rising COVID-19 cases, even that income goes away.
In an Instagram post on Tuesday, Arie, an R&B artist with over 1 million monthly Spotify listeners, explained her motivation behind leaving the streaming service, mentioning the "language around race" that Rogan used in a recent podcast.
"What I am talking about is respect," the post said. "Paying musicians a fraction of a penny and him $100 million? This shows the type of company they are and the company they keep."
The fight for a 'penny per stream'
Young's boycott pushed back on the idea that artists "absolutely have to be on Spotify" for exposure despite its meager payouts, Gorman said.
The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, a group with more than 27,000 members of the music industry, have called on Spotify to increase its royalty payment to at least a penny per stream as part of the #justiceatSpotify campaign it rolled out last year.
Spotify, which has 155 million paying subscribers, pays up to $0.005 per stream. That means artists need about 326 streams to make $1.
Insider previously found that Spotify has paid artists as little as $0.0033 per stream, as is the case for Eve6.
—nigh eve6 (@Eve6) January 31, 2022
"Our stupid band gets close to a million monthly streams on Spotify. Spotify pays out .003 cents per stream. 100% of that goes to our former label sony who is a part owner of Spotify. This is why I'm mad," the band wrote on Twitter.
Spotify's website Loud & Clear said 13,400 rights holders were making over $50,000 a year — the median salary in the US — from Spotify streaming royalties. Rights holders who made more than $100,000 per year totaled 7,800, while 1,820 made more than $500,000 per year.
A Spotify spokesperson previously told Insider that the royalty pool paid to music-rights holders from Spotify had grown by 50%, while the number of artists generating $10,000 or $50,000 had grown by more than 80% since 2017.
—Evan Greer (@evan_greer) January 29, 2022
So why aren't more musicians deleting their music from Spotify?
After the master recordings for Taylor Swift's first six albums, released by Big Machine, were sold twice without her consent, the pop superstar pledged to rerecord the albums so that her fans would be able to enjoy her music without someone else profiting from its success. The incident called attention to the fact that many artists don't own the rights to their music.
In order for an artist to remove their catalog from Spotify, they often need approval from other stakeholders. Even Neil Young couldn't remove his music from Spotify on his own.
"Before I told my friends at Warner Bros about my desire to leave the Spotify platform, I was reminded by my own legal forces that contractually I did not have the control of my music to do that," Young wrote on his website last week. "Thank you Warner Brothers for standing with me and taking the hit — losing 60% of my worldwide streaming income in the name of truth."
Such a move is especially hard for midsize artists. But bands like Eve6 and Belly — who say they want to remove their music from Spotify but legally can't — are asking fans to delete the streaming service anyway. They've even gone as far as replacing their Spotify profile banner with a black and green "Delete Spotify" image.
"It's been frustrating seeing this story get painted as a culture war thing," Eve6 said in a now viral Twitter thread. "Joe Rogan is only important in that he highlights Spotify's absurdly exploitative business practices."
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