Enough is enough, say musicians as they seek ‘justice’ from Spotify

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The United Musicians and Allied Workers Union (UMAW) has launched a campaign titled ‘Justice at Spotify’, demanding, inter alia, that the streaming platform should ‘pay us at least one cent per stream.’  

As of now, the campaign has been signed by 4,511 artists.

The union alleges that artists continue to be underpaid, misled, and otherwise exploited by Spotify.

Major demands

  • Adopt a user-centric payment model
  • Make all closed-door contracts public
  • Reveal existing payola, then end it altogether
  • Credit all labour in recordings
  • End legal battles intended to ‘further impoverish’ artists

In the campaign, the union says that music workers “create all of the enormous wealth Spotify accumulates for its CEO, its investors, and the major labels. But we artists continue to be underpaid, misled, and otherwise exploited by the company. As Spotify’s valuation soars, we have seen no increase in our streaming payments. The company’s closed-door contracts and payola schemes ensure that only musicians already on top with extensive resources can succeed on the platform.  As COVID-19 economically devastates music workers everywhere, it’s even clearer that Spotify’s existing model is counter to the needs of the vast majority of artists.”

Asserting that enough is enough, the music workers demand the following changes to Spotify:

  • Payment

Pay all artists at least one cent per song stream (or the equivalent in local currency)

The union claims that Spotify makes ‘enormous profit’ across its platform via user fees, capital investment, data collection, and more. The company must begin paying artists/rights-holders at minimum one cent per stream.

“Many claim that such wages are not compatible with Spotify’s current economic system. Our demand is that this model be adjusted so that artists can be paid fairly. If Spotify’s model can’t pay artists fairly, it shouldn’t exist,” says the campaign.

According to the musicians, Spotify currently pays artists using a “pro-rata” model, in which all revenue is pooled, then distributed to artists according to a complex scheme. The pro-rata model means that as artists on the top of the pyramid accumulate a greater percentage of streams, all other artists receive increasingly tiny payments. This model puts artists in competition with each other. The petition demands the adoption of a “user-centric” model which pays artists directly according to the number of streams they receive.

  • Transparency

The union demands that the streamer must make all closed-door contracts public. Accusing Spotify of intentionally operating in secrecy, it says: “The platform signs closed-door contracts with record labels, distributors, and management companies for payments, playlist placements, and more. We demand that these contracts be open and publicly disclosed,” says the petition.  

According to the union, artists deserve to know how a platform built on their work is operating. Spotify does not just accumulate wealth through user subscriptions, but through advertising, capital investment, data collection, and more. “Open the books and declare all sources of income,” it demands.

Another charge against the streamer is that it encourages labels and management companies to pay for plays on the platform. “The practice amounts to payola, and it is unacceptable and must be stopped. Spotify should not be in the businesses of selling artists access to their own fanbase,” says the union.

Another demand is that Spotify must credit all labour in recordings.

“We demand full credits listed for every work on Spotify, on both desktop and mobile platforms, and that Spotify enable search by every name so that every musician, producer, audio engineer, mastering engineer and all others involved in the work of recordings are recognized for their labor.”

It also demands that Spotify should stop fighting in court to lower royalty rates for songwriters. “We demand that Spotify ends these battles, and pledges not to fight artists, songwriters, and other music workers in the future. Spotify should be fighting for the artists who built it, instead of further undercutting our economic well-being,” say the musicians’ union.