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If Spotify Won’t Pay More, They Should Give Us More Data

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Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

I’ll say it. And I’m going to get shit for it. 

The comment from the CEO of Spotify, Daniel Ek, “you can’t record music every 3-4 years anymore” got blown way out of proportion. I actually did a full podcast rant about it. 

If you want to play the Spotify game, then you have to play the Spotify game. Period. And the CEO of Spotify just gave you a tip on how to play it. Whether you want to follow it or not is 100% up to you. You do not have to run your music career in the way Daniel Ek tells you. There are many ways to make a successful music career happen without bowing down to Spotify. 

Most people missed that he also said in that interview, 43,000 artists are making their livings from Spotify. 

That’s incredible! That’s a helluvalot more than were pre-Spotify (from merely recorded music). Well maybe not. I used to sell a boat load of CDs at shows. But making this revenue from home, without touring, and without radio, is actually pretty astounding. Unfortunately most of these 43,000 artists have been ‘selected’ by the gatekeepers of Spotify. The playlist editors. But that’s an entirely different discussion. Moving on!

I’ve never been a Spotify naysayer. 

Actually, back when Spotify first launched I lauded it as the natural evolution of the music industry and the solution for how money was going to come back to recorded music. I got a ton of pushback on my assertions. I wrote regularly about it and was beaten up left and right by the Old Music Business. Welp. History shows that, in fact, yes streaming (led by Spotify) single-handedly brought the recorded music industry back from its death spiral. Hate it all you want, but we’ve seen over 5 years of consecutive double digit growth (after 15 years of falling revenue). 

graph of recorded music revenue 2001-2019

Now this is all well and good for the record labels. 

They deal with the macro recorded music industry. They look at graphs like the one above to base their decisions. They sign hundreds of acts a year (on average, 2 acts a day) ANTICIPATING that the vast majority of them will fail. It’s built into their business model. So 98 failures out of 100 acts they sign this year is all well and good for them because those 2 acts financially make up for the other 98. To the major labels, it’s just numbers on a spreadsheet. And the numbers are working out. 

Well, those 98 “failures” are human beings. 

They’re artists who don’t want to give up on music because they didn’t get a billion streams this year (what the majors almost solely deem as ‘success’ these days). Many of these artists are actually brilliant. Except the stars didn’t align for them to pop off at a level that a major label needs to see for their books to work. So they’re dropped. It’s a crushing defeat. And unfortunately many artists never recover and quit music altogether. I could fill a book with these stories. Oh wait, I already did!

+Get the “Indispensable” (Forbes) 2nd edition of How To Make It in the New Music Business

For the vast majority of artists out there who have decided to maintain their ownership, control, direction and freedom, staying independent, it’s a different kind of struggle. Neither path is easy, per se. At least as an independent artist you’re allowed to try and fail over and over again, continually getting better and learning from those mistakes. 

5 years ago, it was nearly impossible to hit stardom without a major label. 

Now the number of independent artists competing on the charts is countless.

These artists are smart, savvy, entrepreneurial, and typically have an extremely hard working team around them of disruptors and innovators. 

But superstardom should not be the goal. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with the movers and shakers in the industry. On the New Music Business podcast I always end the interview with the question “What does it mean to you to ‘make it’ in the New Music Business.” Nearly every guest says something to the extent of “being happy, making a living doing what I love is making it.” Not one has said “superstardom.” 

It’s pretty clear that most artists these days understand they don’t need to get signed to ‘make it.’ 

As the definition of making it has been completely redefined and better understood, these savvy artists (and their teams) are finding innovative ways to make a sustainable career happen in the New Music Business. 

I was chatting with my partners at The Music Fund the other day about data. If you’re unfamiliar with The Music Fund, they are an extremely innovative new company that gives artists advances based on past streaming performance. These aren’t loans. And you don’t trade ownership for these advances (like you do with a label). They simply cut you a check and earn a percentage on your future streaming revenue on whatever songs you designate for them. It’s very straightforward and very innovative. 

+How To Get a Record Deal Without a Record Advance 

They were lamenting to me how it’s very challenging for them to study their artists’ analytics because of how opaque Spotify is with their data and reporting. 

The Music Fund is a Silicon Valley company built by tech geniuses. I only understand about every 3 words they say. But I got the gist. 

Spotify has the data, they are just choosing not to share it with their artists. 

Why? 

Now, I’m sure you study your Spotify for Artists backend religiously like I do. I’m in there almost everyday. And the data we’re given is nice. 

But does it really help my career? Or is it just helping me feel good (or shitty) about myself? 

Why not give me zip codes or email addresses of my Followers (Bandcamp does this!).

Someone follows me on Spotify and I just have to hope they check out their Release Radar the week my new song comes out. That’s the only benefit I get from that hard earned follow? Sure, I get emails for pre-save campaigns, but Spotify doesn’t technically support those. I have to do that through third party platforms. If I had my fans emails, I could let them know about my new song in their inbox. I could sell them some merch (which would get me paid a hell of a lot more than a couple fractions of a penny). I could promote my shows to them in their location (ya know, when live music is back). I could ask them to support my crowdfunding campaign. 

+Are Spotify Pre-Save Campaigns Worth It? Feature.fm vs. Show.co vs. DistroKid vs. Smarturl

And man would I really like better demographic data. So, currently I got 150 listeners from Denver in the past 7 days. How could I contact them if I was playing a show in Denver?

And I’d really like to be able to compare the past 28 days with the previous 28 days. Currently we only have options for “Last 7 days,” “Last 28 days” or “since 2015.” So unless I screenshot every month, I can never see my progress?! I want the granular data. And give us the ability to pixel our profile page and songs so we can actually run effective marketing campaigns. 

Just give us access to ALL our data. 

And let the third party platforms out there (like Chartmetric or The Music Fund) and our distributors help us sort it out if Spotify for Artists can’t keep up as quickly. But like, seriously Spotify, with all your money, this should really be a priority to help the artists that make your platform what it is. 

Yeah yeah, I understand privacy concerns, blah blah. But that’s never stopped Facebook, Instagram or anyone else. Hell, everybody knows we’re in a post-privacy reality. Seen The Social Dilemma yet? Terrifying. 

Yes, I’d love it if Spotify paid more per stream. I’d love it if songwriters were paid the same as artists (publishers the same as labels). 50/50 even split.  I’d love it if Spotify’s payment methodology was different. I’d love it if 10 of my fans only listened to me this month that I would get all $10 of each of those fans’ dollars (instead of it going into the black box pit of all money and all streams paid out proportionally to Post Malone, Beyonce, Billie Eilish and everyone else). 

But, I’d also love it if Spotify ain’t going to pay me more, then at least give me the data and contact info (or the ability to contact my fans) so I can at least try to build a real career on my own. 

About the Author

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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