People sometimes ask me why they can’t find my music on Spotify, so I decided to provide a deeper look into why I think Spotify is a horrible platform for sharing music, from a musician’s perspective. Especially one without access to big label promo $$$.
Disclaimer: Making money off music is not my highest priority, which is one of the main reasons why I’m free to do it my way. I create and release music because I enjoy doing it, and I’m happy to hear that others enjoy it too. Jumping through hoops to put my music on streaming platforms and getting very little in return is not fun, which is why I’m not doing it at this time.
I’m not even a Spotify Subscriber
I know this might sound like an all-out assault on Spotify and streaming in general, but hear me out.
I listen to A LOT of music, so it might sound weird that I’ve never had a Spotify sub. I’m fully aware of its pros and relative cheapness, but the following cons have pushed me away from it:
- It was late in arriving to Serbia (2020), by which time I already had a well-curated MP3 collection (yes, I grew up in the late 90s and early 00s) with no need to supplement it with streaming music.
- I prefer listening to albums and the whole listening experience for me is a journey – Bandcamp is perfect for this
- I don’t want to depend on an Internet connection to be able to enjoy music. Yes, I can pre-download what I plan on listening to, which is no different than putting MP3s on my listening device.
- I prefer to cut out middlemen and support the producers directly whenever possible. Music is no exception.
Winner Takes All in the Music Business
Why I’m picking on Spotify in particular is mainly due to its market share, but what I will say likely applies to most other streaming platforms.
Spotify seems to be one of those extremely consumer-centric companies that places its strategy on constantly increasing their user base and making the subscriber feel good while keeping them on a monthly fee for as long as they’re alive. Sounds good right? I mean, they give you access to all the music ever created for $10 a month – what could possibly go wrong?!
Unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of treating the (small-time) musician like shit. It’s no big secret that the music industry is a winner takes all scheme, where the most popular artists are millionaires. The rest, and by this I mean 90% of the people making music couldn’t break even if they were to pursue a career in music. Most don’t and instead treat it as a hobby.
There are also concerns that big record labels are at it again with their payola schemes – secretly paying for the songs of the artists they represent to get more prominent features above everyone else. A lot of observers have noted this is likely happening with many playlists, which is something Spotify denies. Will anyone be surprised if 10 years down the road this turns about to have been the case all along? Innocent until proven guilty, so we’ll have to wait that one out.
Small Musicians Pay to Play
The first step to uploading your music on streaming platforms involves paying for a service that does it for you. Yep, that’s the setup we’re living with in 2022. These services are called distributors, as if they’re physically distributing something. They come in varying shapes of pricing models, quality, and lack of customer service. Check out Ari’s Take for a comprehensive headache regarding that.
OK fine, I paid to have my music out there, now people can find and listen to it, right?
Wrong! Unless they’re specifically looking for you, nobody is going to stumble across your music on a streaming platform. We live in an age where attention is a scarce commodity, and with over 100,000 new songs being uploaded daily nobody will listen to your music without a well executed marketing and promotion strategy behind it.
In the case of streaming promotion, the next step is getting your music featured on popular playlists, which involves yet another level of time and money sunk. I’m not going to go deep into that right now, but suffice to say that there’s plenty of shady shit going on with playlist curators charging to feature your music (despite it being against the platform’s terms of service).
But for the sake of argument, let’s say we’ve done all that and people are now actively listening to our music on Spotify. Surely, money made from streaming will offset all the upfront promotional costs?
Show Me the Money!
Nope! The money that artists receive for having their music played on Spotify is abysmal – about 250 songs equate to $1 earned by the musician. This means that my song would have to be played at least half a million times to offset the promotional costs alone, and let’s add a couple of million plays more before we start covering the gear investment. It’s not exactly a great career path.
The biggest currency you can hope to be paid in via streaming is called Exposure. And IF you get some of that sweet sweet exposure-juice (big IF with plenty of hoops to jump through along the way) you can start selling merchandise and booking live shows – which is where the actual money for most musicians is.
If the goal of uploading music to streaming platforms and doing all the behind-the-scenes promo work is just to build exposure, then that opens up the playing field to many more platforms and approaches. Preferably a platform that will not only allow, but foster direct communication between musician and listener – another aspect of Spotify’s service where it falls short.
I can’t blame you if you enjoy streaming music. It’s one hell of a value for the consumer! But this system is currently broken for most people on the producers’ side and until something changes Bandcamp will be the best place to find my music.