Spotify is the biggest music streaming corporation in the world with over 500 million users. As of January of 2023, around 48 percent of the U.S. use massive corporations like Spotify or Apple Music to find the songs and artists they love. However, these users do this without thinking about the controlling hand they can have over a musician’s profit and success.
In November, Spotify announced new rules and regulations for 2024. Framed as a way to decrease fraudulent streams, one of Spotify’s new rules is that a song must have at least one thousand streams in a year before any profit can be made from it. This rule won’t have much impact on huge mainstream artists that can rack up millions or even billions of streams, but it most likely will affect an often unrepresented part of the music industry: independent musicians.
Independent musicians, often called “indie artists,” make up around 40 percent of musicians and generally own the rights and royalties to all their own music.They have sole control over advertising, creative and management decisions. Some even keep 100 percent of the profits that come from their own music sales. While this control has benefits, independent musicians miss out on the connections and opportunities that signed artists might have. Successful record labels have the money, staff, and resources to get music out into the public eye, develop compelling marketing strategies, and build a positive narrative and platform for the artists.
Small indie artists rely heavily on the profits they make from music streaming services, since free services like Spotify are the easiest way to make a profit and build a following. Although musicians only make about 0.003 to 0.005 cents per stream, that can still be a valuable source of income.
“Any attempt to make art is valid,” said Amelia Fletcher, a professor at the University of East Anglia, during an interview about Spotify’s new regulations with The Guardian. “The fact that lots of people make art and music without recompense doesn’t nullify the artistic value of that music.”
The control that record labels and streaming services have over a musician’s decisions and success is not a new phenomenon. Record labels and distributing companies have been controlling the flow of music since their inception in 1889. At the time, the U.S. was in the middle of its industrial revolution. Life-changing inventions were being created everywhere, and with it came the invention of the gramophone — an early version of a record player. For the first time in history, music was now available to more than just the wealthy. In the following decades, working-class people were able to afford radios and record players. This expansion of access to music also cleared the way for the creation of record labels.
Record labels were originally a way for artists to advertise, produce, and create new music. A musician would sign a contract with a record label, dictating how much music a musician must produce in the allotted time frame, and what percentage of the money and royalties the label would receive from the overall revenue- usually around 50 to 90 percent. When signing on to a label, musicians would gain many promotional benefits, while sacrificing individual creative freedom and revenue. For years, those within the music industry have been extremely dependent on record labels. However, labels have too much control over artists’ music and decisions. The relationship between artist and label has an unequal power dynamic and can inhibit artists’ creative freedom. Platforms like Spotify are only products of the ever-growing power of these corporations that seem to no longer have the artists and their musical wishes as a top priority. Instead, they use musicians’ need for success- especially those who are independent- as a tool for their own personal profit.
Hopefully, as the industry undoubtedly continues to evolve, the path of indie musicians might gain the foundation it needs to be the new future of the music industry, with musicians gaining the rights back to their music.