20 Nov


DickturpinTaylor Swift seems a highly unlikely Fair Pay for Artists Warrior, but she explained her breakup with Spotify surprisingly cogently (for her), in the context of an unsurprisingly current concern:

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”

Before you start sarcastically playing the tiniest sad violin in the world for a poor little rich girl who just happened to have a new album to shill that week, be aware that all artists whose music is featured on Spotify or other streaming services receive a paltry $0.006 to $0.0084 (i.e. 3/500ths to 21/2500ths of a US dollar) per play of their song. Plus, when Taylor Swift has got somebody bang to rights then they should know they’re making a horrible mistake with their strategy. By deliberately gaming this system with an album of short silent tracks (Sleepify), the band Vulfpeck still only made about $4 per person per day even when their fans colluded in playing the silent tracks all night, every night until Spotify realised what was happening and kicked them off. Spotify claims 70% of revenue goes to “rights holders”, but this is a slippery argument because the rights holder isn’t necessarily the musician.

Likewise, an official partner of YouTube earns between $2.50 and $5 per thousand views, with only the most popular YT stars making the top whack. An upper band YT partner who managed a very creditable ten thousand views would make a pathetic $50. A million views– which sometimes happens accidentally but is not easy to do on purpose– nets you $5,000 (about €4.000 or £3,200). This might seem like a lot until you realise how few million-plus videos there are on YouTube compared to the morass of other content, how notoriously fickle and volatile the internet’s lumpenproletariat is, how long it may take to creep over a million views, and how rarely any one independent creator consistently churns them out unless they have the resources of a traditional media organisation behind them and can afford to devote themselves to it full time.

This new breed of so-called YouTube stars, moreover, are nothing new at all and not grassroots successes, because they’re signed to agencies, carefully managed, ruthlessly promoted and need primarily to be pretty and not too threatening rather than talented, just like any other celebrity. This talent(less) management industry is elastic enough to encompass cats, idiots who blow things up, or misogynists who advocate sexual assault of women, and makers of artless “content”, but not apparently anybody with real talent who might need to or deserve to make a living from their creativity. Someone’s making a lot of money out of streaming and downloaded material, but as usual it ain’t the people who actually craft the best work.

What I really wanted to draw attention to, though, was a development from BitTorrent AKA one of the Military Industrial Entertainment Complex’s major straw man bugbears over the past few years. They’ve just announced that the model adopted recently by Thom Yorke and Radiohead– artist sets their own price and keeps 90% of the income, buyer can stream or download whatever they want, whenever they want and it’s theirs– is being rolled out to anybody who wants to apply for it. The new BitTorrent system allows for all of the content to be free and legal, if that’s what the creator wants, or it can be partially free and partially paid, or various other permutations. I suspect that the old school publishers, music companies, film industry, art world, etc. will refuse to put their own houses in order until every single significant artist of any kind stands up for their rights and the rights of all other creative people, and/or removes themselves from the broken systems that have been deliberately set up to screw them. Do it. Fire the mainstream arts and media.

“The value of art shouldn’t be up for debate. It should be up to artists.” Matt Mason, chief content officer for BitTorrent.

Read more about it here (there’s also a link to apply, if you’re interested)

PS: Although it’s from 2010, the graphic below (from David McCandless’ excellent Information is Beautiful site) puts some of the figures discussed here into perspective. To earn the equivalent of US minimum wage circa 2009-2010, a musician needed to sell (monthly) between 1,600 and 4,000 commercially pressed CDs via retail, or over 12,000 iTunes downloads, or get well over 4 million Spotify plays. They only needed to sell 143 self-made CDs per month at $9.99 each to equal a minimum wage income, i.e. slightly less than one tenth of the quantity they would need to sell through retail outlets.



  1. Alistair 20/11/2014 at 9:51 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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