Is it time to rethink our relationship with the streaming giant? w/ Fairweather Friends
When Spotify launched in 2008, it completely revolutionised our access to music. For either a monthly subscription or regular ad breaks between music in lieu of payment - and provided we had some sort of connection to the internet - there was, all of a sudden, millions of tracks available instantly at our fingertips: a song for every occasion. No more were we required to juggle space on our 16GB devices to ensure we had the right track for any given moment; indeed, we were no longer even required to purchase music, digitally or otherwise, at all, should we not wish to. Spotify probably already had you covered. The convenience of such a service was immediately stark and today with its catalogue of over 70 million tracks Spotify is the most popular service of its kind, boasting 155 million subscribers and 345 million users in total.
Despite all its positives, there has often been criticism leveled at the service. Some artists feel that the compensation they receive – currently estimated at between £0.002 and £0.038 per stream in the UK – is simply not enough. In 2014, following an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Taylor Swift pulled her entire catalogue from the service citing that the way artists were compensated for their art was inadequate. She later returned to the service as part of a new record deal signed with Universal Music Group (UMG), who at that time owned a 3.5% stake in Spotify (as Music Business Worldwide reported at the time).
More recently, billionaire Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has come under fire after comments made in an interview with Music Ally, where he inferred multiple times that artists needed to work harder in order to make money from his service. This prompted several responses including the #BrokenRecord campaign headed up by musician Tom Gray. After petitioning of the UK government, and following a YouGov poll that found 77% of consumers believed artists were underpaid by streaming services, #BrokenRecord were successful in their goal to see an inquiry launched by MPs in November 2020 to “examine what economic impact music streaming is having on artists, record labels and the sustainability of the wider music industry”.
It is all well and good to talk about these names and numbers from far off lands that have no tangible impact on our day today. Sure, this may be a terrible injustice: but when it comes down to it, this streaming war wages on above our heads as most of us remain oblivious – aside, perhaps, from reading an occasional 2-minute article or ticking a box on a YouGov poll. But what about when the powers that be in these situations genuinely do have a hold over your livelihood? To inject a little relatability into this article, I sat down with Glasgow musicians Sam Hawker and Jegan N’Dow of Fairweather Friends, who have recently made the decision to quit Spotify themselves.
Was this a decision that has been in the pipeline for a while, or is it something that came to a fore only recently? What was at the heart of the decision?
We’ve definitely considered it in the past, but like most musicians, we just considered it a necessary evil. Recently, we’ve been reflecting on how much time, money, and effort we put into the creation of our own music and how much we get back in return. Do we feel that if we don’t believe our music has value then why should anyone else?
We want to keep making music for as long as possible, for as many people as possible, but our future projects go up in smoke if we can’t get at least some of the investment back on current projects.
It is difficult for musicians to talk about the financial aspect of creating music, but it’s extremely important for career longevity. There is this prevalent idea that, in the digital age, anyone can create music and distribute it - “all you need is a laptop”. Say that is true, that laptop still costs money, and that is just the first thing. There are so many potential costs in creating music: Creating physical copies, distributing your songs online, paying other musicians fairly to appear on your project, creating artwork, advertising and so much more. These are all things that increase your chances of surviving in an extremely competitive field.
Financially speaking, Spotify is a terrible platform. If someone were to download our album for £1 on a day where Bandcamp waives their fees, we would see the entirety of that money. Alternatively, that person would have to stream every song on the album thirty times, for us to see the same profit.
This is all made worse by the fact that a very small selection of people are making an overwhelming amount of money off the back of artists’ creations. Every time the music gets played someone gets paid.
Do you think it is possible these days to still garner attention for your art without the crutch of services like Spotify? For the ‘little guy’ to get a win?
Well first of all, through God all things are possible. So jot that down.
Boycotting Spotify is definitely a bit risky since it is the first place people go for music at the moment. But, if you make fancy candles you don’t have to sell them on Amazon. If you make fancy sausages you don’t have to sell them in Tesco, and if you make fancy music, you don’t need to have it on Spotify.
Really, the biggest appeal of Spotify isn’t what it offers financially, it’s what it offers as a promotional tool. It’s extremely popular and playlists can be an effective way to get new listeners.
For us, that just means we have to work hard to promote ourselves in interesting and creative ways, which is an exciting challenge.
Please buy our fancy music, dearest reader.
As people who were wholly reliant on the gig economy for an income prior to the pandemic, how have you adapted?
We've done a lot of live streams which were fun and felt like a little community online. Playing every Saturday during the first lockdown was the only thing that separated the weeks from one another. For us, it was the only thing resembling normality, routine, and I think it was the same for some of the people watching.
We also wrote an acoustic E.P, recorded it in our bedrooms and released it at the start of the year. We can't wait to get playing with other musicians and hopefully never have to release another fully acoustic E.P.
We feel lucky and grateful that we've been able to stay productive, particularly because of organisations like Creative Scotland and Help Musicians who ensure musicians like us have backing to keep creating and putting out music.
What’s next for Fairweather Friends?
We've been working hard on our debut album, which features a ton of great musicians from around Glasgow. We just sent it away for mastering this week, and are looking to release, on those nicer streaming services such as Bandcamp, around summertime. We'll also be doing a very limited run of some lovely 12-inch vinyl, which is extremely exciting. People can follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates, and sign up to our mailing list for some album sneak peeks in the coming months.
You can check out what Fairweather Friends are up to for yourself over at https://www.fairweatherfriendsmusic.co.uk/
and join the fair pay conversation over at https://musiciansunion.org.uk/campaigns/fighting-for-fair-pay-for-musicians