2024: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (Turn and Face the Strange)
In the waning of 2023, the news that Spotify was “modernizing” its royalty system came as cold comfort when it dawned on me how squarely I seemed to be targeted by unfavorable changes. It wasn’t personal, but I took it that way. As someone who hyperactively releases audio content, I was mindful of the risks: my credibility as an artist could suffer, I could overwhelm even super-fans with content, I could dilute the value of my repertoire, and I could alienate people with my too-frequent release announcements. One thing that kept the wind in my sails was that my music seemed to be catching on; my audience on Spotify grew in 2023. A lot.
I’m genuinely grateful to Spotify, its users, and the small handful of outspoken supporters for the opportunity to find an audience on the platform. Other times I feel cynical, as if Spotify is emblematic of so many problems that exist for working musicians today.
Projecting the implications of Spotify’s changes on my own revenue stream was sobering. Assuming my soundscape-centric music isn’t ensnared in the noise crackdown—given that nature sounds are henceforth bucketed with white noise, the sound of a fans, etc. and devalued by 80%—to what extent did the 1000 stream threshold for songs to be eligible for royalties figure into my picture? Think of a high number. Then go higher.
Over 90% of my repertoire henceforth will not likely earn money for me on Spotify. Admittedly I’m an edge-case here, owing to the fact that I’m very prolific and work in a niche genre. The $1000+ that I would have been paid to me for those 1000+ songs will be siphoned off to enrich mostly major labels in 2024. It seems cruel, and unusual.
Then I have to square that with the fact that I’m essentially biting the hand that feeds me. My top songs, which occur on a few Spotify-curated playlists, are the real engine of royalty generation. The $1000 shortfall will still be well less than half of my Spotify earnings, if next year is nearly identical to 2023. Framing it this way, it seems much less cruel, maybe not even unusual.
After all, in 2023 haven’t we all heard that Spotify is not good for most musicians, and collectively shrugged it off? Is there anything new here?
For me, the new thing that springs to my mind is non-participation. It begs the question, why participiate if there is no profit motive? Why should I participate if it’s tantamount to writing a $1000 check to Universal, Sony & Warner year after year? Why not remove over half of my albums from the platform, in the hope that some users will decamp to another platform and stream my songs there? And what if that snowballed? What if that became a trend for emerging artists? Spotify has always excelled at discovery. What if a creeping sense that Spotify isn’t the spot for discovery seeps in? What if an emerging artist became a sensation on every other platform but Spotify?
As I say, I’m an edge case. If there’s anything TikTok has taught the next generation, it’s that going viral is like playing a slot machine. It’s hard to walk away from the sense of anticipation that comes with pressing that “share” button. Spotify, with its playlist golden tickets, has a lot in common with Tik Tok.
I’m not part of the Tok Tok generation. I’m not even a digital native. I tell myself I’m rational (even though I have some suspicions about that.) The music I make will never make it big. So what do I do? Do I pout, do I punt, or do I roll up my sleeves and get to work? Right now, I’m trying to focus on getting to work to turn and face the strange changes. I want to put more effort in to promoting my work rather than just keeping my head down and not bothering. I want to be an artist that can be both a little bit prolific, and also release an album to 1000+ streams per track in the first month. It’s going to take some doing. Wish me luck!