Full disclosure: I wrote this because I care. I am not an industry analyst and I am not trying to be one. But I have a brain, and I hate bullshit.
Without further ado…
In a highly publicized BBC interview, British musician Ed Sheeran says that he “owes career to Spotify”. According to Sheeran, the 860 million streams he received on Spotify allowed him to play big shows in the US and sell out arenas in Korea and South-East Asia.
Something about it just didn’t feel right. Smelling a rat, I googled the guy.
The BBC interview portrays him as a brave lone warrior with a guitar, weathering the storms of today’s tough music industry, embracing the technology of the future and being just all in all brave and awesome.
However, according to his own Wikipedia page, Sheeran is not a lone warrior, and his career is not based on Spotify success. In fact, Spotify is only mentioned in one sentence, towards the end. According to Wikipedia, Sheeran began to become known internationally in 2012. He made a guest appearance on Taylor Swift’s fourth studio album, Red, and wrote songs for One Direction. “The A Team” was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards and he performed the song in duet with Elton John during the ceremony. He spent much of 2013 touring North America as the opening act for Swift’s The Red Tour.
Do you see major power players and a sizable promotional budget? I do. Spotify is just a cherry on his ice cream sundae.
But let’s play with the idea for a second. Say, he has not received any of the support that he has actually received, and he owes his sold out stadium shows to Spotify.
How could it happen? Here are some of the things that I want to know:
– How exactly did Spotify promote Sheeran (vs. other artists)?
– Did they have a promo budget for him?
– Did Ed Sheeran receive preferential treatment from Spotify?
– If so, on what terms?
– Does he own equity in Spotify (about that in a second)? What about his manager? His label?
– Was he rewarded by Spotify for his testimonial?
Without answers to these critical questions, we are jerking off and engaging in public relations, not talking about business.
I am a business owner. When it comes to testimonials, I want transparency. I want to know the details. I don’t understand black boxes. Case studies are never abstract.
So I here I am, dying to know how Ed Sheeran arrived at 860 million plays on Spotify, and I want it broken down!
– How many of these plays were from Ed’s preexisting fans?
– How many were from people who have never heard of him before they heard him on Spotify for the first time?
– What vehicles did Spotify use to put him in front of people who’ve never heard of him, and drive all that additional traffic to his music?
– (and um, what did he get paid?)
I want to know!
To me, saying that Spotify made his career without disclosing the exact arrangement of who did what and paid whom how much, is a scam, and my reason for skepticism is simple: You and I both know that if you are not already famous, and don’t have a custom promo deal, it works like this: you put your music on Spotify, and IT JUST SITS THERE. The promotion is on YOU.
It’s like that surprise release that Beyoncé did. Sure she made a splash. But try doing the same thing as a new independent artist with no budget and let me know how it goes.
While I am awaiting answers to all of my questions, I would like to talk about $$ in the language of a five-year old: simple and to the point.
“I think Spotify are paying the right amount”, says Ed Sheeran.
My response: “Can I please see your royalty statements?”
Oh, and then he adds, “We’re just not seeing it”.
He is probably right about that. Because major labels and some managers actually own equity in Spotify. They are part-owners of Spotify. They can afford a crappy deal on the front end because they are going to cash out when the company goes public. I wish more content creators woke up to how exactly they are being played (the pun is intended). Here is some detailed and rather brilliant analysis of Spotify and their IPO game by Jack Ponti, posted on Marc Mozart’s website.
And to stay loyal to common business sense: Yes, if Spotify brought Ed Sheeran massive additional traffic based on his individual arrangement with them, and some of his visitors converted and became his paying customers (i.e. bought tickets to his arena shows), then absolutely, Spotify was a valuable promotional tool for him in that particular case. But that scenario wouldn’t be applicable to 99% of artists because 99% of artists don’t have a special deal with Spotify! It’s all ass-fucking, and no flowers!
Alas, Spotify is not saving the industry and it does not have creators’ interests at heart. Their CEO Daniel Ek is former Co-Founder and CEO of uTorrent. Their streaming rates that are not enough to buy dog food, but they don’t care, and neither do labels and execs who own equity, because when the company goes public, they are going to be fucking rich. But to make that happen, they need public relations to be in order. Hence, Ed Sheeran and his ode. They call him #1 artist, he calls them awesome. Jeez, that makes sense!
I see an opportunity of restoring the balance. Information is power. Dignity is power. I feel free, and I don’t like to be lied to.
I was at the Spotify semi-secret meeting with artists last month where their artist rep was trying to convince artists to wait a little bit longer (again!) till it scales. I don’t blame the rep, he seemed like a nice guy. But all the lies he needed to deliver in the name of successful business….. ewwwww.
I think we live in a very interesting time. I think it’s a good time to reclaim the world, and business paradigms, and general truth. Not as idealistic hippies but as adult business people.
My music is not on Spotify (nor do I use their service). I am sure they are not crying over me like they are crying over Swift (not yet), but if a million artists stop listening to the corporate fairy tales, and remove their songs from Spotify, fewer people will want to use the service, and Spotify will not look so good to investors anymore. And that, I believe, is the only way to open their ears and make them listen to creators.
Photo credit: By Christopher Johnson from Tokyo, Japan [CC-BY-SA-2.0],via Wikimedia Commons