The Unbearable Lightness of Spotify Payments

And a simple way to start making it fairer.

I am not in a good mood. Spotify is to blame.

Earlier this year I highlighted the deep unfairness in how musicians and songwriters are being recompensed for streams by services like Spotify.

As a scientist, I wanted to see some real data. As a singer-songwriter, I assumed I could use my own. How naïve I was.

At the end of each year, Spotify sends Artists a cute ‘Your Year Wrapped’ with summary data for their streams. Above is Bonnie Tyler’s – nice to see she is still doing so well. I would have liked to share mine, but foolishly I didn’t take a screenshot of it, and I didn’t save the data, and Spotify has now removed the link.

How much did I earn from Spotify in 2020?

The simple analysis I wanted to share was to divide my total number of streams by the money Spotify paid me last year to find out how much I earned per stream in 2020.

This proved to be less easy than you would hope. The first hurdle was that it takes 2-3 months for Spotify to pay artists – I still haven’t been paid for December. Given that Spotify can generate real-time data on a massive scale when it suits their purposes, their delay in paying Artists adds considerable insult to already significant injury.

I decided to do the analysis for 11 months of 2020, excluding December. Because I care for you, dearest readers, I will not burden you with the tortuous, painful journey to the data. You’re welcome.

Here is my best estimate:

Streams = 175566
Payment = $87.82

Pay per stream = $0.0005

I’ll let you just take that in.


Who drove the streams – Spotify or me?

I have wondered if I am being a little churlish in expecting Spotify to share more of what they get from streaming my music. I don’t know who or how people come to listen to me on Spotify. I assumed they were mostly casual listeners that happened upon my music on a playlist, without knowing or caring who I am. I assumed that Spotify was doing the heavy lifting in driving the streams; if Spotify didn’t exist neither would most of the streams.

I don’t know why I assumed this. Probably a mixture of imposter syndrome and plausibility.

Spotify only provides summary data and goes out of its way to limit an artist’s ability to connect directly with fans. So, there is no direct way to explore the hypothesis.

But there was a nugget of information in my 2020 Wrapped that made me review my assumption:

318 people listened to me more than any other artist in 2020.

Wow! I would not have predicted this. Thank you if you were one of them. I’m so grateful.

At least for these 318 people, my music was the draw. My music was directly swelling Spotify’s coffers, not the reverse. I’m sure the paying Spotify subscribers amongst these 318 would want and expect some of their subscriptions to go to me.

What difference would that make to me?

About 45% of Spotify users are premium subscribers. So, let us assume 143 of the 318 pay Spotify to listen to music. The premium subscription is between ~$5-10/month; let us be conservative and call it $5/month, $60/year.

If the annual subscription of the estimated 143 paying Spotify subscribers who listened to me more than any other Artist was paid to me, I would have earned $8,580 in 2020. Nearly 100x what I was paid.

Maybe this is asking too much. Maybe it would be too destabilising to their business model, and cause unacceptable reductions to others.

How about just the January subscription fee being paid to the Artist the subscriber listened to most in the previous year? Doesn’t this sound reasonable? It would have added, conservatively, $715 to my earnings. It would cause a minor redistribution with a substantial positive impact for niche Artists like myself, but no material negative impact for the big players.

It would be fairer.
It would be easy for Spotify to do.
It would be a start.

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I leave you today with Midlife Musings, which has just passed 100,000 streams on Spotify!

I’ll treat myself to a bottle of water. I should be able to afford that with my Spotify earnings this month.

Yours hopefully,

Nazneen xxx


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