The Union of Musicians and Allied Workers has announced a new campaign aimed at taking on Spotify. Revealed on Tuesday, the Justice At Spotify campaign has issued a list of demands to the streaming giant that has already been signed by upwards of 13,000 musicians.
Chief among the negotiation points is increased royalty payment for artists, “transparency in their practices, and to stop fighting artists.” The proposed amendments to the world’s largest streaming platform would include per-stream royalty rates of at least one cent per stream, a user-centric payment model, publishing all contracts with labels and artists, revealing and ending any arrangements that “resemble payola” (pay-to-play), crediting all labor behind recordings, and an end to legal battles “intended to further impoverish artists.”
“Spotify is the most dominant platform on the music streaming market,” the petition said. “The company behind the streaming platform continues to accrue value, yet music workers everywhere see little more than pennies in compensation for the work they make.”
According to UMAW, the average streaming royalty sits at $.0038 per stream, meaning it would take about 263 streams to earn a dollar, 786 streams for a cup of coffee, 283,684 streams to pay the median U.S. rent ($1,078), and 657,895 monthly streams to hit $15 an hour.
The current Spotify model is based on a pro-rata system, where money generated by users is placed into a pool and divvied up between artists based on streams. A 2017 study by the Finnish Music Publishers Association found that, among Spotify premium users in Finland, the top 0.4 percent of artists get 10 percent of all the revenue. Meanwhile, the same study found that a “user-centric” (aka per-stream payment) would reduce their share to 5.6 percent.
“Many claim that [increased] wages are not compatible with Spotify’s current economic system,” the UMAW platform states. “Our demand is that this model be adjusted so that artists can be paid fairly. If Spotify’s model can’t pay artists fairly, it shouldn’t exist.”
This also brings up the heart of the other demands from UMAW, whose claims of unfair practices also targets Spotify’s algorithm, artist recommendations, and custom playlists. While Spotify insists that playlist placement is not for sale, an investigation by the Daily Dot in August found a bustling black market for spots on the service’s official playlists.
The union also raises the issue of Spotify’s banner ads and other promotional tools. In 2019, documents obtained by Rolling Stone found that labels were able to purchase pop-up ads prompting listeners to select a specific work. Each time a user clicked on one of those ads, the label would pay Spotify 55 cents. According to UMAW, this constitutes the illegal practice of payola which was outlawed during the early days of rock n’ roll. In Spotify’s pitch documents sent to artists, they encourage them to spend at least $5,000 which would “bring more than 9,000 potential listeners over a seven-day period.”
“Spotify encourages labels and management companies to pay for plays on the platform. In many cases, the artists don’t even know this is happening,” the UMAW’s demands state. “The practice amounts to payola, and it is unacceptable and must be stopped.”
The issue of technical credits is also part of the Justice At Spotify campaign, which desires the platform to implement full credits for every recording on mobile and desktop applications. This would in turn allow users to search for every musicians, producer, technician, audio engineer, and more who contributed to the recording. Lastly, UMAW wants an end to lawsuits that “further impoverish artists.” The union has accused Spotify of “continu[ing] to fight in court to lower royalty rates for songwriters” and should instead, per the terms of the Justice At Spotify campaign, “not fight artists, songwriters, and other music workers.”
For more information on the Justice At Spotify campaign, and to sign onto their demands, click here.