Over the weekend, Music Ally published an interview with Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, resulting in the attention-grabbing quote that it’s “not enough” for artists to release music “every three to four years.” The pull quote has drawn ire from musicians and fans alike as Spotify’s profits continue to rise and streaming compensation for artists remain stagnant.
The interview with Music Ally came just after Spotify announced its financial results on Thursday. Despite the global pandemic, which originally led to a drop in streaming numbers, Spotify reported growth in both listeners and subscribers in the second quarter.
One of the most telling pieces of data from Spotify’s second quarter earnings was “Gone are the days of Top 40, it’s now the Top 43,000”, meaning that the platform’s top-streaming artists have ballooned to a much wider swath than ever possible in the pre-streaming days. According to the report, the artists that account for the top 10% of its streams now numbers more than 43,000, which is up from 30,000 last year. Even as many artists are dissatisfied with their slice of the pie from streaming profits, Ek points to this data as proof of users developing wider and more diverse tastes, thus opening the door for more and more musicians.
“This is something that’s been near and dear to us for some time: it’s in our company mission to enable more artists to live off their art, and it’s really coming through in the numbers,” Ek said. “More and more artists are breaking through in a big way, being impactful and creating new fan relationships.”
At the same time, Ek also acknowledged the fact that the global pandemic has seen many artists become more reliant on streaming revenue. As a result of the cancellation of all live performances for the foreseeable future, as well as diminished merchandise sales, Ek says that now artists are being overly critical of streaming profits.
“There are two different trends here worth picking apart. We realise that a lot of artists are impacted in the short term by Covid and the impact it has on the live industry,” Ek said. “As you very well know, a lot of the income today that artists are getting [pre-Covid-19] is from touring and live performances. A lot of artists are struggling because of that.”
This is ultimately what led to Ek’s condemned remarks that the burden of making a living wage off of streaming falls on the artist, not the platform. Beyond that, he also states that nobody comes out publicly to say they’re getting enough money from Spotify, and that the only headlines readers see are from a minority of artists who feel they aren’t making enough.
Even today on our marketplace, there’s literally millions and millions of artists. What tends to be reported are the people that are unhappy, but we very rarely see anyone who’s talking about… In the entire existence [of Spotify] I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single artist saying ‘I’m happy with all the money I’m getting from streaming.’
Stating that publicly. In private they have done that many times, but in public they have no incentive to do it. But unequivocally, from the data, there are more and more artists that are able to live off streaming income in itself.
There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.
Then to top off such short-sided comments, Ek outs himself as utterly out of touch when he points to Taylor Swift and the release of her new album Folklore as an example of somebody who is releasing music correctly on Spotify.
“I feel, really, that the ones that aren’t doing well in streaming are predominantly people who want to release music the way it used to be released,” Ek said.
Read the full interview with Spotify CEO Daniel Ek here.