Stream-age kicks: Is Spotify a musician's friend or foe?

As sales of records decline, are streaming services helping artists survive or short-changing them?

Last month, monsters of rock Metallica put their considerable back catalogue on Spotify. It was a landmark day not just for metal fans and partygoers with a sudden urge to headbang, but also in the history of the war between the sheriffs of the traditional music industry and the once wild west of internet music consumption.

The band's 2000 court case against the filesharing client Napster helped harden the respective positions of the old world and the new. "We take our craft – whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork – very seriously," asserted firebrand drummer Lars Ulrich, "as do most artists. It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is."

Strange, therefore, to see Ulrich singing Spotify's praises on a stage alongside its founder Daniel Ek, former CEO of µTorrent (a platform that could be used to download copyrighted material), and Spotify board member and investor Sean Parker, also the co-founder of Napster. Parker even walked on the stage to The Clash's "I Fought the Law". But who's really won here?

Spotify's model, where listeners can either tolerate adverts or sign up to a £4.99 or £9.99 a month subscription, is a clever legitimation of the ease of illegal downloading. Metallica's announcement seems to have finally rubber-stamped it as a viable way of earning a living. Yet there's still plenty of dissension among artists who don't own the master rights to their recordings and so receive royalty payments filtered through the contracts they have with their labels. Spotify gives 70 per cent of the money it makes back to the industry, of which artists receive, estimates Music Week editor Tim Ingham, around 20-25 per cent. The small scale of those payments compared to more traditional sources of income has led indie artists such as Lower Dens, Grizzly Bear and The Black Keys to grumble eloquently about the number of Spotify plays needed to equate to the sale of one album in cold hard cash terms. Jana Hunter of Lower Dens argued in an impassioned blog post that, "Music shouldn't be free. It shouldn't even be cheap. If you consume all the music you want all the time, compulsively, sweatily, you end up having a cheap relationship to the music you do listen to."

Higher up the commercial pecking order, Rihanna's latest album was kept off the service as was Taylor Swift's, with the head of Swift's label Big Machine, Scott Borchetta, declaring: "We're not putting the brand-new releases on Spotify. Why shouldn't we learn from the movie business? They have theatrical releases, cable releases. There are certain tiers. If we just throw out everything we have, we're done."

Others argue that the exposure that Spotify offers drives sales; the phenomenal success of Mumford & Son's second album, Babel, which had record US first-week sales alongside record US streams, was held as proof of this.

It's not like it's a streaming/sales either/or. A vast amount of music can still be found on the internet illegally for free. Will Hope, Spotify's director of label relations in the UK and Europe, says: " That's why Spotify exists. We want to come up with a solution and a counterpoint to that." It's a counterpoint that is still striking a wrong note for some artists, but perhaps it's just a matter of holding out.

"For Spotify to succeed, and by succeed I mean for it to get to the point where artists are paid an amount of revenue that they can live off, it needs to reach a certain scale," explains Ingham. "It's a bit of a chicken-and-an-egg situation in that people say it needs to get to 10 million or even 100 million [streams] before artists start seeing the revenue that they're used to . And in order to get there Spotify need the biggest catalogues on their service. By having Metallica, it means that in future, other artists and Metallica themselves will start to see revenues that they would consider fair recompense for their material."

Hope and Ingham both believe that the artist payment process will become better and more transparent as it and other streaming services grow. Already, Spotify has five million paying subscribers, and more than 20 million active users in total. Over the past five months their royalty payments to artists have doubled – to $500m dollars.

It is essential to keep the artists' interests in the public mind, but for now, Spotify's model seems the best we have. As physical sales decline, streaming is the fastest-growing part of the industry's income. When even Metallica are laying down arms, maybe it's time for us all to get on board.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn