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
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments