Streaming Saved Music. Artists Hate It.


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Streaming companies like Spotify and Apple Music rescued the music business. They’re additionally tearing it aside.

My colleague Ben Sisario says that musicians complain about streaming economics that may translate thousands and thousands of clicks on their songs into pennies for them. Last week, a gaggle of musicians protested exterior Spotify workplaces for modifications in how they’re paid from streaming.

Ben spoke with me about why streaming music has been a letdown for a lot of musicians. The challenges mirror a bigger query: What occurs when the promise of constructing a residing on-line from music, writing or constructing apps doesn’t match the fact?

Shira: How has streaming modified the music business?

Ben: It’s been the business’s salvation. Largely due to Spotify and different subscriptions, streaming supplied the business one thing it by no means had earlier than: common month-to-month income.

To oversimplify, the massive winners are the streaming companies and the massive document firms. The losers are the 99 % of artists who aren’t at Beyoncé’s degree of fame. And they’re indignant about not sharing within the music business’s success.

If extra individuals are paying for music, why isn’t that cash trickling down?

There’s an advanced and opaque method that determines how the $10 month-to-month subscription for Spotify or Apple Music makes its method to artists. After these companies take their lower, about $7 goes right into a pot of cash that will get cut up a bunch of how — for the document labels, songwriters, music publishers, artists and others.

The extra folks hearken to music, the much less every tune is price as a result of it cuts the pie into smaller and smaller slices. I’ve seen monetary statements from some pretty common unbiased musicians that recommend they’re making a reasonably good residing from streaming. But typically, except musicians have blockbuster numbers, they aren’t making an amazing deal.

Who is in charge for this?

The streaming companies and the document labels each bear accountability.

Spotify pays a giant chunk of its gross sales to the document labels, after which it’s as much as these labels to distribute the cash to musicians. The music business doesn’t have an amazing monitor document of paying artists pretty.

But Spotify can be nowhere near its said mission of “giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art.” It probably has around seven million artists on its platform, and Spotify’s figures present that solely about 13,000 of them generated $50,000 or more in funds final 12 months. How can that quantity probably get to one million?

Haven’t many musicians all the time felt exploited and underpaid?

Yes, however the streaming mannequin has exacerbated the divide between superstars and everyone else. It’s additionally a fallacy to dismiss musicians’ complaints. Economic inequality has been round a very long time, but it surely nonetheless needs to be addressed.

What’s the answer? Can streaming ever work for everybody?

There is speak of fixing the funds programs to a “user-centric model” that might allocate funds based mostly on what folks hearken to. If I pay attention solely to Herbie Hancock on Spotify, my subscription payment goes solely to him, after the service takes its lower. Proponents say this method can be extra honest, particularly to artists in area of interest genres. But there have been studies that say it’s not that straightforward. And I’m wondering if it’s too late to alter.

Are any firms doing it in another way?

There’s a smaller music service, Bandcamp, that musicians tend to like. It lets artists restrict how typically their music is streamed and takes a comparatively small fee on gross sales of tune downloads, T-shirts and issues like that. It’s proof that Spotify isn’t the one means it may be accomplished.

I’m additionally to see what Square may do with Tidal, the streaming service it bought last month. It’s not going to alter the economics of what a streaming tune is price, however Square is deeply built-in with issues like merchandise gross sales. It might provide you with new methods to assist artists make more cash or join and market to followers.


In China, upstart know-how firms are doing one thing that may really feel inconceivable. They’re difficult the tech kings.

The Wall Street Journal reported just lately {that a} five-year-old Chinese e-commerce website, Pinduoduo, turned the nation’s most generally used purchasing web site. More folks made purchases final 12 months on Pinduoduo — which is a mix of Costco, a online game, QVC and Amazon — than shopped on Alibaba, China’s model of Amazon.

By the best way, do you need to really feel small and insignificant? Chinese buyers spend greater than $2 trillion annually on on-line purchases — and it’s nearing half of all retail sales within the nation. Americans spent about $800 billion on e-commerce in 2020, or about 14 % of retail gross sales.

One of the massive questions on know-how is whether or not America’s present tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon will keep {powerful} endlessly. In China, the reply is possibly not. (But we’ll see.)

In the previous few years ByteDance, the corporate that makes the Douyin app and its worldwide model TikTookay, has additionally challenged China’s omnipotent Tencent.

I don’t need to go overboard. Alibaba and Tencent stay supremely {powerful}, and it’s exhausting to think about that altering. ByteDance and Pinduoduo might have hassle staying common and getting cash. It’s additionally tough to know if China is a glimpse at what might occur to tech powers elsewhere on the planet. China is uncommon.

But it’s intriguing to see know-how superpowers confronted with newcomers bringing recent concepts.


  • Online hate as a precursor of real-world violence: Anti-Asian hate speech has spiked in fringe corners of the web, my colleague Davey Alba reported. Researchers advised Davey {that a} surge in on-line vitriol towards ethnic teams confirmed an elevated threat of violence towards them.

  • A novel however doubtlessly abusive method to get extra folks on-line: Rest of World wrote about loans for individuals who couldn’t in any other case afford smartphones, however they arrive with a catch. Pop-up messages take over the cellphone display screen to nudge folks to make funds, and the phone might lock if people miss too many.

  • TikTookay is the other of studying books however … TikTookay movies are promoting loads of books. My colleague Elizabeth A. Harris wrote about “BookTok,” or brief movies of individuals recommending titles, recording time lapse movies of themselves studying or weeping after an emotionally crushing ending. “I wish I could send them all chocolates!” one writer advised Elizabeth.

Here is a cat grooving along to a viral video of another cat.


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