How Spotify and other Streaming Services Create Legal Artist Sweatshops

Online streaming and downloading services have changed my life. Unfortunately, they’ve also saddled me with a great deal of guilt. The foremost example of my emotionally distressed relationship with Internet technology is Spotify. Before discovering Spotify several years ago, I was stuck in what you might call a “musical quagmire.” I didn’t like what I heard on the radio, and because I went through a years-long phase of listening to only “Christian” music following my conversion, I lost track of pretty much everything but Third Day. I missed the entire Radiohead Era. Like, all of it. Alas.

Before Spotify, I was basically listening to Eric Clapton’s Unplugged on infinite loop in my truck’s CD player. Then, one glorious day, a friend’s Facebook page showed me what they were listening to on Spotify. I checked it out, and through both friend and Spotify recommendations, my musical life was resurrected. It’s been fun rediscovering the musical world!

So why the guilt? Because Spotify pays their artists as little as $.005 per play. So I have to listen to The Lumineers’ “Big Parade” 100 times for them to make 50 cents. I hope they don’t spend it all in one place!

It isn’t just my patronage of Spotify that bugs me. It’s my entire relationship with downloadable content. I buy video games on Steam during its summer sales, and sometimes I get the games for as much as 90 percent off. I watch television almost exclusively through Netflix, and I rent a lot of movies through Redbox. I know Redbox isn’t downloadable content, but still, I’m paying a dollar for a rental. A dollar! How can anyone make money with that kind of chump change?

Perhaps I’m a sensitive soul, and I shouldn’t worry so much about the starving artists who make great music, television, and movies. But it does bother me. I realize that Mumford & Sons probably does fine through Spotify because they get listened to a bazillion times a day. But what about smaller artists just starting out? To what extent does interest on Spotify translate into album sales for them?

I don’t know, but I must confess that I’m listening to Spotify even as I write this article, and tonight I may watch something on Netflix if I don’t play the video game I bought for $5. I feel like I’m running an artist sweatshop through my computer. Do me a favor and go listen to Deer Tick about a hundred times this afternoon. I’m really digging them lately, and I’d like for them to be able to buy a soda.

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.