As the year draws toward its end, and so does the decade—well, supposedly, since apparently we start counting decades with the number zero—we’ve seen an influx on social media of people posting graphics about their most played songs of the year or their most played artists of the decade. Even some local bands and performers have taken to posting graphics about the number of streams their recordings have had, boasting about how their songs have been played in 40 different countries or whatever.
This seems innocuous enough, and we certainly like to see music celebrated. But here’s the problem: those graphics and those numbers come from Spotify, a company that has attracted widespread criticism for its measly compensation of artists. For every one of those streams, the musical artists involved received only a miniscule fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of a dollar. Posting those graphics just normalizes the idea that music should be free, and that musicians, songwriters, singers and producers don’t deserve any compensation for their work.
Spotify is a massive, internationally successful company, but the vast majority of its profits go to shareholders, not to the musicians themselves.
In a 2014 essay published in the Wall Street Journal, Taylor Swift, one of the most commercially successful artists of this decade, wrote: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”
The company eventually persuaded Swift to return her music to the streaming service. But if Spotify doesn’t fairly compensate the household-name superstars, just imagine how poorly it treats the small, local and lesser known artists just trying to work their grind.
If you only listen to music on Spotify, then you do not support music.
A better online destination for music fans looking to discover new tunes is Bandcamp, which allows artists to decide for themselves how much or how little of their discography to stream on the website, and only takes a small cut—10 to 15 percent—of sales.
Even better, consider buying your music in physical formats: vinyl records, compact discs and cassette tapes have all made various forms of a comeback in the last few years. It’s the holiday season, and music can make a great gift. It’s nice to have a physical object that reflects the intentions of the artists involved. Album art can be beautiful. And tapes, CDs and vinyl records all sound better than streaming services piped through a telephone.
Even better, get out to a concert, hear the music live, and buy a record, a tape, a CD, a T-shirt and whatever other weird merchandise the bands have for sell. Support live music and support musicians. Don’t waste any time or money on Spotify.