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  • Writer's pictureTobi

Should You Quit Spotify?

Introduction:  Mixed

Every Friday for the past 6 or more years, I cobble together the week’s new independent releases into my New Independent Music Friday playlist.   On a day when many independent artists are sharing their new releases, pushing Bandcamp Friday, or simply trying to attract some much needed attention for their music, I spend the afternoon engaged in the selection and promotion of the playlist.  On any number of occasions, I have questioned the wisdom of this weekly drain on my time.  But it took Spotify’s decision to introduce an annual 1,000 stream payout threshold to make me have mixed feelings about the playlist itself.


Independent Artist


 Chapter 1: Rethink


Spotify’s decision to financially disenfranchise millions of grassroots artists and bands has inevitably led to many across the grassroots independent scene to question whether their music should remain on Spotify’s platform.  There is nothing new about artists questioning the value of Spotify hosting their music.  Indeed, I know a good number of artists who have always adamantly refused to have their music on Spotify. There have always been credible arguments for independent artists to abstain from streaming.


I have, on the whole, taken the view that Spotify’s algorithm driven playlist based ecosystem can, at least in broad terms, serve the majority of independent artists well.  I will admit, though, Spotify’s annual payout threshold has given me reason to think again and re-evaluate my estimation of the platform’s worth to independent artists.


Independent Artist at Crossroads


Chapter 2: Discovery


The strongest argument for Spotify remains its algorithm driven playlist based ecosystem.  With an average upload of 120,000 tracks per day in 2023, algorithmic auto-curated playlists at least afford grassroots artists the possibility of connecting to an audience.  Over the years, I have seen artists featured on my playlist grow from 1,000s of streams to 10,000s to 100,000s and beyond.  Equally, though, I see artists whose work has repeatedly warranted a feature on my playlist, languish at 1,000s to 10,000s of streams for years.  While it is evident Spotify does work for some artists, it is also clear that Spotify does not work for all artists.  What’s more, there doesn’t always appear to be an apparent rhyme or reason as to why some artists flourish while others struggle.     


Streaming


Chapter 3: Convenience

“Familiarity breeds contempt”


Many, if not all, of us will have been in the situation where we are far more attracted to someone, than they are to us.  Often this leads us to over-compensate our availability in terms of scheduling dates, etc.  It is said, “Familiarity breeds contempt”, the argument might be made, convenience breeds devaluation.  It is reasonable to suggest that the convenience of streaming inherently devalues music.  Perhaps having much of the world’s music at our fingertips makes us blasé and blind to its value.


Streaming Music


Chapter 4: Traffic

“Pre-Save my Single” 


Much is made on the grassroots independent scene about the pre-save.  Self-proclaimed music marketing experts from TikTok to YouTube, champion the pre-save.  “Pre-Save my Single”, is the mantra of so many grassroots indie artists.  Chants of “pre-save my single” ring out across socials, as though it were an ancient ritual to earn favor with the gods.


The pre-save effectively pre-loads the upcoming release into your Release Radar and, and any additional playlists you choose.  In addition, it also adds you to the artist's lists of followers and forwards your email to the artist (or label, etc.).


While the pre-save is not without benefit, with social platforms building much more aggressive user retention into their systems, artists might be better served directing hard earned traffic to their website or similar.  Not least, considering Pre-Save links are dependent on a number of Internet moving parts, and can fail to even connect.  


Pre Saves


Chapter 5: Precedent


Now that Spotify has set the precedent with a year on year payout threshold of 1,000 streams, it would be prudent for us grassroots artists to be mindful of higher thresholds being set in the future.  Particularly when we consider the words of Deezer CEO Jeronimo Folgueira “there’s a lot of content getting uploaded to our platform every week… it puts a lot of content in our servers that we have to pay for. There is a cost to having a never-ending growing catalog.”  With the price of energy set to rise for the foreseeable future, server running costs are only set to rise with it.  Grassroots artists need to consider the medium to long term, when deciding how much of our limited time we invest in building our Spotify profiles.  


An Independent Artist


Chapter 6: Criticism

Criticism of Spotify is nothing new.  In the act of updating and promoting my weekly new music playlist, I have had the distinguished pleasure of being accused of serving only the major labels, of hurting not helping independent artists, and of simply wasting my time.  These words of insight and wisdom have all too often come from artists who do nothing beyond promoting their own music or self-described supporters of indie music who provide promotional services for a fee [Not that I have a problem with people doing so, but if you are charging artists, you are not supporting, you are providing a service in exchange for payment].


Most, not all, of the criticism I’ve received over the years for running my new music playlist on Spotify has been ill-thought out, if not, out and out nonsense.  And while there is credible criticism to be made of how little streaming pays out to artists, the benefits for independent artists in terms of connecting them to new listeners, curators, bloggers, and DJs alike, have far outweighed the negative.


Criticism


Conclusion: Balance

The question for myself in regard to my playlist and my music, and for all grassroots independent artists, is whether or not Spotify is at the beginning of adjusting its business model, in such a way, there will no longer be a viable place for grassroots independent music-makers on its platform.  With that in mind, each of us needs to decide how much of our energies we should be focusing on Spotify going forward.


I feel this answer will be different for different artists.  I still maintain that a number of artists will continue to do well out of Spotify, but whether that number will become smaller in the coming years is an open question.  Certainly, I think all grassroots artists need to think carefully about using what little social clout they have to drive traffic to a pre-save and/or their Spotify profile.


Striking a balance remains a sensible option in most things.  Bands like Battery Operated Orchestra strike a constructive and well-thought out balance between streaming and Bandcamp.  By having their singles on streaming, they benefit from the discoverability of streaming.  By having their albums and EPs exclusively available on Bandcamp, they benefit from an enhanced sense of value.  In this way, they enjoy the best of both worlds.


Balance

Should You Quit Spotify

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