As a composer, one of the steps in the creative process that I often find mentally difficult to grapple with ...
Thanks to technology, there’s a multitude of ways that people can ingest music these days. But no doubt, Spotify is one of the major players. Having recently gone public, they’ve now cemented themselves in the top echelons of online entertainment giants like Google, Facebook, and Netflix.
I personally made the Spotify leap about a year ago and have been using it as my main platform for listening to music ever since. I’m glad I made the switch. It’s so easy and convenient. Name any genre, any album, any artist, and there’s a 95% chance that you’ll find the music you want to listen to. And with playlists, it’s interactive and reminiscent of my youth when we would make mix tapes for each other. I presently don’t have a paid subscription so I have to listen to the odd batch of ads every 4 or 5 tracks. Hopefully my financial situation improves in the future so I can upgrade. But, for now, it doesn’t bother me too much since I grew up listening to music on commercial radio, although it has been decades since I’ve regularly listened to music that way.
So, if Spotify is such a great thing, why does its name make so many musicians cringe? Like most things, it takes time to get used to something new. In my lifetime, I’ve gone from vinyl to cassettes to CDs to downloading and now streaming. That’s a lot of change in 40 years of music listening. There’s also been a lot of talk in the news about big-name artists holding out on Spotify claiming that they don’t pay enough royalties. The rest of the music world hears this from the likes of Taylor Swift and Jay-Z and believe that Spotify isn’t a good thing. But the majority of artists out there are not signed to a major record label so 100% of their Spotify royalties are funnelled directly to them. That makes income from platforms like this much more lucrative if you get a lot of streams.
Then there are the musicians who don’t quite get all the business nuances (me included) and are hesitant about pushing their music on Spotify. (Remember I didn’t even want to listen to music on Spotify up to a year ago.) But society’s push to making this one of their preferred platforms to listen to music has made the vast majority of musicians ask the question, can I afford to hold out if I want people to hear my music? I definitely feel that I have no choice. I feel we’re beyond the point of no return and the gung-ho DIY musician must jump in with both feet.
Since Spotify is becoming the norm for consuming music, is it impacting how composers create music? Answer: most definitely! Marshall McLuhan was prophetic when he said: “the medium is the message”. I’ve heard that Spotify doesn’t pay royalties for a song unless it’s been listened to for at least 30 seconds. That means your song better be engaging or hook-ey early on if you want to keep the listener’s attention and get paid. That’s a hard creative pill for me to swallow, as I really like exploring the slow evolution and development of my compositions. I guess fewer people have time for that these days, especially since, with a click of a button, they can go on to an unlimited amount of other options.
With music listeners relying on Spotify playlists to discover new music, the curators of those playlists are quickly becoming the most powerful people in the music business. Because you’re trying to get your tracks on a playlist, artists are less likely to use the structure of an entire album to formulate ideas and instead might just make one or two songs extra strong with no emphasis on the musical cohesion that exists in a larger set of pieces. Yet another thing I long for creatively.
At no other time in music history has it been more important for a musician to be aware of the mood of their creations. Spotify playlists are not only organized by genre but by mood or even an activity that might take place as you listen to music (i.e., studying, working out, etc.) How is this affecting what music gets created?
I can’t help but feel that Spotify is going to continue to be a contentious topic within the music community for the foreseeable future. But as its popularity continues to grow exponentially, I also feel musicians are realizing its power and are now jumping on that Spotify bandwagon to see where it takes them. We can no longer ignore its presence. Good or bad, what choice do we have?