In a recent appearance on the Freakonomics podcast, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek praised his own platform for contributing to “the process of creating a more fair and equal music industry than it’s ever been in the past.” Ek’s comments, however noble of an intention they may convey, don’t seem to be lining up to the current reality, with Spotify coming under fire just this week from not only a group of 90 major songwriters seeking to appeal the platform’s recent move to block an increase in royalty rates, but a characteristically-opinionated Julian Casablancas.
Ek’s argument revolved around the idea that the significantly lower distribution costs involved in digital streaming, when compared to the physical media of the past, has shifted the landscape from one where “the costs were fairly high for a person buying the music, [and] you ended up going with what you knew and wouldn’t take that much risk on unknown artists,” to a current state where the “cost for you to listen to something new is virtually zero. It’s just your time.” Because of this, Ek believes that we “listen to a bigger diversity of artists than you did before, which in turn then grows the music industry.”
Julian Casablancas, infamously-eccentric frontman of The Strokes and The Voidz, indirectly called bullshit on the apparent musical diversity that Ek claims to be availed through streaming in an interview with Billboard: “Everyone I know who’s listening to Spotify or Apple Music doesn’t discover anything interesting. When I ask them to pull up a cool song, they don’t even have one,” he said, bemoaning, “It’s gone so backwards. The whole process of music is so stupidly complicated right now, for all the technology.”
Casablancas’ issues with services such as Spotify largely seem to stem from what he feels is labels ceding their powers over to streaming giants at the expense of the artists’ paycheque: “I think all those streaming services are… I don’t like them. They’re the new MTV, the new gatekeepers, so labels make deals with them to basically… they’re all just ripping everyone off,” admitting that “trying to suck on Spotify’s sweet sweetness is just a waste of time for me.”
Whether you fall on the side of Ek or Casablancas, when it comes to listeners having more musical opportunities than ever before, the realities of streaming continue to sit unwell with others in the music industry. Earlier this week, a collection of over 90 major songwriters – among them the legendary Nile Rodgers, Shawn Mendes collaborator Teddy Geiger, and Canadian hip hop composer Frank Dukes – signed a letter against Spotify’s opposition of a streaming-focused repeal that, should said opposition be recognized, cost songwriters over $320 million in royalties payments.
In the letter, the artists expressed their “hurt and disappointed” feelings over Spotify’s appeal to stop this 44% streaming rate increase, stating: “You have used us and tried to divide us but we stand together. Our fight is for all songwriters: those struggling to build their career, those in the middle class and those few who have reached your Secret Genius level. But none of us are ‘secret!’ WE all create the ONE thing you sell… songs. Do the right thing and drop your appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board rate determination.” Ek’s company – which has yet to directly respond to the letter – is the only streaming platform opposed to the increase.