By now, we’ve all heard the news.
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Artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and India.Arie are leaving the streaming platform Spotify for reasons ranging from COVID-19 misinformation to racism. And while these big artists have made headline after headline of late, one wonders: what about working musicians?
If you have, say, 1,000 “likes” on Facebook or a few thousand yearly streams, it’s easy to think your voice doesn’t make an impact. But that’s not the case at all. Take for example Memphis-based artist Chris Milam, who is following in the footsteps of Young and the others in removing his music from Spotify.
Here, we’ve chosen to reprint Milam’s open letter to the platform and his followers, which explicates his reasoning behind his decision and his self-awareness when it comes to the move.
WHY I’M QUITTING SPOTIFY
By Chris Milam
Recently, venerated artists Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, India.Arie, Nils Lofgren, and Graham Nash announced the removal of their music from Spotify. More will likely follow.
These artists have sold millions of records. They’ve reached countless listeners in every corner of the globe, graced every magazine cover, and inspired generations of budding artists.
To Spotify, I’m a relative nobody. I’m a working artist, lucky enough to carve out a career over many years of tireless work, grassroots touring, and independent releases. I have—many times—driven all day to play for 2 bartenders and an aunt. The Memphis Flyer once called me “a singer.”
I’m tempted to say that Spotify doesn’t care about artists like me. That they won’t notice—much less miss—my music on their platform. But that’s not exactly true.
Since its inception, Spotify has been uniquely positioned as a global leader in music streaming. Sure, others came before (e.g. Rhapsody). And sure, Spotify’s expanded beyond music since (e.g. podcasts). In 16 years, en route to becoming the largest streaming service (31% market share), its business model hasn’t been disregard for artists, but disrespect.
Like some, I could quit Spotify because of its long-standing royalty rate ($0.00437 per stream). Of course, this rate is (unjustly) industry standard, though the rates themselves vary. While all streaming services pay fractions per stream, other services include an option to buy the music. Not Spotify.
Like Young and Mitchell, I could quit Spotify over its support of Joe Rogan’s podcast and its steady stream of COVID misinformation. Like Arie, I could quit over Rogan’s racist rhetoric. Like many, I could question why a platform would value Rogan’s podcast so much ($100 million) and a songwriter’s work so little.
I could go further, citing the toxic influence Spotify metrics now have over the rest of the industry: booking agents mandated to sign only artists with a certain streaming count; those streaming counts often coming from a new iteration of payola, third-parties paying for placement on Spotify’s most popular playlists; its algorithm boosting songs that match existing hits, prodding new music toward a milquetoast monolith.
Picture the chicken and the egg, only the chicken is an old bag of cash and the egg is a new bag of cash.
Or, just this week, I could quit Spotify because HitPiece used its API to list music NFTs for sale with zero consent of the artists, an unconscionable precedent in a new space.
Since 2006, Spotify’s been given every opportunity to form compromises and concessions, to pay back even a penny of public trust. Instead, it finds new ways to strip artists of their income, autonomy, and dignity.
This isn’t standard corporate greed, it’s avarice. This isn’t disregard, it’s contempt. This isn’t devaluation, it’s exploitation. This isn’t a music platform but a tech company fundamentally disrespecting the work of indies and superstars alike*.
So, I’m quitting Spotify because I’m unwilling to associate myself with these practices**. This will continue until there’s demonstrable change. I refuse to accept disdain as a professional hazard.
I’m aware of the downside. I know my music’s reach can (and probably will) take a hit from this decision. It’s scary. But I also believe that the music world is still full of ardent advocates, both ambitious and artist-friendly, who also crave a more equitable future.
I’ve never met a nobody—just people. And I’m willing to bet on them.
**Some artists don’t own their catalog and don’t have this agency (yet). For those like me, the process takes 10 minutes, and I’m happy to walk you through it.
Photo courtesy Chris Milam