Leaving Spotify?!

(c) Martin Hommel, 2020

Stuck between convenience and the urge to stop a Groundhog Day scenario of sonic brain farts.


Leaving Spotify – quite the topic at the moment, I know. Does it need another (pretty late) hot take by some random dude on the internet? Probably not. But here we go.

Daniel Ek is a smart guy in his late thirties. White, powerful, techy, loaded. He started his first business when he was 14 years old – a PR agency focusing on building websites and making shit loads of money. He became CEO of uTorrent at 22 – already a millionaire – and started another company which would not only make him even more money but would also change the way the whole world consumes music – Spotify.
Spotify changed everything and Daniel Ek really likes the idea of that. He sees himself as a revolutionist, a saviour whose mission is to bring light and wealth to musicians – as long as they play by Spotify’s rules.

Daniel Ek was interviewed by music:)ally last week. Covid, growing memberships, musicians and labels complaining about payouts, successful podcasts – the lot. Daniel Ek isn’t a zombie-like figure like Mark Zuckerberg who breaks into a sweat when asked for directions to the next Starbucks by some random passerby. Daniel Ek is eloquent and with a history in PR he really could have made a big win with this interview, especially in times where independent artists and labels are struggling to survive. A few nice and encouraging words, maybe some prospect of how they will help the independent industry through this crisis (looking at Bandcamp here).
But he didn’t. He decided to go a different path. In a Trump-esque way he rambled on about a “narrative fallacy”, artists saying in private (but not in public) “many times” that they are happy with the payouts they get from Spotify and to put the icing on the cake a dictation on how artists should do their art.

“Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape," Ek said, "where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.”

Excuse me?

He continues: “The artists today that are making it realize that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.”

Ok, so I know – none of this is new. Anyone who has something to do with music in one way or another knows that Spotify isn’t about art, creativity or helping artists to make a living of their art. Spotify is about making money (which to be honest they aren’t even that good at, looking at their numbers). I won’t go into details of what Spotify pays for a play and what actually lands in the artist’s pockets – you can find numbers on the internet – but as someone who has original music on Spotify and who knows enough artists who also do personally, let me tell you – it’s fuck all. Like literally not even a penny per play.

And here we have a tech CEO who’s been ripping off the industry for years with the audacity to blame it all on the artists - that’s quite something. Well it would be in normal times, but in times where no one knows whether independent music will still exist next year, it’s a kick in the teeth. What a fucking dick, I think (quickly turning of the music I was just listening to on, ahem, Spotify.)

Spotify is changing the way we consume music and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I love Spotify for its convenience. Wanna hear some weird Chinese prog rock B-side from the 70s? – there you go! Fancy listening to that tiny band you saw in someone’s living room the other day? – This way please, sir!
It’s all there, just one click away and I really find this amazing and beautiful. So, it’s not about the change of how we do things. It’s not about progress. It’s about something much simpler: fair pay. Convenience always has a price. A bit like that take away coffee in a disposable cup, if you know what I mean.

If Spotify keeps on playing as it does it will devalue the art of music and in the long run not only change how we listen to music but change music itself. Ever wonder why recent pop music sounds so similar? Short, crunchy tunes, relatable, positive, without intros, straight into a collection of meaningless words. This will be the future of music – a Groundhog Day scenario of sonic brain farts - if we consider music a product, a commodity and not a piece of art. In a way Spotify is even worse than Napster, Emule or Kazaa. People were stealing music there too but at least they were passionate about the art.

So what are we going to do with this? Quite frankly I haven’t got a damn clue. It’s a fucked up system where, again, only the rich and already successful, the big names, the majors win, whereas the rest of us will be left behind.

What does that mean for Miserable Monday?

A big part of the Miserable Monday platform are features where I introduce artists I like and ask them to tell me their 10 favourite sad songs… which I then make into a Spotify playlist to share with the world. It’s so damn handy and I have yet to find a better, fairer way to do this without using Spotify. (Any ideas?)

On the other hand, I try to spend as much money on music, bands and artists as I can (and as my bank account allows me to). Tickets, Bandcamp, vinyl. Way to go!

Also, I see my radio show as a platform where people get an hour of curated music, where they are introduced to new, amazing talent and old classics and where they get backstories about the artists and the records which hopefully leads the listeners into buying their music. I think that this is something Spotify is lacking of. They do have curated playlists, but talk to your friend who is in a band whether they’ve made it onto one of them (chances are they haven’t!). For me there’s nothing better than some music nerd talking to me passionately about what I should listen to next. I know many people feel the same way but is this going to change anything in the big way? Probably not.

I really don’t know how to crack this unfair system. I fear that with Covid and the industry being in limbo my one and only big passion will die. I fear that we will lose so many amazing artists, some of whom we have yet to discover. I fear that we will lose grassroot music venues. And I fear that huge companies like Spotify and major labels will leave us with god awful music. I really do. If you do too, well, go buy some music of your favorite independent artists and tell them about it. It will encourage them to keep on keeping on. Join their mailing lists, follow them on the socials, spread the word, go see them live (Covid safe, of course). Every little thing counts.
Let’s not give in and let the rich people take over. Music is way too precious to let them have a say about it!