Gary Flockhart: Spot flaw in musical streaming

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AN acquaintance of mine recently invited his Facebook friends – myself among them – to “have a word with themselves” about using Spotify, the popular music streaming service which now boasts more than ten million registered users.

He had good reason to extend that invitation. Quoting a tweet from musician and producer Jon Hopkins (“Got paid £8 for 90,000 plays. F*** spotify”), he was making the point that people like Hopkins were being mugged off by the Swedish-based company. Moreover, there’s growing evidence to suggest that Spotify has a negative effect on a musician’s other sources of income, too.

A major electronic music distributor, STHoldings, last week announced the withdrawal of all but four of its 200 labels from a host of streaming services. Citing figures from its own accounts, the distributor said that such services “cannibalised the revenues” of its MP3 sales. The mindset driving this phenomenon is fairly obvious: “if I can stream it for free, why would I need to buy it?”

It’s beyond dispute that most musicians are getting a raw deal from Spotify’s business model. That said, from a consumer point of view it’s a dream. It’s an undoubtedly helpful way to “try before you buy” and it’s breathtakingly convenient to use.

Perhaps Spotify could remain useful to musicians as a “loss leader”, but given the pitiable income that artists generate from Spotify, I wonder whether the service has become so popular that it now hinders the efforts of musicians to make a living; a particularly unfortunate irony.