Where do we draw the line with streaming music from artists that are no longer alive? Clearly, the artists are not able to accept or deny approval for these actions, but is it ethical to just stream music knowing that the performer would hate it? Well, Prince is coming back to Spotify—and the pop icon would not be happy about it.
In July of 2015, the star pulled his music off Spotify and other streaming services, excluding Tidal, in defense of fair compensation for artists. However, this weekend the Purple One returned to not only Spotify but also other streaming services such as Apple Music, Amazon, and iHeartRadio just in time for the Grammy Awards. It comes to no surprise that Prince would not be pleased with this decision and is probably turning over in his grave.
Prince was not shy to voice his dissatisfaction with streaming services and was cynical of the diminishing value of music online. In a recent interview on NPR, Prince told Eric Deggans about his new alliance with Jay-Z and his new streaming service, Tidal. The star said that the deal with Jay Z “still gave him the freedom to collaborate with other artists on songs which might appear elsewhere, stressing the importance of artists controlling as much of the revenue from their work as possible.” Jay-Z spent $100 million to build his streaming service and is likely the reason why Tidal is one of the only streaming services artists support.
However, Prince is not the first or last artist to criticize the fairness in streaming.Taylor Swift, the highest-paid musician of 2015, hates Spotify. In 2014, a week after releasing her album 1989, Big Machine Music suddenly pulled her entire collection from Spotify. Swift said in a post to Rolling Stone that she was not willing to “contribute my life’s work to an experiment” meaning streaming services and that music should be paid for.
It is important to note this: The music industry is growing and streaming services are helping. Nielsen’s 2016 Mid-Year Music Report revealed that Americans streamed 209 billion songs from January through June, up from just 50 billion three years ago.
During the first half of 2016, the 8.1% increase in revenue according to a recent report from the RIAA. Subscription revenue in the first half of 2016 increased 57.4% over last year while digital downloads and physical album sales both continued to drop.
In an Infographic from David McCandless at Information Is Beautiful attempts to clarify streaming music and artist compensation. In the visual, it shows that in order for an artist to survive on Spotify sales, he or she needs 2% of its 75 million users—that’s around 1.5 million users—to play their track per month.
You would think that with over 30 million subscribers, Spotify would lighten up on compensation to its artists. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke spoke poorly of streaming services, claiming that artists receive low royalty payments and fans are getting the music for free. However, I believe that as streaming services become transparent in the payment of the artist’s share of streaming royalties received by record companies is a step in the right direction.
Are artists right to walk away from streaming services like Spotify? The changes in technology and importance of social media have become an overwhelming part of the music industry. I think something we forget about when we are online trying to listen to a song for free or pirating a movie that there are people who put time and effort into making those resources available—for sale.