Darcy James Argue is a Vancouver-born jazz composer and bandleader now based in New York City. He heads Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, an eighteen-piece big band that has earned three Grammy Award nominations for its albums, plus two Juno nominations.
In response to Spotify head Daniel Ek’s recent provocative comments about artists needing to create more, he penned this piece that was posted on his Facebook page. It is reprinted with permission.
There’s been a lot of talk about Daniel Ek telling the artists whose creative work has made him a multi-billionaire that if we want to be paid a living wage, we just need to “work harder.” It’s infuriating, of course, but whenever this conversation comes up, people also tend to be extremely defeatist — yes, Spotify is horrible for artists, but it’s also the future, so what are you going to to do?
Well, there are a lot of things you can do, including supporting the artists you care about directly by purchasing their music via Bandcamp and supporting the crowdfunding campaigns that allow them to make records.
But even within the streaming world, there’s a model that is much more equitable than Spotify’s. It’s called a User-Centric Payment System, and essentially what it does is make sure the money that you pay for your monthly subscription fee goes to the artists you listen to.
For instance, let’s say you pay $10/month to stream music — let’s call this hypothetical streaming service “Yachtify.” And let’s say that for the next month, the only record you listened to on Yachtify was my co-conspirator Jacob Garchik’s inspiring new rhythm section-less large ensemble album, Clear Line. Or let’s say you were so taken with Clear Line, it led you to explore the rest of Jacob’s discography on Yachtify, and that’s all you listened to for the rest of the month — for our purposes here, it all amounts to the same thing.
Under the current, Spotify-driven streaming model, Jacob gets a flat rate per stream — about $0.004. So even if you listened to Clear Line in its entirety once a day, every day, and nothing else all month, Jacob would only get about $1.15. (Or a bit less once the digital distributor takes their cut.)
However, under a User-Centric Payment System (UCPS), like the one Yachtify uses, Jacob gets considerably more: $7. Why? Because he’s the only artist you listened to all month. You paid Yachtify $10, they take their industry-standard 30% cut, and the rest goes to the artists you listened to. Or, in this case, the singular artist you listened to is Jacob.
In a UCPS system, instead of being pooled with everyone else’s money and allocated according to market share, your subscription money goes directly to the artists whose recordings you actually played. These rewards artists whose listeners tend to listen actively to actual albums, instead of just spinning playlists in the background for 16 hours a day.
But this is just a pipe dream, right? Yachtify doesn’t exist, obviously, and none of the existing streaming services would ever switch to a UCPS model.
Except… it turns out that one of Spotify’s competitors, Deezer, supports UCPS, and is planning to launch a pilot program to test it (which requires getting all of the labels on board).
Perhaps streaming is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean that the only compensation artists can expect are the scraps that happen to fall from Daniel Ek’s table. If you care about music, in addition to supporting artists directly by buying their records, you can also support more equitable streaming models like UCPS.