“Artists Should Expect Nothing” from Spotify says George Howard

Why George Howard should stop chasing what’s best for musicians and focus on academics.

George Howard just wrote an article for Forbes, “Why Artists Should Stop Chasing Spotify’s Pennies And Focus On Top Fans“. It’s amazing how decade old talking points can keep being recycled. It’s always interesting to see an academic (and/or business consultant) telling artists what is best for them. But it’s kinda disturbing when they let loose with gems like this…

Artists must therefore recalibrate not only their expectations with respect to payments (they should expect nothing), but also their approach generally.

There you have it, artists should expect nothing. Not that George Howard doesn’t make valid points earlier about the meaninglessness of Spotify royalties to musicians. Although the irony of how bad he misses the point is astounding.

Certainly, the payments to artists from streaming services are immaterial to the artists. This does not mean that these services aren’t paying out some, prima facie, big numbers to certain artists. It’s just that even if, for instance, Pandora pays out a million dollars to Jay Z, this amount, when compared to the money Jay Z earns from other ventures, is immaterial. It works the same way for a new artist who gets a payment of $0.25 from Spotify; it’s immaterial when compared to what they got paid for playing a club gig or selling a t-shirt. Same deal for mid-level and heritage artists.

And this is where the tired, decade old, tech lobby talking points come in (Bueller, Bueller…). Focus on building a fanbase and the money will follow from other revenue sources like t-shirts and touring. OH MY GOD… did this guy actually, really say this in Forbes? That horse from 1999/2000 could not be any more dead than the original Napster that spawned such out of touch suggestions.

It’s thirteen years later. There is no magical unicorn business model that pays artists while their work is being either devalued for fractions of a penny, or they are not being compensated at all.

Here’s a brief recap of what these so called “business experts” and “internet technology consultants” see as the “new” models for artists… Ready, set, go!

* Touring… existed BEFORE the internet…
* Merchandise (T-Shirts)… existed BEFORE the internet
* Film/Sync Licensing… existed BEFORE the internet
* Sponsorships/Endorsements… existed BEFORE the internet

These are not NEW models or revenue streams.

So “touring and t-shirts” (CwF+RtB babee!) is not a business model for artists, but rather an open admission that the internet has completely and undoubtedly failed to empower artists. In light of this fact George (and others) instead suggested that musicians and songwriters revert to pre-internet ANCILLARY income streams to now be their PRIMARY revenue streams. Wow, what genius is this?

As seen as a potential catalyst to herd more casual and active fans — fans who may become Passionate Fans — into this funnel, these services take on a real value. This value far exceeds any direct financial payment (whether that number goes up or down 10%). To this end, the artists must learn to use these services and benefit them in the same way the artists are being used by and benefiting these services.

In fact, the “new music business” looks pretty much exactly like the “old music business” with revenue from recorded music sales removed.

Repeat after us, “Exploitation is NOT innovation“.

[UPDATE] : When asking investors for a new round of funding, while getting bad press from upset musicians you probably are looking for some spin control. We don’t think George Howard is that solution. More than anything else, Spotify like Pandora might only be of interest to investors if musicians are completely screwed on royalties. Maybe the ask for cash, and the call for musicians to accept nothing are not related, but that would be suspicious timing at best.

Spotify Is Now Asking Investors for More Cash, Swedish Paper Reports…

8 thoughts on ““Artists Should Expect Nothing” from Spotify says George Howard

  1. I proposed to Spotify that they create a Digital Tip Jar that would allow fans to ‘tip’ an artist in an efficient manner. A digital equivalent of how mariachi bands have been getting paid for centuries. Spotify shot the idea down with the response that they deal with labels, not artists.

    Someone could create an app to do the same thing.

    Pathetic that this is the state of things, but I do think if you made it easy enough to ‘tip’ performers on the ‘digital street corner’ more than a few dollars could pile up.

  2. Overall, for all the excellent investigative analysis on the Trichorist about the problem of artists getting exploited, I don’t understand why the Trichordist doesn’t advocate new or old forms of organization and unionization as possible solutions. Exploitation is not new. Workers and artists have been getting robbed of the just compensation for the labor for ages. Unions are not perfect but they are only proven way to take on the powers in court and elsewhere. Fantasies of revolution make good songs, but rarely pan out with a magical poof or a biting commentary.

    1. I agree. So take your own advice. why don’t you start a union or a creators movement. I’m working on ending compulsory licensing because I believe that this is the root of all of this. There’s a lot more going on here than just a blog.

  3. Simply another example of the consolidation of wealth at the expense of others. The difference this time around is that the tech industry, that is currently feasting off significant archives of great work, content, that was paid for in full in the past will at some point run out of the great stuff.

  4. Gee, its nice to know that as a singer-songwriter-musician, I’m really in the t-shirt-merch business and what I write and sing from my heart really means nothing or at best, very little. Nice 😦 ~ At least ASCAP fights to keep us all from going down the drain. – If I wanted to be in the t-shirt and coffee cup biz, I wouldn’t be a musician, I’d be in the t-shirt and coffee cup business. What a sad state of affairs.

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