By Chris Castle
Streamers Lack of Local Cultural Contribution
Look at Spotify’s “Global Top 50” playlist on any day and the world’s biggest music service will show all or nearly all English language songs. With few exceptions these songs are performed by Anglo-American artists released by major record companies.
These “enterprise” playlists largely take the place of broadcast radio for many users where Spotify operates and Spotify competes with local radio for advertising revenue on the free version of Spotify.
Spotify’s now former general counsel told the recent inquiry into the music streaming economy conducted by the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, “Our job is sucking users away from radio” and Spotify uses its market power to do just that.
However, Spotify has not been subject to any local content protections that would be in place for local radio broadcasters. Enterprise playlists that exclude local music contributes to the destruction of music economies, including performers. Local performers struggle even more to compete with Anglo-American repertoire, even in their own countries.
Due to this phenomenon, local artists are forced to compete for “shelf space” with everyone in their local language and then the Anglo-American artists and their record companies. This also means that local artists compete for a diminishing share of the payable royalties. The “big pool” revenue share method of royalty compensation is designed to overcompensate the English-language big names and reduce payments to artists performing in other languages in their own country.
Local Content Rules
Many countries implement local content broadcast rules that require broadcasters to play a certain number of recordings performed by local artists or indigenous people, songs written by local songwriters in local languages, or recordings that are released by locally-owned record companies.
Because streaming playlists, especially Spotify enterprise playlists or algorithmically selected recordings, are an equivalent to broadcast radio, there is a question as to whether national governments should regulate streaming services operating in their countries to require local content rules. Implementing such rules could benefit local performers and songwriters in an otherwise unsustainable enviornment.
The Fallacy of Infinite Shelf Space
Because Spotify adds recordings at a rate of 60,000 tracks daily (now reports of 100,000 tracks daily) and never deletes recordings, there is a marked competitive difference between a record store and Spotify. In the record store model, artists had to compete with recordings that were in current release; in the Spotify model, artists have to compete will all recordings ever released.
Adding the dominant influence of Anglo-American recordings on Spotify, the “infinite shelf space” simply compounds the competitive problems for non-English recordings.
Streaming Remuneration Helps Solve the Sustainability Crisis
The streaming remuneration model requires streaming services—not record companies—to pay additional compensation to nonfeatured and featured performers. Streaming remuneration would be created under national law and is compensatory in nature, not monies in exchange for a license. Existing licenses (statutory or contractual) would not be affected and remuneration payments could not be offset by streamers against label payments or by labels against artist payments.
Each country would determine the amount to be paid to performers by streaming services and the payment periods. Payments would be made to local CMOs or the equivalent depending on the infrastructure in the particular country.
European Corporate Dominance
It must also be said that the two founders of Spotify hold a 10:1 voting control over the company through special stock issued only to them. This means that these two Caucasian Europeans control 100% of the dominant music streaming company in the world. For comparison, Google and Facebook have a similar model, while Apple has a 1 share 1 vote structure as does Amazon (although Jeff Bezos owns a controlling interest in Amazon).
The net effect is that the entire global streaming music industry is controlled by six Caucasian males of European descent. This demography also argues for local content rules to protect local performers from these influences that have produced an English-only Global Top 50 playlist.
Local governments could consider whether companies with the 10:1 voting stock (so-called “dual class” or “supervoting” shares) should be allowed to operate locally.
Countries Can Respond to Streaming’s Homogenized Algorithmic Playlist Culture
Many national cultural protection laws have a history of sustaining local culture and musicians in the face of the Anglo-American Top 40 juggernaut. There is no reason to think that these agencies are not up for the task of protecting their citizens in the face of algorithms and neuromarketing.