Over the past year, a growing number of artists have decided to withhold their music from Spotify. But is it working?
Boycotting Spotify isn’t a new thing, though the arrival of premium-only streaming services Apple Music and Tidal is making the decision easier. These new streaming platforms gave artists choice, and more importantly, greater certainty of a guaranteed, higher per-stream royalty rate.
Spotify, by contrast, has two different base royalty rates: an ad-supported payout (which is low) and a premium payout (which is better). The arrival of Apple Music and Tidal ushered in something different: a single, higher rate from paying fans. As a result, it’s unsurprising that artists are favoring these streaming sites over Spotify.
But, does excluding an album from Spotify have any impact on the success of the album or the revenue that it earns?
The Premium Factor.
On one hand, limiting an album’s availability limits potential streams, which in turn theoretically results in lower revenue. But on the other hand, excluding a free tier forces music fans to pay for what they listen to. That math is really simple: the artist generally earns more on Apple Music and Tidal, as these services offer a far higher per royalty rate than Spotify’s ad-supported version. And, typically beat Spotify’s ‘blended rate’.
So why not push fans to greener, better-paying pastures?
The Album Factor.
There’s also the negative impact on album sales to consider, especially as the metrics for recognizing an album’s success have changed. Last month, the RIAA announced that streams would count towards Gold and Platinum album status, making the number of streams a determining factor in the success of an album. Skipping Spotify could mean fewer streams, which means it could be more difficult to get a Gold or Platinum status.
But the RIAA isn’t king, and not everyone is following the decree. After the RIAA announcement, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly album instantaneously became platinum, and Anthony Tiffith, CEO of Lamar’s label, said
”We don’t stand behind this [RIAA] bs. Ole skool [sic] rules apply, 1 million albums sold is platinum.”
All of which begs the question: does getting a ‘platinum’ status mean anything to the artist anymore? The victory means less, the trophy itself is less respected. And the money is almost always smaller. Streaming has definitely dampened the glory of the ol’ album.
The Chart Factor.
Chart placement is also affected by the sum of streaming numbers. Could boycotting Spotify lessen the chances of getting a number one? Apparently not: artists are still gaining massive success without Spotify. Gwen Stefani withheld her latest album from Spotify and is set for a number 1 charting album. A few weeks back, The 1975 skipped Spotify and bagged themselves a number one album across several countries.
And that doesn’t even include Adele and Taylor Swift, both of whom boycotted Spotify entirely on multiple number one albums.
But, there’s no real way to know whether excluding an album from Spotify affects revenue or success, because you can’t directly compare the results of both scenarios. There’s no A|B testing, only your gut instinct.
The Piracy Factor.
Then, there’s this: by limiting an album’s distribution to paid services, fans are forced to pay for music. That also forces them into the direction of pirating sites. Take Kanye for example: he limited the release of his The Life Of Pablo album to Tidal, which resulted in half a million illegal downloads on the first day.
The Size Factor: does boycotting Spotify work for smaller, unsigned artists?
Probably not, simply because smaller artists don’t have the global fan base enjoyed by superstars. Most smaller, unsigned artists rely upon platforms like Spotify to showcase their work. Also, it’s a way for listeners to discover their music. That’s a critical first step for developing artists, and there’s little reason for an up-and-coming artist to limit the availability of their music.
It’s also another revenue stream, however insignificant the streaming royalty payout is. Something is better than nothing in the initial stages, just like some awareness is better than obscurity.
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