Summary and conclusion
What Not To Do
As the modern music industry is in constant change, with many of the platforms and resources we now rely on in their infancy, it’s necessary to always try new ways of succeeding. However, it’s important we all understand how the model works, its merits, as well as its shortcomings as failing to do so, can be disastrous. So here are a few things to think about when distributing your music.
1. Don’t underestimate the value of being present on all platforms, including Spotify.
I see lots of independent artists stating they are ”boycotting” Spotify and won’t be putting their music on the platform, their reasoning behind this is usually either simply their view that the royalty rates aren’t equitable or that Spotify is an evil corporate giant intent on exploiting musicians and keeping all the profits or a mixture of both.
Unless you have an alternative method of reaching this audience, then withholding your tracks from Spotify is a little illogical. Two of the highest profile artists who had well-reported negative views of Spotify (Taylor Swift and Radiohead) have both since done u-turns. When negotiating her contract, Taylor Swift even made Universal Music Group include an agreement to pay their artists a greater share of the money raised from the sale of their Spotify stock and the dividends from the remaining stock regardless of whether or not their existing contract gives them this right.
Other artists think they can bypass the streaming platform without harming their income, or even make more money without them. “What about Adele?” I hear you shout… didn’t she snub Spotify and still go on to sell huge numbers of CDs despite some people in the industry saying she was making a mistake and one particularly brutal writer calling her “dumb and uneducated” for overlooking Spotify? Doesn’t that prove you don’t need to put your music on Spotify?
Sort of….maybe….but probably no, not really.
At the time it was thought that her risk paid off, she sold 1.7 million physical copies and one music business publication declared it a victory based on that figure alone, stating there was “literally zero chance” she would have made as much money from streaming. However, the album was eventually made available on Spotify and very quickly became the most streamed album of the year and now the streaming income is more than half the overall income, making it more profitable than the CD sales of the same album, despite the CD being available earlier.
Another great example of this is Jay-Z, having just purchased Tidal, the Hip Hop megastar thought that by making his new album “4.44” exclusively available on Tidal he would be able to steal away some of Spotify’s subscribers.
Something very different happened, subscribers to Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music didn’t want to pay for a 2nd subscription in order to hear the album instead they chose to download it illegally. In the first 72 hours after its exclusive launch on Tidal, the album was illegally downloaded nearly 1 million times (971,196 to be exact, according to piracy monitoring specialist MUSO) that number includes Snoop Dogg, who admitted he had a friend “bootleg” it for him rather than join Tidal. During the 7 days that the album was exclusively on Tidal, there was no spike in subscriptions for Tidal as expected. By the end of the week, the album was available on all the other sites and platforms (except Spotify).
I think Adele played it right, initially releasing just on CDs and buy-to-download sites like iTunes, then later making it available everywhere. I believe she would have made less money had it been released everywhere simultaneously, will that tactic work on the next album? Maybe, but it will be harder to sell CDs next time around as a lot of modern computers (especially Macs) are shipping with no CD drive. Home hi-fi is moving towards wifi systems like SONOS and Bose Soundtouch, that stream music directly from the internet or network-enabled hard drives and smart devices connected to your home network. It’s also worth pointing out that while “25” sold around 22 million copies worldwide the previous album “21” sold a whopping 31 million copies just 4 years earlier.
2. Don’t use click/streaming farms or any type of “pay-for-play” service.
Boosting stats with bots isn’t a new thing, it’s probably about as old as the internet itself, now it’s thought that around half of internet traffic is bots. People are paying for these bots in “click farms” to boost their likes and plays on sites like YouTube and more increasingly, Spotify. The reason people do it varies but usually it’s just for the optics, it’s a good look to have lots of views and/or likes on social media and conversely having too few views can undermine your promotion efforts.
If they are music promoters they will not be able to offer any guarantee of any kind, a promoter’s main currency is their contacts but they cannot force them to like the song and support it, so while they can get your music in front of the right people what happens next is out of their control. There is nothing wrong with hiring a promoter or plugger, if you can afford it, and are realistic about what they can achieve.
If they are offering any guarantees in terms of increased followers, plays or playlist placement then they are almost certain to be operating some sort of scam. Another telltale sign is their insistence that it is “safe” to use their service, which seems like an odd thing to make a point of saying, no legitimate promoter or plugger would feel the need to say their service was “safe”.
What is likely happening is that they create fake listener accounts and then create playlists (as they have created thousands and thousands of fake accounts all their playlists have large numbers of followers, their fake listeners are then set to listen to the playlist constantly. This gives you the playlisting they promised and an uplift in plays.
Social media sites have been trying to fight against this type of fraud for a while, to protect the integrity of their sites, back in 2012 YouTube deleted around 2 billion streams from high profile artists like Rihanna and Justin Beiber, this was a result of an audit of views which is something all the streaming platforms do regularly now.
It can be tempting to pay a few hundred dollars to get a few hundred thousand plays, but in terms of any financial return the best you can hope for is your money back and the worst case scenario is that you and your music may get removed from the site altogether. This is what happened to one band who got 79k plays in one month only to be banned after an audit. They claim they got the plays legitimately, by encouraging the fans on their extensive mailing list to listen on Spotify. However, the data suggested those plays were not real as nearly all the plays came from newly created accounts that only listened to one artist, didn’t follow any artists at all (not even the band they were “listening” to) and never paused or skipped tracks.
Some people think this type of fraud is OK as it only harms Spotify’s earnings, but actually, that is completely untrue. As discussed earlier Spotify doesn’t pay per stream, instead, they pay out 70% of all revenue from subscriptions and advertising regardless of how many streams occurred. By creating fake free accounts, they are not increasing the revenue but are increasing the number of streams which just dilutes the payout made to all artists.
You may have seen the above message posted on Facebook or Twitter, it was probably inspired by Volfpecks silent album “Sleepify” an album that contained no audio but racked up 5.5million plays before being removed from the platform (it’s unclear if the band ever received any of the royalties). The post instructs people to play their friend’s music on mute on Spotify and Apple Music in the hope of generating some extra plays/royalties, the reality is that if a large number of people actually did this at the same time it would almost certainly cause red-flags to go up. (I’m not sure why the post would say put it on mute anyway? If you really want to support your friend’s band actually support your friend’s band, play the music with the sound up!)
Basically, any attempts to game the system puts your music at risk of being removed and jeopardises your access to what is currently the largest revenue stream for recorded music.
It’s not worth it.