Spotify's new royalty payment update hurts indie musicians even more than before

When you're a small independent musician on Spotify, the "1,000-play mark" is sort of a coveted moment for every new song you release. That's when your Spotify artist page starts showing how many actual streams you have—so breaking that 1,000-play mark on a song is sort of like a badge of honor. According to the music streaming clearinghouse itself, only about 1/3 of songs hosted on the service ever reach that 1,000-play mark—and that includes songs that have been on Spotify since it launched 15 years ago.

Most artists don't make much money on streaming, and those sub-1,000-play songs obviously aren't paying anyone's rent. That's even more true now that Spotify has announced a new change to its royalty payment policy, effectively de-monetizing every song that fails to get 1,000 plays per year.

It bears repeating: that means more than 2/3 of the music on the platform will simply be ineligible from making any money at all. Which is not to say that Spotify will not be making money on those tracks. Every sub-1,000 stream will still generate revenue for the company — but now, that revenue will only be shared upwards. As Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi put it:

This is akin to a regressive tax – reducing payments to those who already receive less, in order to boost payments for those who already receive more, increasing the divide between haves and have-nots. It is, on the face of it, the ugliest of ugly capitalist cash grabs.


My own catalogue – and I am sure this is representative of nearly everyone's streaming catalogue – has already been divided by Spotify into two: the tracks they use in playlists and algorithmic recommendations, and the ones they don't. For Galaxie 500, that means a ridiculously wide range of streaming numbers even though we recorded only a few albums: we have tracks streaming up to 150,000 times a month on Spotify, down to under 100 times a month which would likely fail to make the minimum. For Damon & Naomi albums, the range is less extreme but the tracks that don't get playlisted are more numerous – half our catalogue would likely fall below the minimum. Are we the kind of artist Spotify is trying to discount? Evidently. So are many of my friends, colleagues, and even heroes. Don't tell me this is only about garbage tracks.

What this leaves you with—aside from record labels and a few huge pop stars increasing their income by like 0.5%—is a free-for-all reliant on the almighty algorithm. You've got to write and record in a way that panders to the playlisting machine, or else you're just printing money for someone else. This is on top of the fact that Spotify's royalty distribution system was already weighted upwards. If you pay $10 a month, for example, and only stream my music for an entire month? Most of that $10 would still go straight to the top, lining Scooter Braun's (or whoever's) pocket. Now? All of it will.

This is all to say that my indie rock band, the Roland High Life, just released a new single today, and it'd be swell if you gave it a listen, so we can break that coveted 1,000-play mark and maybe buy ourselves a sandwich one day.

(Also it's a song about a friend of mine who passed away and I wrote/produced/mixed it all, for my first time engineering on all-analog equipment, which was pretty cool. I'm really proud of it, and it'd be nice to make a dollar for all my labor.)

Most Tracks on Spotify Won't Earn a Royalty Under New Scheme [Glenn Peoples / Billboard]

Confirmed: From Next Year, Tracks on Spotify Will Have To Be Played 1,000 Times Before They Start Earning Money [Tim Ingham / Music Business Worldwide]