First of all, I'm not cancelling my Spotify subscription as some sort of misguided attempt to make a poor man's Thom & Nigel Statement. I don't hate Spotify and I'm well aware that, at most, I can only expect people to give the smallest fraction of a shit about any of my thoughts or opinions. This is definitely not a call to arms for some sort of Spotify boycott. In fact, I'm pretty sure I will still use Spotify after I cancel my subscription. This is really just a personal analyzation of the £5 I recently remembered that I've been giving out on auto-pilot for month after month. Perhaps you have a streaming subscription and will relate to my r̶a̶m̶b̶l̶i̶n̶g̶̶ reasoning, but more than anything, blogs don't update themselves with new content and this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.
In fact, I haven't actually pushed the final 'cancel my subscription' button yet. This is partly because these sort of things are never a “push one-button and you're done” kind of thing. There's always a lot of “Are you sure you want to cancel?” and “Are you sure you're sure you want to cancel?" steps to go through. I'm pretty sure I'm sure, but I figured I'd write out my thought process before I confirm that I'm sure I'd like to confirm that I'm sure I'm sure I want to cancel my subscription.
My motivation for cancelling my subscription can basically be split into two categories, but the overall line of thinking is this:
Now, here are the two categories that have been feeding the above thought…
On November 2nd, 2013, I paid my 11th instalment of £4.99 to Spotify. If you ignore the “$0.99 is less than $1” psychology, that's basically £55 (which is almost $90 US; feel free to google any other currency conversions if that helps add perspective). I've been paying this amount so that I can listen to unlimited + ad free music on my computer. Well, it is limited to the music that is in Spotify's catalogue and permitted to be heard by UK ears… which, all things considered, is still quite a lot of music. In fact, you might say that it is too much music. Not too much music in a bad way (there could never be such a thing), just literally too much music for me to ever be able to listen to.
And I think that after I got those first few months of “holy shit, look at all this music that is so conveniently there for me to listen to” out of my system, the appeal of “unlimited music” has started to wear off. I haven't completely stopped listening to Spotify, but I've stopped listening enough to make me realize that I'm not so much paying £4.99 for “unlimited music”, but rather “a small amount of ad free music”, as most months I could very easily get by on the 10 monthly listening hours that one can get for free.
My major decline in listening —besides the wearing off of my initial excitement and intrigue of the service— is partly due to the fact that when I do listen to a lot of Spotify, it is often at work (where we have a 'work account', so my 'personal account' only comes in to play when I'm at home). It also has a lot to do with Spotify's desktop app becoming almost completely unusable lately (i.e. painfully slow to start up and then not only does it run slow, but it bogs my entire computer down). But mainly, I just use Spotify to sample new releases that are not available to check out on Bandcamp / Soundcloud / some other Non-Private Party music site (i.e. embedding a Spotify player on my blog is always a last resort, as there are always going to be people who will not be able to listen to it). For me, that ends up being a very finite amount of music.
When you combine those reasons with how many hours there are in a day and the fact that the internet already throws a never ending and impossible to keep up with flow of new ‘non-Spotify needed’ content at me every single day, my monthly £4.99 is not really bringing in the personal ROI that I naively thought it would. Besides, you can't listen to unlimited music, so it seems silly to pay for something you can't do (especially if, like me, you're listening in the limited range).
(I had a similar realization a long time ago with ‘all you can eat’ buffets; the concept sounds like a great deal on paper, but you soon realize that you can only eat so much food)
Now for the the other side of my internal debate (albeit, on the same side of the debate as the previous one). Where does the £5 that I've been giving to Spotify go each month?
I really have no idea. It would be interesting if I was able to actually see what I've listened to on Spotify in the past year, but I don't think I can. And even if I could, it wouldn't be as simple as just dividing what I listened to by what I've spent. Spotify payouts are complicated and a bit unknown, but splitting my money exactly between only what I've actually listened to is definitely not how it works. Beyond figures I think I know to be pretty much true —like “70% of Spotify's revenue is paid out in royalties” and “artists earn around $0.004 per stream”— there is a lot of stuff painted in invisible grey. This mystery area includes troubling things like the unquantified guarantee that all streaming services pay to the major labels —skip to 18:20 on this video to hear a guy from Deezer slip the fact out, and watch the whole video for some more insight into streaming services in general, but also to hear the other streaming representatives awkwardly avoid going into any more detail about that small 'major label guarantee' thing— as well as a bunch of other things you need a ‘Behind Closed Doors’ access pass to find out.
It would be great if every month I received an email from Spotify saying “here is how your £5 was divvied out this month”, but they don't do that. I'm sure they don't do it because that actual breakdown would be quite enraging and alarming (I envision a lot of “hey, I didn't listen to Kei$ha, why did some of my money go to her?” going on). I have a very strong feeling that the £5 I currently give to Spotify each month basically adds up to me giving a wide range of artists £0.01 every month (i.e. after it is diluted into the big money pot).
However, if I were to take that £5 and spend it each month on Bandcamp, I can easily calculate where my money has gone. On a digital sale, Bandcamp gets 15% of the sale (10% on physical merch) and between 4%-6% is taken by PayPal. The rest of the money goes directly to the artist. So if I bought a digital album for £5…
- £0.75 would go to Bandcamp
- £0.25 would go to PayPal
- £4.00 would go to the artist
I like the simplicity and honesty of that.
In theory, I would have to listen to an artists' music about 1000 times before Spotify would (maybe) give them the same £4. And that would probably never happen (i.e. I would probably never listen to an artist 1000 times on Spotify). Of course, I realize that this is not how Spotify works and it's all about how much everyone listens to an artists music, but at the end of the day —or more accurately, at the end of the month— it's my £5. I'm totally fine with spending it, but I'd feel better spending it someplace that I knew where the money ended up and that the artist on my intended receiving end actually comes out with a tangible amount that they can use to buy tangible things in the real world (like a sandwich, for example).
I bet if you follow the £55 that I've given to Spotify so far, there wouldn't be a single artist who has received a grand total of £1 from me. Maybe that has everything to do with how I've actually ended up using Spotify (and I could be totally wrong about this hunch), but still, it doesn't leave me feeling that great about how my wallet is £55 lighter.
I don't know about you, but I think I've officially convinced myself to do the following:
- Cancel my monthly Spotify subscription.
- Take the £5 I would have continued to mindlessly contribute to an unclear royalty payout program and add it to the amount I selectively spend every month on Bandcamp (or an artists website, or to go see live music, or etc.)
Again, this wasn't meant to be another one of those 'streaming slam' articles. I've just been thinking a lot about that idea of how “you vote with your wallet” and figured I should take a closer look at mine. And in this case, it's resulted in me cancelling my Spotify subscription because I've no idea where my money goes and I'm pretty sure my usage is basically in the 'free account' category anyway. Also, it just so happens that I've been using Spotify, but I'm sure the same conclusion would have happened if I was paying Rdio or Deezer a monthly fee (although, since posting this article, I was passed on a link to Rdio's Artist Program, which doesn't quite deal with the "where is my money going" dilemma, but is still intriguing and a bit of a positive for artists). I could be wrong, but I feel like changing the way I spend this monthly £5 will have a more noticeable impact in the 'music world' I hang out in (it'll still be a small impact, but not as invisibly small as before).
Maybe it's just me —and maybe it's only because I have released music on Bandcamp and know the warm feeling that comes with every single email that lets you know that someone just bought something of yours (and conversely, have music on Spotify and know the sad face that comes after scrolling to the bottom of the royalty report and seeing the grand total)— but when you buy music, it's not just something you do for your own selfish needs. Or at least, that's just half of it, especially in this day and age where it is so possible to not pay a penny for the lovely tunes that keep your headphones warm. You also buy music because you appreciate the people who making it.
If you've made it this far and feel the same, maybe you should think about doing the same. Or not. But it's at least worth going through the thought process.