Anyone with a remote interest in music knows that the record industry has made a catastrophic and seemingly irreparable evolution over the past two decades. Long story short: music piracy kicked off, the legion of worldwide music lovers stopped buying music, and the industry have been making do with scraping together pennies from online streaming services.
While this model is certainly better than the extinction level event that would have occurred otherwise, it’s far from ideal if you’re an artist looking to make a living in the music industry. Spotify, far and away the most popular choice for legal artist-paying services, does pay out and serves to recover some income for larger acts. However, many fans would be shocked to find out how little income Spotify and similar services end up providing for artists who, on the surface, would appear to be earning a decent playcount. Estimates for how much Spotify actually pays out to artists varies, but it would appear that every time you stream your favorite song on the service, you’re netting the artist (or their label) $.005.
By no means are Spotify “the bad guys” in the current state of music business as an enterprise filling a previously much sought-after need. The service boasts that they’ve manage to pump $2 Billion into the industry in the form of royalty payouts as of 2014, and they’re turning would-be pirates into revenue and paying customers. They can’t really be faulted for that, can they?
Still, the question remains; is your favorite song really worth half a penny? Most artists don’t seem to think so.
A new website called Eternify sprouted up this week in order to right this injustice in a way that is both brilliantly crafted and morally ambiguous. Created by Ohm & Sport, an ambient pop duo who became disenchanted by how little in royalties they’ve been earning, Eternify sought to put more money in the pockets of musicians by offering an infinite loop of 30-second clips, the minimum length that Spotify determines to be a payable song stream. The idea was to allow fans to “pay back” their favorite artists with maximum efficiency.
The website was described as such:
Eternify is a simple tool that offers a powerful, artist-centered alternative to typical modes of music streaming.
As young musicians, we’ve been deeply discouraged by music streaming’s growing reliance on algorithms and curation as a means for hyper-contextualized, endlessly novel, endlessly diversified listening. As streaming becomes inseparable from music discovery, already-miniscule royalty payments are spread far too thinly for artists to benefit.
By focusing on the artists we love the most, and streaming more intentionally, we can work together to create a brighter, more personal future of music.
Theoretically, if you left your browser window open with Eternify on a station for 24 hours straight, your band of choice would earn $14.40 per day. You could keep the window open and muted on your computer, and for a week’s worth of work (and bandwidth), the band could net $100.
Unfortunately, the site was never up long enough for that to happen.
Late last night (June 25th, 2015), Eternify updated the site to display the following message:
In just a few short days, music fans from over 140 countries have used Eternify to reaffirm and reimagine the power of their personal streaming.
Spotify has now put an end to this.
But it’s not over.
The best music is a labor of love, but it’s still labor. And when we let streaming services “start to feed content for every slot in your day,” as Spotify’s VP of product, Shiva Rajaraman, has recommended, we lose sight of this labor. When we let ourselves treat music as short-lived content, we spread already-minuscule royalty payments far too thinly for “indie musicians”—for music’s middle class—to continue to exist. And what’s left is a business model deeply dependent on free labor.
We can do better. And together, we will.
Ohm & Sport also confirmed via Twitter that they were “forced to comply with a takedown notice from Spotify.”
Instead of the royalty-generating scheme that launched the site into popularity during its short life, it now mainly functions as an awareness campaign that urges fans to ask artists to create 30-second songs. The entire genre of grindcore was evidently ahead of the curve on this one.
While Eternify’s intentions were good, they were certainly operating in a bit of a grey-area, legally and morally. The folks at Eternify were making use of Spotify’s publicly available API, which allows third parties to make apps using Spotify’s catalog of music, and naturally, there’s a long list of terms and conditions in which you may use this API. It’s not surprising that Spotify’s TOS is rock solid and allowed Spotify the freedom of shutting down Eternify with prejudice.
Let’s take a quick look at the TOS. Spotify prohibits apps from “artificially increasing play counts […] or otherwise manipulating the Spotify Service,” and while that is (intentionally) vague, it’s pretty clear that the case could be made that the guys behind Eternify were doing this explicitly.
There’s also the issue of Eternify not linking back to Spotify: “Metadata, cover art and Audio Preview Clips available via the Spotify Platform shall include a link back to the applicable artist, album, track, or playlist on the Spotify Service.” The Eternify website did not offer a way for users to click through to the proper Spotify service, further providing evidence that they could have been acting in bad faith.
But of course, what is a TOS without the catch-all of allowing Spotify to shut you out of using their API for any reason they deem fit? “Spotify may limit the number of service calls that your SDA may make, the volume of Spotify Content that may be accessed, or anything else about the Spotify Service as Spotify deems appropriate, in its sole discretion, without notice. Spotify may use technical measures to prevent over-usage or stop usage of the Spotify Platform.”
Sinister? Maybe a little. But it is standard practice.
So basically, Eternify was doomed from the start. Faults aside, they did offer a solution to problem facing small indie artists the world over, and sparked discussion and awareness along the way by showing up on mainstream news outlets such as BBC, Business Insider, Wired, Forbes, and many more. Hopefully this is only the tip of the iceburg. The seal is broken, and artists just aren’t content with what’s being given. There aren’t many good answers available; only acts like Taylor Swift have the clout and income to afford to boycott the service, let alone get results.
So what’s to be done? It’s likely not as simple as Spotify paying more per stream without increasing subscription counts and playing more annoying advertisements; use of the service would plummet, and would definitely be counter-intuitive if artists are seeking more money. Right now, it appears as though artists are just stuck between a rock and a hard place, or rather, their stack of pennies and the guilt of biting the hand that feeds.