Spotify CEO - Daniel Ek

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek Thinks Artists Need To Work Harder

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)

As you may have heard, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, has been making headlines this past week due to his controversial statement on why he thinks some musicians are not earning a living from streaming music. I have read many tweets and posts from musicians who are angered by his comments and it’s important that we understand why.

During an interview with MusicAlly, Ek said that:

“Even today on our marketplace, there’s literally millions and millions of artists. What tends to be reported are the people that are unhappy, but we very rarely see anyone who’s talking about… In the entire existence [of Spotify] I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single artist saying, ‘I’m happy with all the money I’m getting from streaming.’” (Obviously he isn’t familiar with Car Seat Headrest!) Ek continued, “In private they have done that many times, but in public they have no incentive to do it. But unequivocally, from the data, there are more and more artists that are able to live off streaming income in itself.”

“There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough. The artists today that are making it realize that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.” He concluded, “I feel, really, that the ones that aren’t doing well in streaming are predominantly people who want to release music the way it used to be released.”

While Daniel Ek may have thought he was giving some valuable advice to musicians, what came out instead was a very telling affirmation of the divide that exists between creators and corporations. As soon as I read his interview the first thing that popped into my head was a sweatshop factory worker that walks into his boss’s office and asks for a raise. The boss says to him –  I can’t raise your salary but if you want to earn more money, all you need to do is work more hours. I am sure many other people have made similar analogies because that is basically what he is saying – just sew faster and make me more money and then maybe you’ll get your raise.

Spotify’s stock has been on fire over the past few months as they have acquired Stitcher and announced mega podcast deals. On one side Daniel Ek is reaping great rewards from happy investors and on the other side, he is telling musicians, many of whom are independent artists, that they aren’t working hard enough. It is incredibly insensitive and misguided. While it may be true that artists who generally release more content have had more success on the platform, what is also true is that the incredible growth and success that Spotify shareholders are enjoying is not being fairly shared with the majority of the creators that have helped to build the platform.

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So where do we go from here? This may be a good learning moment for Daniel Ek, Spotify, musicians, podcasters, and consumers as well. For Ek, I would hope that he sees the backlash from his comments as a wakeup call and starts to understand that songs are not sweaters that can be made faster so you can increase the ratio between costs of goods sold vs. the costs of goods manufactured.

For creators, having a small, but fierce, loyal fan base that actually listens and supports you is key. Fans that buy your album for $10 on Bandcamp or purchases some merch or show tickets are much more valuable than 1000 Spotify listeners that played your song once in a playlist. Yes, having a strong direct connection with your listeners is very important and trying to minimize the gaps in between full album cycles can be very helpful, but it is not the job of musicians to educate the consumer and instruct corporations on how to run a fair marketplace.

Streaming has its place, and as a music consumer, I use it regularly. But I also support artists on Kickstarter, Bandcamp, and Patreon as much as I can. I understand the hard work that goes into writing, recording, and producing a full-length album and I don’t take it for granted.

Technology innovation has given us some amazing tools. I remember when I got my first iPod and I was blown away that I had every album by The Beatles in my pocket. But we have all become complacent and a bit spoiled. If we continue to take the arts for granted, we will stifle the rich music community that gives us all so much joy, especially in times like these when we need it most.

This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)

Dennis Martin

Dennis Martin is a music producer, manager, composer and founder of Trend & Chaos. Follow him on Instagram & Twitter.