As of September 20th, 2018, the major music streaming service, Spotify expanded its services to include music distribution for U.S. based artists. With their new feature, selected independent artists can directly upload their music to this beta model. However, Spotify plans to open the feature at an undisclosed date to the entirety of its estimated 200,000 users . Currently, independent artists can still upload their music to Spotify using independent distributors such as CD Baby, TuneCore and DistroKid- Spotify’s preferred artist distributor – with fees and/or commissions associated with these services. The new feature will allow verified “Spotify for Artists” account holders to upload their music directly to Spotify for free, as well as control and edit how streamers will see their music on the site . The new feature could be groundbreaking for indie artists, strengthening the idea that labels may not be necessary for an artist’s breakthrough and success. Nonetheless, this idea of artist breakthrough without a label, and direct upload is excruciatingly familiar.
The mid 2000s had similar hopes for independent artists with the launch of the video sharing website, YouTube. Although this service has created an ingenious platform for independent artists to release music and connect with fans, it has worsened and inspired fraudulent performances and downloads of copyrighted works, aggravating the already impossible situation for publishing and writer’s royalty payments. YouTube’s creation of its content management system, “Content ID,” has helped the company monitor any fraudulent and inappropriate content on their site, but Spotify does not have this advanced technology. The new feature of direct upload could lead to similar fraudulent activity on Spotify, potentially allowing artists to profit off sound recordings they have no rights to, as long as they were the uploaders1. Currently, Spotify’s policy states that, “in some scenarios, where content is infringing, illegal, explicit, or hateful, it may be removed or filtered.” Yet what filters does Spotify have in place to manage their content besides self-reporting forms available on their website? The company presently suggests that to remove music from the service, artist should go directly through their label and distributor to have them submit a formal takedown request. If the artist does not belong to a label or cannot reach their distributor to submit the request, the artist may then file an infringement form through Spotify, in which they warn, “may subject you to legal consequences.” The current process to remove music from Spotify simply is not the most user friendly, especially for independent artists. As of now, the beta model direct upload feature does not reclarify how independent artists will remove content any easier considering their distributor is Spotify itself. Will artists have to go directly through the infringement form that may lead to “legal consequences,” or will there be a button to easily remove content on the user’s ‘Spotify for Artists’ page? Currently, the streaming service seems to be more focused on how to easily and more attractively increase their catalogue size rather than minimize it.
A key factor of Spotify’s new ‘Spotify for Artists’ feature is that it will increase their catalogue size. Their current catalogue is close to 10,000 songs fewer than Apple Music’s offering1, which could really be one of the deciding factors on where consumers decide to stream from and who they subscribe to. Spotify offers a freemium option for prospective subscribers, in which users can access premium features freely for a limited time, understand how the streaming service works and what it offers, and get an idea of the experience they would pay $9.99 a month for. Artists however, do not have a similarly styled freemium experience in the ‘Spotify for Artists’ page, actually they have to be Spotify Premium Members and pay the monthly fee to even access the page, or belong to distributors CD Baby or Emu Band for “instant access2”. Spotify will also have a dominance over Apple Music in the fight for subscribers whom are also independent artists with the new feature. The direct upload feature itself is free in the beta mode, not counting that artists must be Premium Members, but the likelihood of the feature staying free is not promising. This would leave little difference between ‘Spotify for Artists’ direct upload feature and an independent distribution service, besides the fact Spotify’s new feature would only distribute an artist’s music to one streaming platform- its own. This would leave the company at a disadvantage to other distributors, as although the company is one of the most popular streaming services, every artist is aware that the best way to share their music is to have it available on all platformsi. How would Spotify counteract this possible disadvantage of their service, as they definitely cannot offer direct uploads to the entirety of their users without some costs, whether it be to their listeners or artists?
Over the past year, and with the new development of the direct upload feature, Spotify has been getting closer to artists. So close, that they have curated licensing deals and handed out advance payments to independent artists . The ‘Spotify for Artists’ page has been designed by artists, such as Chicago rapper Noname, for artists . The uploaders can control key factors of releasing their content by deciding how the listeners experience their music and when it is uploaded, however they still face challenges in removing infringing works. The new feature also allows artists to track payments directly on Spotify’s site as well, similarly to how artists can track royalties on their distributor’s website. Ultimately, with direct upload, Spotify is diminishing the need for independent artists to belong to music distributors, yet not fully expelling it. They also are clearly reducing the need to belong to a label, having curated licensing deals and handing out advance payments to independent artists this past year. Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek has insisted in the past that they “are not acting like a record label,” yet many of the company’s recent actions seem to be branching into the realm of the record label rather than lessening the need for one. With this new feature, will Spotify become more than a streaming service, and join the ranks of major labels, or have they created a tool and a platform that will abolish the need for them?
Owsinski, Bobby. “There’s More Behind Spotify’s Artist Direct Upload Strategy Than Meets The Eye.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 Sept. 2018.
“Guide.” Your Music – Guide – Spotify for Artists. Accessed October 4, 2018. https://artists.spotify.com/guide/your-music.
“News.” Now in Beta: Upload Your Music in Spotify for Artists – News – Spotify for Artists. Accessed October 4, 2018. https://artists.spotify.com/blog/now-in-beta-upload-your-music-in-spotify-for-artists.
Sisario, Ben. “A New Spotify Initiative Makes the Big Record Labels Nervous.” The New York Times. September 06, 2018. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/06/business/media/spotify-music-industry-record-labels.html.
Wang, Amy X. “Spotify Now Lets Artists Bypass Labels and Upload Their Own Music.” Rolling Stone. September 20, 2018. Accessed October 10, 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/spotify-artists-direct-music-upload-726352/.