Is Spotify’s Way of Streaming Becoming Illegal?


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Does this new tool merely encourage “pay to play” and risk illegal activity of payola…

or does it genuinely give artists a say in how their music is found?

My money (and everyone elses) is on the former.

Good November news from Spotify?


“Music workers create all of the enormous wealth Spotify accumulates for its CEO, its investors, and the major labels. But we artists continue to be underpaid, misled, and otherwise exploited by the company.”

– Union of Musicians and Allie Workers (UMAW) 2020


What is Discovery Mode?

Spotify are set to reveal a new – yet controversial – tool among streaming, called ‘Discovery Mode.’ In a new attempt to have more involvement with music artists and the record labels, it will allow them to influence their songs more so by its algorithm for personalised recommendations.

‘Discovery Mode’ works by letting a label or artist identify a track that they want prioritised and pushed out further, with that track then played in listeners’ personalised Auto play or Radio feeds.

“… accessible to artists of any size.”

Charleton Lamb, Product Marketing Lead of Spotify
Spotify’s algorithm at its finest …

In what seems like a unique and personal tool to help artists and musicians at a truly pivotal time, have Spotify finally taken the musicians into consideration?


The Criticism

Ah, it seems not. With this tool opting for change, it seems Spotify are not really set to change from their business ways, with artists having to give up more royalty amount per play than they already get.

So less than half a penny they get per stream now then? Riight, gotcha.

Spotify’s business strategy could not have come at a worse time with streaming the majority of what musicians are having to fall back on as the events industry has become non-existent during the pandemic.

Of course, this new tool has been poorly and hideously received with it being criticised as nothing but a form of payola (“the illegal practice of payment where a song is presented within the ‘normal broadcast’ without announcing further payment has been made.”)

The term of payola must be used with caution. With Spotify not physically asking payment up-front, the new tool cannot be seen as an illegal form but the songs themselves will most definitely have to be labeled.

Outcries soon sparked from Musician’s Union and Allied Workers who demanded better payment systems in place, with this current system merely just encourages labels to pay for plays on the platform.

Letters were sent, and messages were received.

Justice at Spotify

1) Pay Us

a. Pay all artists at least one cent per song stream (or the equivalent in local currency)

Spotify makes enormous profit across its platform via user fees, capital investment, data collection, and more. The company must begin paying artists/rights-holders at minimum one cent per stream

The fact we have to demand at least one cent per song stream is ridiculous to even fathom. UMAW rightly contends that if Spotify’s current model does not pay artists fairly as it is, then it simply shouldn’t exist.

You can read UMAW’s demands for Spotify and sign your agreement below:

It’s time we turn the tide on how streaming music is used to manipulate the artists, musicians, composers and creatives. Whether or not the new tool operates as a form of payola or not, it does less for an artists’ choice and more for a businesses‘ choice.

Change for Good?

But with Spotify claiming that it drives 16 million artists discoveries every month, and with now artists having a say in what gets played in the selection, is this a good change?

“All these signals create a bespoke listening experience for each and every fan. Our algorithms are focused, they’re accurate, but recommending music shouldn’t just be about what our algorithm thinks you want to listen to. With this tool, we’re going to make artists a bigger part or recommendation.”

– Charleton Lamb, Spotify

Only time will tell.

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