In November of last year, pop songstress and all-around American sweetheart Taylor Swift made headlines for pulling her entire discography from Spotify, condemning free-of-charge streaming media sites for disregarding the artistic integrity of musicians. Swift’s argument, which balanced on the inequity of compensation for musicians, went on to encourage artists to recognize their worth and ensure their creative ventures are being valued.
This month, the torch of the to-stream-or-not-to-steam debate was passed onto alt-rock icon William Corgan, who ignited a firestorm in the industry as he took to the web to slam the site, calling into question the latest assertions made by Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek who claimed complimentary online streaming services would be the salvation of the music industry.
Spotify utilizes a per-stream royalty system to pay artists, with musicians, on average, earning less than one cent per play. For artists topping the billboards, these seemingly miniscule payoffs can mount into an extremely high profit. The two flaws in this model, according to many musicians, is that smaller-name musicians are less likely to see the same sort of payoff while seventy percent of revenue earned by Spotify go to right holders, such as the record label and distributor, in lieu of the artists themselves.
It was these two skewed, oft-disregarded arguments that the Smashing Pumpkins frontman tapped into in his now-viral tweetstorm, targeting the hierarchy of profit between streaming media services and the artists themselves while emphasizing the danger of pay-per-stream on musicians beyond the latest top ten radio hit.
“Think of it this way: if you find yourself defending the biz practices of a billion dollar corp against that of a lone artist, you’re lost,” Corgan wrote on June 7th. He then rebuffed the idea of freedom of intellectual property and the sharing of art sans charge, a point often made by supporters of streaming music services, retorting, “Tech companies need you clicking on things, viewing ads, buying phones, tablets, their altruistic business models that they’re saving the world.”
He added, “We’re talking about tens of thousands of artists not receiving a JUST/FAIR compensation for your interest.” On June 10th, Corgan expanded upon his ideas, writing, “Here’s another tech thought: maintaining control of musical narrative is key to tech companies authority over what’s ‘in’ or ‘out’.”
Corgan’s own solution to the debate? “At the end of the day, the only real FAIR relationship in tech is to offer each artist the chance to compete on a level playing field by building their own radio station/curation system which encourages sharing [and] promotion of other artists work [and] incentivizes success for ALL.”
Critics of Corgan’s stance argue that he misses the point entirely, focusing on the tiresome route of what is and isn’t true art, lazily attacking popular music. Whether his arguments are rooted in the true core of the debate or not, his tweets remain just the latest among musicians stepping forward to denounce streaming media services, calling into question the changing shape of the music industry.
Daniel Ek has not responded to Corgan’s comments.