There aren’t many large tech companies as transparent with their data as Spotify. The bar is pathetically low, but Spotify clears it considerably with the launch of “Loud & Clear” annual reports in 2021. While clarity regarding the streaming service’s operation is provided, the reports exist mainly to defend Spotify’s claims of their positive impact on artists’ chances of commercial success.
That being said, one of the most crucial aspects of Spotify’s Loud & Clear reports is the analysis of artist earnings on their platform. With more data to look at, journalists, artists, and other music industry participants can better answer the question, “Has Spotify made music-making careers more viable?”
One of the streaming giant’s biggest claims in the 2022 version of “Loud & Clear” is more than a quarter of professional and professionally-aspiring artists generated $10,000 or more on their platform in 2021. What’s shaky about this claim, aside from generated revenue not equating to take-home pay, is the criteria determining who is and is not a “professional.”
In the 2022 Loud & Clear FAQ, Spotify offers two benchmarks used to label artists as professional or professionally aspiring: minimums of 10 songs released on Spotify and 10,000 monthly listeners. While Music Business Worldwide exercises healthy skepticism of the latest Loud & Clear report, they end their review presenting Spotify’s definition of “professionally aspiring” unchallenged.
The first benchmark of 10 published songs equates output to professional intent. Fair. Using monthly listeners in the same vain? Much less reliable. Failing to have 10,000 listeners says nothing about an artist’s professional merit other than their streaming revenue is paltry. At face value, listener counts cannot differentiate between artists with marketing struggles, alternative marketing goals, or no streaming-based marketing goals at all.
The implication of removing audience size as a professional artistry requirement is big: the percentage of “professional” acts generating — once again, not taking home — at least five figures via Spotify (52,600 total artists) would drop from 26 to two.
Even if it’s a reach to label all 2.6 million artists with 10 or more songs on Spotify “professional,” it’s hard to imagine even half of that prolific-enough group admitting to having no professional aspirations. As speculative as that last sentence was, so is Spotify’s conclusion that millions of artists with two EPs worth of songs have no intentions of being full-time artists. If the true number of “professional and professionally aspiring” artists is closer to 2.6 million than Spotify’s 200,000 estimate, the share of artists on their platform making worthwhile money would be much less flattering.
A blessing and a curse of digital music streaming is the lowering of barriers to entry. The number of commercial artists, songwriters, and producers is growing at a rate that challenges the amount of revenue there is to spread around. Also commenting on Spotify’s latest Loud & Clear report is Tatiana Cirisano of Midia Research who astutely points out the need for innovation around fan support to complete the paradigm shift away from a top-heavy music industry. But until the average fan has more opportunities (and better wages, frankly) to directly support their favorite artists, streaming platforms are just giving more ants smaller crumbs of the pie. Every once in a while, the greediest pie eaters buy an ant hill when it gets too big.
Spotify is an innovative, game-changing company. What it hasn’t changed, however, are the fundamental outcomes of the music industry: a few people get a lot, a lot of people get a little, and most don’t get enough to last long. Loud & Clear 2022 says a lot, but the report confirms these realities despite its confident optimism. If Spotify is serious about helping serious musical creatives find a way, its understanding of a “professional” artist can’t exclude most of them.