The Sad Demise Of Music And Art
After years of holding out on listening to any music on Spotify, I finally realized that my holdout meant absolutely nothing, “Spotify Technology revenue for the twelve months ending June 30, 2023 was $13.051B, a 8.08% increase year-over-year.” It had grown, since 2006 so dramatically that my resistance to it became nothing more than an embarrassing joke on myself. So I tried it… and I love it, play it every morning with my coffee and have heard some wonderful jazz and relaxing music I would never have bumped into otherwise.
The Economics Of The Slow Death Of Living Artists In America
So why have I disliked and resisted Spotify for so long? Easy… I’ve never, ever received a penny from them! I have never been contacted by them, never offered any kind of recompense for the use of my music, yet they stream 3 of my albums every moment of everyday, which anyone can listen to, without any residual payment whatsoever to me. Those albums are – 1. The Light Within, Meditations of the heart; 2. Jazzed For The Beatles, and 3. Jazzed For The Holidays.
Just so you know, here’s a short explanation of what Spotify is and where it came from.
Spotify (/ˈspɒtɪfaɪ/; Swedish: [ˈspɔ̂tːɪfaj]) is a Swedish audio streaming and media services provider founded on 23 April 2006 by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon. It is one of the largest music streaming service providers, with over 551 million monthly active users, including 220 million paying subscribers, as of June 2023. Spotify is listed (through a Luxembourg City-domiciled holding company, Spotify Technology S.A. on the New York Stock Exchange in the form of American depositary receipts.
And here’s the rub – “Unlike physical or download sales, which pay artists a fixed price per song or album sold, Spotify pays royalties based on the number of artist streams as a proportion of total songs streamed. It distributes approximately 70% of its total revenue to rights holders (often record labels), who then pay artists based on individual agreements.” Did you get that? Here it is again – “It distributes approximately 70% of its total revenue to rights holders (often record labels), who then pay artists based on individual agreements.” Right! “Often record labels” my ass. Always record labels. That’s who gets the money, then supposedly distributes it to… us! Sure they do!
I’ve never owned my own record label, never needed to. I had a tiny music publishing company, Montana Cowboy Music back when I was a working musician and composer. It didn’t make a dime, but was simply a protective device for some of my compositions and performance recordings. Spotify never contacted my publishing company when it “lifted” my songs and albums from another website called CD Baby. Surprise surprise! Youtube did the same thing, and you can hear some of my music on Youtube for free as well.
Here’s a quick look at a young singer’s experience – Mackenzie Miller is a 22-year-old singer based in Seattle. Her single “Peach Lemonade” gained nearly 14,000 streams in the first few weeks of its release, but her paycheck was barely $5.
“You have to have an enormous amount of streams to even make minimum wage,” Miller says. “If your streams plateau, if people aren’t listening to it as much anymore, you’re not going to get paid anymore.”
The Economics Of the Death Of Art In America
From Wikipedia – “In developed nations, computers achieved semi-ubiquity during the 1980s as they made their way into schools, homes, business, and industry. Automated teller machines, industrial robots, CGI in film and television, electronic music, bulletin board systems, and video games all fueled what became the zeitgeist of the 1980s. Millions of people purchased home computers, making household names of early personal computer manufacturers such as Apple, Commodore, and Tandy. To this day the Commodore 64 is often cited as the best selling computer of all time, having sold 17 million units (by some accounts)between 1982 and 1994.”
All this, to my mind, is simply a sad story of the degradation of the arts in general since the beginning of the digital revolution in the ’80’s. The first music synthesizers came out in ’72 but didn’t catch on until the early ’80’s. The first digital camera was released in 1988, the first cell phone for commercial use hit the market in 1991.
My first memory of musician angst with the new digital revolution came in around ’82, when Robert Moog developed the Moog synthesizer (as early as 1964). My composer buddy at Doppler Studios, Jimmy Ellis, bought one in ’80, and discovered it had one great sound, and one great sound only… a rich and creamy (although totally electronic-sounding) bass tone that he began using on some of his jingles.
Of course that meant that some live bass player didn’t make the session, didn’t get paid. That was the beginning of what became a progression of live musicians who were systematically replaced by synthesizers, as the synths developed more and realistic sounds. They were easy to record and they, wait for it – saved money! Yup. The players around town recognized what was happening right away and rolled into the studio to complain about it. To no avail. Money ultimately rules, as much back then as now. If you don’t believe me, look at college sports in 2023. Money has turned them upside down.
Doppler was aware of the musicians’ dilemma, of course, and continued to hire them as regularly as they could, always with an eye on the bottom line, a natural course of action for any recording studio with 12 or so employees. Not so slowly, the synths began replacing horn players, then string players, then even drummers.
Foolishly perhaps, we composers thought we were safe from the digital revolution. Original music still needed to be written, right? Ha! Wrong! In the middle ’80’s CDs began appearing, CDs that were called “library music,” music that you could use for a radio commercial for the cost of maybe $75 for a thirteen-week period. Wham! When the first wave hit, I made it down to my favorite ad agency, who had just aired a music library spot, and asked them what the deal was, didn’t they realize that the music didn’t really fit the spot, and sounded like shit besides? They just shrugged their shoulders and said, “The public doesn’t know the difference, and look at the money we saved.”
And there it was. The truth, real and harsh. Along with the new music library CDs, a whole new crop of would-be composers suddenly showed up, with computers and synths under their arms, ready to do a jingle for a tenth of what we’d been charging. Yes, the honeymoon was over.
That’s simply my very small view of what has happened to the arts, from the late 20th century to now. Corporate greed has now taken over nearly every art form in this country, to the detriment of artists and art in general. The digital world has begun to rule over many forms of what used to be real art, and greed has assisted at all levels. Today, graphic artists are facing the biggest challenge of their professional lives, with artificial intelligence now making pictures and “artworks” that, once again, the public accepts, or can’t tell the difference.
Writers, actors and voice talents are all on strike, as the large companies will not protect them or their livelihood. Artificial intelligence has crepted into the script writers’ lives, the electronic voices are replacing the live voice talents, and the actors quite rightly fear the coming AI revolution, and what it, and animation in general, might do to their professional lives. And they’re right. The strike is 4 months old now, and they’re probably going to have to make an unhappy settlement, as the corporations, most of which now pay their CEOs seven figures, are not going to budge much. Ah, the money, the greed. They are killing art in America. As if we didn’t already have enough problems…
I don’t like negative blog posts, and try hard to avoid them. But this one I can’t avoid, The “not so slow” death of our artists is affecting us on so many levels. I hate it, and wish I could do something. But all I can do is report it as I see it. Because, as Walter Cronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.”