An industry-mandated musical monoculture

In my recent interview for Score Follower I referred to a remark in an article in the New Yorker that said “The winner-take-all economics of online media … means that if streaming doesn’t work for jazz and classical music, then those genres are just collateral damage.” A couple of days ago my colleague, composer Patrick Ozzard-Low, sent me this link: ‘Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says working musicians may no longer be able to release music only “once every three to four years”’. In the course of the article it is revealed that ‘Royalties on Spotify and Apple Music are determined on a “pro-rata” basis; payment on each particular song is based on how much the song is streamed in comparison with the platform’s most popular tracks’. Ek says that ‘musicians who cannot make a living may not be in step with modern standards’. So, effectively Spotify is advising us that Classical and Jazz, and for that matter the vast majority of Indies, are indeed obsolete.

Well, at least now we know. Sadly, apart from far-fetched dreams of every Classical musician withdrawing from Spotify (and the rest), I don’t think there is a damn thing we can do about it.

Of course, Spotify is declaring itself the modern standard here. Ek is treating the bustling independents such as bandcamp as invisible, unworthy of consideration, unmodern. Many musicians still sell their CDs out of suitcases at shows …when they get to do shows. Not ‘being in step with modern standards’ is not the end of the world—but no one is going to get rich on it. Or even subsist.

A way forward might be for Classical and Jazz and other independent music communities to lobby government—well, of course, not this government, we already know how that is likely to go—to develop an innovative funding scheme as substitute for the near-complete absence of income from industry. A basic minimum wage for creatives could be a first step.

[Read Ek’s interview in detail here]