Anybody else love the Spotify wrapped? I mean, not for musical reasons in the slightest, mainly just because I’m curious. As many on social media share their top songs of 2020 and total minutes streamed, parading and displaying their musical tastes with the same enthusiasm as a newly adorned Blue Peter badge, I can’t help but be a tad cynical. I’ve lost count of the number of times that Harry Styles, Billie Eillish and Lizzo appeared on that famed list. Even the Hamilton Broadway cast album, because we all listened to it solidly for a month and cried when Phillip died (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s history, come on). My strange obsession with K-Pop dominated my playlist this year, and I’m not even sorry. My reason for being cynical is that as musicians, we know that streaming does not allow an artist (unless you are BTS and you have 33 million monthly listeners, kudos to them) to ‘live off their art’. But we use these sites anyway. Why?
Spotify’s mission statement encourages the creativity of individuals, aiming to give “a million artists the opportunity to live off their art”. The Rolling Stone highlighted some seriously scary numbers, that only Spotify’s “top tier” artists can somehow claim to “live off their art”. With this tier accounting for 90% of streams, this ranking is shared between 43,000 artists out of the 3 million using Spotify to host their music. The other 10% is every other musician on the planet. 98.6% of the world’s musicians cannot solely rely on streaming for their income. This would be all well and good if musicians were also touring, hosting fan events, teaching workshops, playing at festivals, busking. As if all that was going to stop completely with no definite restart, you’re good craic.
Online platforms are now our stages, theatres and arenas. We attend concerts in our pyjamas and interact with livestreams from our living rooms, easily forgetting that artists are struggling. Streaming will not save a musician in a pandemic, it’s plain and simple. Yes, I use streaming websites to listen to music, but I also understand that there are other ways to support our creatives during this time. Here are some tips (I can’t believe I’m doing this either) to show your support to your friendly neighbourhood professional musician.
· Own your music – some may believe that buying songs are a thing of the past (I’m waiting for CDs to make their comeback and it’s suddenly cool to own all of the JLS discography), but this is not the case. If you can, purchase your favourite artist’s CDs, and if you want to still enjoy the luxury of streaming, Bandcamp allows listeners to buy music with 80% of the earnings going directly to the musician.
· Hats, scarves and headbands – buying merchandise directly from an artist’s site is a great way to show support, while also doing some Christmas shopping. Let’s face it, who doesn’t love a tote bag? And if it also happens to have Beoga on it, that’s an added bonus.
· Be a pollute – we are living in an incredibly digital age, with the internet and social media giving us access to more music than ever before. While ‘exposure’ is classed as a sensitive subject for many creatives, sharing their work online is still beneficial in building a following and increasing audience reach.
· Pay the piper – many artists host online concerts, some are completely free, some are ticketed events, and some include a virtual tip jar. Just because you, the audience member, are wrapped up in your duvet like an eskimo (no? Just me then) does not mean that the artist has the same relaxed attitude. Set lists are still prepared, in some cases venues are also booked, and then there is the small matter of navigating the technology. Just because it is online does not mean that the legitimacy of the performance can be questioned, so if you can purchase or donate, please do so.
This is most definitely not a rant to cancel your Spotify subscription, but instead a strong suggestion to not stop at streaming. The notion of living off your art is a dream for many and a reality for a select few, but we live for art, and that is the bottom line. Until I can leap about to the Blackwater Céilí Band at a céilí again, supporting behind my computer screen is all I have, and all that any of us have.
Now, can someone tell me what Mellow Gold is and how it was my most listened to genre of 2020?