“Loud and Clear” is the mission statement released by Spotify earlier this year. This was in response to mounting criticism of the payments that artists receive from the streaming platform. Payments that are famously insulting to artists. Spotify’s statement has done little to quell its critics, who have rightly pointed out that the information on this “Loud and Clear” webpage fails to answer the questions it addresses, and does little to reassure artists and users alike that their concerns are being listened to.
I’ll leave you to quickly google what you will from real journalists covering the topic with stats and figures. This is more a brief two cents from Hate Meditations on the topic, and a statement of intent in the light of the ongoing controversy.
Hate Meditations is a small fan-based platform that aims to promote and celebrate releases from the underground. Our impact is minimal, our reach is small. But it’s always beneficial to take stock of our complicity or otherwise in the dominant currents of history, and figure out where we fit in.
It’s a given that Spotify has become the new behemoth of the music industry. The brief Wild West of the 2000s file sharing boom swept the board clear, leaving the way open for streaming platforms to swoop in and fill the power vacuum. Taking the place of radio and major labels before it, Spotify’s playlists have become the king makers of new artists, and directly impacts the way that music is written and presented. Artists looking for a mass following need to tailor their work toward one of these high-profile playlists, homogenising their craft into easily digestible chunks.
Despite the monumental structural changes to music consumption that the internet has brought about, this underlying picture is much the same. Casual listeners seeking music as background noise at work or in the car can follow popular playlists of largely inoffensive music designed for mass consumption. This is largely the same model as the days of prime time radio, with aspiring pop artists putting out music specifically directed toward being radio friendly.
More serious fans may still transact via Spotify, but they tend to flash some cash for an album or some merch now and then. Underground music continues to trundle along in a state of perpetual crisis and rebirth. The fauna of Planet Music may be different, but the geology is largely unchanged. So if the injustices are much the same but the faces perpetrating said injustices have changed, what are to do as individuals?
When serious allegations against a ubiquitous brand such as Spotify actually stick, everyone seeks a degree of personal purity. “I only use it to see which albums I like”, “I still go to gigs and buy merch”, “I don’t listen to enough music to make a difference”.
As someone with a fan level platform, I was tempted to do the same. All of Hate Meditations’ reviews link to that artist’s Bandcamp page. A site that – although not without its problems – is far more community centred, focused toward centralising specific artist’s and their output. This is in contrast to Spotify that tends to theme its playlists and recommendations around a vague mood, a vibe, or a literally made up genre (remember voidgaze?).
On Hate Meditations we deal with music that is by definition not for casual listening. Metal – especially underground metal – is not typcailly transacted through playlists, it is not background music, and metalheads are more than willing to part with cash for a band’s wears.
Such exceptionalism may help us sleep at night. But Spotify is still dominant in metal’s modern narrative, we still use it, and in the absence of a meaningful response from the company to the concerns raised, or a rival platform that can match its convenience, it is not enough to simply claim we are not also complicit. Equally, the cat is well and truly out of the bag. It is unrealistic and unnecessary to expect us all to delete our accounts, scrap around on Youtube or fucking Soulseek, or begin paying for physical music and mp3s by the bushel again. We’ve had a taste of limitless access, to voluntary give this up is no longer an option.
A fan level boycott is likely to have little impact in the face of the millions of more casual users after an easy listening fix. Without formal unionisation, artist strike action will only hurt the artists involved and barely dent Spotify’s grip over the market. Even at the level of artists with more financial clout behind them there are limits to what they can achieve.
Sadly there are no easy answers at this point. The most we can do at the level of the underground is limit our interaction with the platform, drive fans toward engaging with the music beyond a single stream – toward their Bandcamp page for instance – and continue to rally around causes such as Justice at Spotify which aims to bring more pressure to bear on the behemoth.
As with any form of ethical consumption, we can no longer treat companies such as Amazon, McDonalds or Spotify as immovable forces of nature that we as individuals must somehow do our best to avoid. Whatever action is taken must be directed toward making the platform more equitable or else toward creating a workable alternative to rival its hegemony, and not towards guilting individuals whose impact will be limited.
Hate Meditations will continue to link to Bandcamp pages or band websites for all reviews. But we also acknowledge that a vast majority of fans and artists mediate their relationship to music through the Spotify behemoth. So I’ll continue to curate the playlists that accompany the various sections of site on this platform, whilst aiming to direct fans to sites where they can follow the bands and buy their shit.
As ever, Hate Meditations is dedicated to the global community of underground metal, where we’re all in this together.