Earlier this year, streaming app Spotify faced enormous backlash over its decision to keep Joe Rogan's podcasts. Fans flocked to the first of Taylor Swift's re-recordings, following departure from her label Big Machine. Earlier this year, a UK competition watchdog launched an investigation into whether streaming services and record labels have ‘excessive power’ over artists.
All the while, indie music is surging in popularity. Globally, independent labels and artists' share of the market hit an all-time high of 43.1% in 2021. The previous year, revenue growth for indie labels and artists hit 27% – far better than the market growth of 7%.
‘I think the pandemic led people to think about the benefits music brings to their lives,’ said Constance Keane, AKA musician Fears and founder of record label TULLE. ‘The objection to awful royalty payments from streaming services is getting louder.’
Streaming beyond Spotify
Listeners are looking for ways to ensure that the revenue from their streams is going directly to artists, rather than music's middlemen, opening doors for new business models.
• Resonate, a streaming cooperative, runs a listen-to-own model. Users pay for initial streams and, once they've listened to a song nine times, it can be streamed for free. The platform gives 70% of profits to artists.
• Royal allows artists to sell shares of songs as tokens to listeners, who get a small cut of the royalties as the music grows in popularity.
• Mdundo, a streaming service focused on African music, offers free downloads with 10-second ads, as data plans are relatively expensive in the regions it targets.
It's not just revenue that's being disrupted. Brands are now providing ‘record-label-as-a-service’ to independent artists going at it on their own. Platforms such as TuneCore distribute songs on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube for a flat fee, while the musicians get 100% of royalties.
The rest is still unwritten
Most of these services are still in the early stages of development, while Spotify holds a whopping 31% market share worldwide.
Constance says that, as an artist, it's difficult to completely divest from big platforms. Plus, major streaming services can make a big difference for small artists – adding songs to curated playlists, for example, can be a vital boost. Still, from a consumer perspective, she likens it to movements around ‘conscious consumption’ in other industries.
‘It's up to you where you want your monthly subscription to go. You can access the royalty percentages fairly easily on the internet, so you're making an informed decision,’ she says.