Spark

Generation of songwriters being lost due to streaming struggle, Juno nominee says

A Juno-nominated musician says a generation of songwriters is being lost due to the intense struggle artists face trying to survive financially in an industry dominated by music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

'We've raced so quickly to what's best for consumers that we've forgotten what's best for artists'

Miranda Mulholland's album By Appointment or Chance is nominated for a Juno award this year in the traditional roots album of the year category. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)
Listen to the full episode53:59

A Juno-nominated musician says a generation of songwriters is being lost due to the intense struggle artists face trying to survive financially in an industry dominated by music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Miranda Mulholland, a Guelph, Ont., fiddle player, singer and musicians' rights advocate, is nominated for traditional roots album of the year for her album, By Appointment or Chance.

She told Spark's Nora Young that being a musician in the streaming era "is a grind' and she is seeing a lot of artist friends having the "stuffing taken out of them."

It is "hard to see yourself still as an artist" when you are forced to have a side hustle or another job, she said. 

Rates per stream can vary, but Zoë Keating, an independent cellist who publishes yearly breakdowns of her earnings from streaming platforms, told Business Insider she earned $0.012 per stream from Apple Music, and about $0.003 per stream from Spotify after distributor fees in 2019. In total, she earned $5,800 from Apple Music and $6,800 from Spotify. 

At the heart of the issue is the way pay is determined via the services' algorithms and market share evaluations, Mulholland said.  

French music streaming application Deezer is trying a new payment model, which directly pays artists from listeners subscription payments. (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

A platform actively trying to remedy these problems is the French streaming service Deezer, she said. The company is trying a new payment model that directly pays artists from listeners' subscription payments. 

Most streaming services determine pay using a system called pro rata, which gathers the total amount of money generated from listeners each month, then divides this proportionally by listening time in order to determine how much each artist should be paid. 

Mulholland said this model doesn't work for smaller, independent artists because "99 per cent of streams represent only one per cent" of the world's top artists. 

"We've raced so quickly to what's best for consumers that we've forgotten what's best for artists."

'Rise of passive music'

Music writer Liz Pelly says playlists, which are heavily promoted on popular streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, brought about a paradigm shift in music consumption. 

"When music is commodified and packaged in this way, it's easier to pair music with advertisements," she explained.

"I think [it] creates an environment where people become fans more of playlists than particular artists."

Streaming 'has facilitated a rise of passive music,' music journalist says. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Pelly says streaming "has facilitated a rise of passive music, or music that is unobtrusive and also will generate the most streams."

Gary Sinclair, lecturer of marketing at Dublin City University, says the average length of a song's introduction has been reduced drastically to accommodate streaming services' algorithms and consumer listening habits. 

The average length of a pop song in the Billboard Hot 100 fell by 20 seconds from 2012 to 2018, a report by Quartz found. Also, six per cent of hit songs were two minutes and 30 seconds or shorter in 2018, up from just one per cent five years before.

And that's "obviously to do with people's attention spans and the amount of choice that is out there," Sinclair said. 

Another way streaming has changed the dynamic of listening to music is in the ways physical ownership of the art have shifted, he said.  

"You [used] to have physical and financial investment that often lead to an emotional investment. Whereas now, with music streaming, if I stream that same album and don't like that first track, I can just skip the entire album."

Industry in 'transitional period'

Mulholland says the industry is in a "transitional period" where artists and platforms are trying to figure out the best way to adapt, but she is hopeful that as "things develop and move forward," the industry will "re-balance and realign." 

Mulholland says a generation of songwriters is being lost because of the intense struggle artists face trying to survive financially. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

She says while making a living via streaming is difficult, it is easier for Canadian artists to work as a full-time musician because of government grants. 

"We're the envy of a lot of different countries because we do have these systems in place, but I would prefer to not just ask for handouts."

She says listeners should be encouraged to support their favourite artists by becoming a more conscious and active consumer.

"Maybe just have a little dig around and find one new band a week. Tell your friend about one new song. Send your friend a song."


Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Olsy Sorokina. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.