To promote a free 30-day promotion on its premium platform, Spotify recently launched an ad campaign featuring a hipster euphorically dancing next to the slogan “Dance like nobody’s paying.”
The campaign comes after longstanding complaints about the company’s royalty payments, not to mention its attempts to appeal the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision to increase songwriter rates by 44% over the next five years and its recent determination that it had overpaid music publishers by an undisclosed amount in 2018 and is requesting a refund. Predictably, songwriters and music industry pros aren’t happy about the new campaign, which seems to add insult to injury after the above incidents.
“Nobody’s paying?,” musician and activist Blake Morgan asked over Twitter. “We musicians are, with our lives.” Executive Vice President of ECR Music Group Amy Gardner also expressed anger over the ad on the social media platform.
Reps for Spotify did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.
On its face, the campaign appears to be a careless, if callous, mistake, but what if it’s actually working exactly in the way the Swedish-based music streaming giant intended? Save for this recent campaign, Spotify has built a steadfast reputation for creating some of the most compelling ad content in the music industry. In 2017, Adweek praised the company for converting its user’s listening data into emotionally compelling ads. It’s safe to ask if a company as intelligent, resourced, and influential as Spotify knew exactly what they were getting themselves into by creating an ad like this.
Not surprisingly, at the core of many complaints is how it shamelessly the campaign presents music as a free commodity. After Spotify’s free trial period ends, users pay just $10 a month for uninhibited access to as much music as they can listen to, which roughly translates to the cost of a Chipotle burrito and the spare change floating around my car at any given moment. The music industry has long complained about how little Spotify compensates artists, but they’re hardly the worst offender. At $0.00069 per-view, an artist would need to rack up a staggering 2,133,333 monthly plays on YouTube to earn the US’s monthly minimum wage of $1,472. Through Spotify, it takes an average of 336,842 streams to generate that amount.
Similar to the way many people bite into a cheeseburger with no consideration for the cow and farm of its origin, campaigns like Spotify’s widens the growing divide between listeners and creators. Audiences intellectually understand that music doesn’t magically materialize out of nothingness for the exclusive purpose of entertaining them, but as music continues its irreversible transition to all things digital, listeners are becoming less aware and interested in how artists create, record, produce, and share music. With a 2017 Nielsen Music report showing that, on average, Americans now spend over 32 hours a week listening to music, it’s clear that music is hugely important in the lives of listeners — just not in ways that provide meaningful visibility and support to musicians.
Spotify’s newest ad campaign and the general philosophy adopted by most other major music streaming platforms communicates the message to audiences that they can have it all: Guilt-free, uninhibited access to unfathomably vast amounts of music for little or no cost. Musicians are pushed far into the background of this offer.
Spotify’s recent ad campaign has angered many, but between the flood of new music being shared over the platform and its status as the world’s leading paid subscription service, the company has little incentive to change the tune of its messaging anytime soon.