Spotify Wrapped is a fun reminder of one company's cultural dominance

It’s the end of the year, which means Spotify has released its annual Wrapped reports. Once again, listeners are able to review their most streamed songs, albums, and even podcasts. Apart from Christmas morning, getting a Wrapped report can be one of the most exciting things to happen in December. This deep dive into embarrassing listening habits is what encouraged me to switch from Tidal to Spotify. I, too, wanted to share with friends that I still listen to Fall Out Boy hundreds of times in a calendar year. And I'm not alone, Twitter is now flooded with peoples' personalized reports, often with mixed emotions.

But the recent proliferation of Wrapped reviews on social media has once more called the streaming platform into question. With the rise of Spotify, many have been critical of its impact on the music industry. Over the years, it’s become clear that streaming hasn’t been great for artists. The models, in which services like Spotify and Apple Music, use to pay royalties has been said to disproportionately favor popular musicians and labels, making it harder for indie and mid-sized artists to compete.

"You cannot get at actual data, especially financial data [from Spotify]," Damon Krukowski, a musician who plays in the projects Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi told NPR in 2019. "No matter what they tell us about our quantities of plays — which seem to be approximations, not down to the single ones — they do not tell you exactly what you're making. You can look back through your royalty statements, but it's hard to do."

In light of the recent Wrapped release, artists like Krukowski are shedding light on the issues with the streaming service and encouraging people to join the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers in requesting fair pay for artists. As the UMAW’s “Justice at Spotify” site points out, because of the pandemic and its impact on live events, musicians are relying on streaming income more than ever.

In its demands from Spotify, the UMAW further breaks down its royalty model, offering a sobering look at how it all works. “One of Spotify’s core goals is to give ‘a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art.’ Yet, to generate a single dollar on the platform, a song needs to be streamed 263 times. To put that in perspective, it would take 786 streams to generate enough revenue to buy an average cup of coffee.”

So yes, while Spotify’s Wrapped has become an exciting yearly ritual for many, it’s a great time to also reflect on the ways in which we can support artists. Bandcamp, for example, is a privately owned service that directly supports the musicians users listen to. This Friday, December 4, the digital platform will continue its “Bandcamp Fridays” initiative, and will waive its cut of profits for 24 hours so it can give the money to artists. As Spotify itself points out, music helped get us through a difficult year. Unfortunately, the platform isn’t going to pay it forward—but we can.