When Spotify Wrapped debuted earlier this month, it prompted some intense conversations about the service’s paltry payouts. Was it right to publicly celebrate or denigrate your own listening habits, when the company behind those screenshots was paying artists just a small fraction of your subscription dues? Now, there’s a new plugin that unpacks in no uncertain terms how little you actually paid artists through Spotify in 2020.
The aptly named Spotify Unwrapped comes from the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, which has pushed for one cent-per-stream payouts, a user-centric payment structure, abolishing payola, and more. It’s an incredibly clever layout, closely resembling the Spotify Wrapped stories format, but flipping the narrative around to how your favorite artists are actually doing, relative to Spotify executives.
“The deal of a lifetime,” opens the first slide, which reveals how much money your thousands of minutes contributed to artists. “Where did the rest of that money go? Spotify’s profit for the first 3 quarters of 2020 is $1.7 billion USD,” reads the plugin. “While musicians, with no live shows, struggled to put food on the table and keep their homes.”
It does an excellent job of juxtaposing the company’s comforting sloganeering (“one song helped you get through it all”) with the harsh reality for artists. Besides keeping the average royalty payout figure in the back of your mind — $0.0038 per stream — it’s hard to conceptualize how that translates to a dollar amount. In my case, over 30,000 minutes played worked itself out to a meager $32.54 for artists. Spread out across hundreds of musicians, with some getting larger slivers than others, it’s an egregiously low figure.
If your year-end stats were anything like mine, Spotify was splitting the cost of one concert ticket, two records, or three Bandcamp downloads between dozens of artists. There’s no better illustration for just how unsustainable all of this feels, and no better motivation to seek other outlets to support artists directly, whether it’s through Bandcamp Fridays, artist Patreon pages, or direct donations if they list Venmo and PayPal links.
Spotify Unwrapped casts the disparity in crucial light, but keeps the focus properly attuned to the platform that has the power to change this quicker than any individual consumer action. Buying directly from an artist is nothing but a band aid to the company actively encouraging artists to just make more music, rather than paying them an equitable wage. A penny doesn’t sound like much, but it could be a life-changing and attainable figure for artists everywhere.