Chris Milam, active musician: “Why am I quitting Spotify”
By now, we’ve all heard the news.
Artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and India.Arie are leaving the Spotify streaming platform for reasons ranging from COVID-19 misinformation to racism. And while these great artists have been making headlines lately, one wonders: what about working musicians?
If you have, say, 1,000 likes on Facebook or a few thousand annual streams, it’s easy to think your voice isn’t having an impact. But that’s not the case at all. Take, for example, Memphis-based artist Chris Milam, who is following in the footsteps of Young and others by removing his music from Spotify.
Here we have chosen to reprint Milam’s open letter to the platform and its supporters, which explains his reasoning behind his decision and his self-awareness regarding the move.
WHY I QUIT SPOTIFY
By Chris Milam
Recently revered artists Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, India.Arie, Nils Lofgren and Graham Nash announced the removal of their music from Spotify. Others will probably follow.
These artists have sold millions of records. They’ve reached countless listeners around the world, graced magazine covers, and inspired generations of budding artists.
For Spotify, I’m nobody compared. I’m a working artist, lucky enough to carve out a career over many years of tireless work, popular touring and independent releases. I have – several times – driven all day to perform for 2 bartenders and an aunt. The Memphis Flyer once called me “a singer”.
I’m tempted to say that Spotify doesn’t care about artists like me. That they won’t notice – let alone miss – my music on their platform. But that’s not entirely true.
Since its inception, Spotify has held a unique position as the world leader in music streaming. Of course, others came before (eg Rhapsody). And of course Spotify has expanded beyond music since then (eg podcasts). In 16 years on its way to becoming the biggest streaming service (31% market share), its business model has been not contempt for artists, but contempt.
Like some, I might quit Spotify because of its longstanding royalty rate ($0.00437 per stream). Of course, this rate is (unfairly) the industry standard, although the rates themselves vary. While all streaming services pay fractions per stream, other services include an option to purchase the music. Not Spotify.
Like Young and Mitchell, I might quit Spotify because of its endorsement of Joe Rogan’s podcast and its constant stream of COVID misinformation. Like Arie, I might quit because of Rogan’s racist rhetoric. Like many, I might wonder why a platform would value Rogan’s podcast so much ($100 million) and the work of a songwriter so little.
I could go further, citing the toxic influence that Spotify metrics now have on the rest of the industry: booking agents mandated to only sign artists with a certain number of streams; these streaming accounts often come from a new iteration of payola, third parties paying for placement on Spotify’s most popular playlists; its algorithm boosts songs that match existing hits, pushing new music to a milquetoast monolith.
Imagine the chicken and the egg, only the chicken is an old bag of money and the egg is a new bag of money.
Or, just this week, I could leave Spotify because HitPiece used its API to list music NFTs for sale without artists’ consent, an impermissible precedent in a new space.
Since 2006, Spotify has had every opportunity to make compromises and concessions, to repay even a penny of public trust. Instead, he finds new ways to rob artists of their income, autonomy and dignity.
It’s not standard corporate greed, it’s avarice. It’s not contempt, it’s contempt. This is not devaluation, this is exploitation. This is not a music platform, but a technology company that fundamentally disrespects the work of indies and superstars*.
So I’m leaving Spotify because I don’t want to be associated with these practices**. This will continue until there is a demonstrable change. I refuse to accept disdain as a professional hazard.
I am aware of the downside. I know the reach of my music can (and probably will) suffer from this decision. It’s scary. But I also believe that the music world is still full of strong advocates, both ambitious and artist-friendly, who also yearn for a more equitable future.
I never met anyone, just people. And I’m willing to bet on them.
Feel free to email me here. Feel free to buy my music here.
*I know I know. There are no pure options in the world of big streaming, let alone big tech. I have to start somewhere.
**Some artists do not have their catalog and do not (yet) have this agency. For those like me, the process takes 10 minutes, and I’m happy to walk you through it.
Photo courtesy of Chris Milam