Mega pop stars like Taylor Swift aren’t the only ones leading the debate about whether Spotify is fair to songwriters.
Joanna Newsom, a critically acclaimed harpist and singer-songwriter who also appeared in Inherent Vice, said the streaming service is a “garbage system” and a “villainous cabal of major labels” in an interview with the Los Angeles Times pegged to the release of her new album, Divers, which arrives later this month.
Speaking with the Times, Newsom accuses record labels of stacking the deck against artists in response to declining revenue from the digital music revolution of the late ’90s and early 2000s.
“Someone came up with a great idea that if they start a streaming company…they can make their money from advertising and subscription, and they don’t have to pay their artists anything for that,” she says. “So it’s set up in a way that they can just rob their artists, and most of their artists have no way to fight it because they’re contractually obligated to stay with the label for x amount of time and you can’t really opt out.”
Newsom’s comments hint at the lack of transparency about how labels share streaming revenue with their artists. That’s something John Seabrook touched on in his recent book The Song Machine: Inside The Hit Factory, which was adapted from his pieces about pop music for The New Yorker.
“Month by month, Spotify pays the major labels lump sums for the entire market share of their catalogues,” he wrote last year. “While Spotify gives detailed data to the labels, the labels ultimately decide how to share that information with their artists…artists and songwriters basically have to trust that labels and publishers will deal with them honestly, which history suggests is a sucker’s bet.”
In a statement, Spotify’s global head of communications and public policy, Jonathan Prince, responded to Newsom’s comments: