September 19, 2020

Daniel Ek is Right. Another approach to the Spotify CEO's comments.

There is a great irony that punk rock songs about anti-capitalism are being used to reward the unicorns on Wall Street to the tune of billions, but it doesn’t look like that will change any time in the near future.

So until we start getting music pumped directly into our brains, Daniel Ek is what we have to work with.

For those of you who have taken a hiatus from Twitter this week, Spotify CEO Ek said:

...some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can't record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.

The reporting of this quote set off a firestorm of tweets from indie and legendary artists alike.

It’s understandably problematic that Ek is handsomely lining his pockets directly from the artists’ music – but now he’s not only looking his gift horse in the mouth, he's whipping it.

I understand why everyone from Dee Snyder to my bandmates are furious. However, I am perhaps an outlier at the center of the Venn diagram of artist and Ek sympathist. I understand the perspective of the artist, and I understand the view of Ek. He now has to leverage artists to help line the pockets of not only himself, but his shareholders. Since Spotify went public, he has been looking for ways to continue to grow his platform in the crowded streaming space. Ek is now beholden to his investors, and the artists that once trusted him to curate profitable playlists for them, are feeling like their middle class is shrinking inside and outside of their music application.

So from a pragmatic viewpoint, Ek is correct. Artists do need to let go of the past. It will not return. It’s unlikely that without legislation, Ek is going to become more generous with his payouts. Is this infuriating to hear? Sure. A startup is making billions while the talented and artistic long tail is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

However, it’s time to pull up those Beatle bootstraps.

To some degree, Ek is telling you how to play the game here. He’s giving you an insight to how the revenue is to be made on his and other streaming platforms. But, getting stuck on the fact that Daniel Ek is a terrible person is missing the point.

Let me paint an alternative picture for you.

What if you had a pool of 1000 fans that you could connect with at will. I don't mean fans that have “heard” of you, or read a few of your tweets, or simply “like” your Facebook page – but real fans. Fans you have invested in and trust you. Then let’s say you were able to steer your fans to Spotify at will. Let’s assume that these fans would, hypothetically, listen to your album five times in a month’s period. If we’re assuming that Spotify is paying out $.0043 per stream, just from one outbound message, you’re generating $215 per month – from only one bucket of revenue. Let’s keep dreaming. Now, let’s say your pool contains 5000 fans. Now you’ve generated $1,075 of revenue per month from only one streaming source, not including organic plays.

This revenue has been generated without even asking any of your 5000 fans to buyanything. Now, let’s say, hypothetically, you are able to offer a digital concert for $10 to twenty percent of those 5000 fans. That is $10,000 of revenue. Now you’ve earned $11,075 from just two buckets of revenue in one month.

We still haven’t even sold a shirt.

Here is my point. Too often, we get caught up on how little Daniel Ek is paying out in royalties and miss the Morella’s Forest for the Screaming Trees.

Screw Daniel Ek and his billions of dollars. But take advantage of his platform as a tool in your toolbox. Use it to help build a brand worth following. Then acquire thousands and thousands of email addresses and use your data to drive your fans to your Spotify – or wherever else you want.

5000 is not an unattainable number. If you play 100 shows a year and get to know 10 people a night, you’re twenty percent there without doing any other networking. It’s very possible.

I have seen this model work, and I am here to help. While streams are important, there are many other profitable ways to make a living playing music. But in the end, David Crosby is right:

It's hard to create sustainable income. Bifocal can help.

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