O P I N I O N – M U S I C I N D U S T R Y
Spotify launched its services in Bangladesh on 23 February after much anticipation, discussion, and speculation. From hopeless optimists seeing the arrival of the streaming service as a boon to your neighbourhood nihilist deeming it as a fruitless endeavour, it became a hot topic that certainly received much attention from both listeners and artists. Five months from the release, let’s look at how Spotify BD has performed and how much our already weakened music industry can depend on it in the long term.
2021 certainly isn’t looking good for local artists. Government’s lockdown protocols ban any large gatherings thus concerts and live performances are out of the question these days. This is indeed concerning as many up and coming bands and even renowned ones in Bangladesh depend on these live shows for the sustainability of their projects. Live shows are the bread and butter of artists in Bangladesh, as we have systemically lacked a platform for indie artists to gain exposure from and grow their fan-base. By now, you might be wondering about the reason for this heavy dependency on live shows, and this requires us to have a…
…Brief Rush Through History
If you were a kid growing up in the 2000s, buying 70 taka CDs from stores with your pocket money to listen to music was a well established concept for teens and young adults. Bands like Arbovirus, Shironamhin, Black, and others reigned supreme in this era. Pop music was doing well too and the future of the music industry looked bright. However, time changes and the adverse effect of resisting change is often a drastic one. The Bangladeshi music industry had become too attached to the traditional method of music distribution, and so when everything became digitalised, it faced a challenge that it underestimated and ignored. With music taking digital form, there was very little incentive for listeners to pay for CDs and physical copies. Piracy became rampant and artists slowly became more and more dependent on live shows and concerts for revenue.
The Current Scene and Spotify
Fast forward to today’s world. Although piracy is of much less concern nowadays due to artists willingly releasing their music on YouTube, the question revolving around revenue still remains. To many, the arrival of Spotify would be a blessing and justifiably so. One gets to listen to music for free (a selling point that Spotify BD has been relying upon heavily) if they can just bear with the occasional ads and gain access to a vast collection of music and artists in one single place. Many would think the pay-per-stream policy would also benefit artists and solve the problem of relying on live shows and allow musicians to spend more time on new projects in the studio. A look into Spotify’s model when it comes to distribution of payment, however, will change your mind.
Streams Bring Terribly Low Revenue
This is a common complaint when it comes to Spotify’s policies and distribution methods. For example, one single stream can bring anywhere up to $0.003 to $0.005 depending on the country and whether the account is premium or free. This means an artist can only earn about $5 per 1000 streams if you consider each stream to pay the maximum amount. You might be thinking, well, that doesn’t seem so bad if you are getting a lot of streams. You are a good artist, thus you are getting recognition and a decent amount of money from these streams, right? The reality, however, is quite depressing. As Spotify in Bangladesh considers its free services as a major selling point, it’s obvious that there’s a greater number of listeners with free accounts than premium users, resulting in the monetary output being low as well. We must not forget the fact that record labels take a huge chunk of the artist’s revenue too, and at the end of the day, most up-and-coming artists get paid in pennies, not dollars.
As a result, Spotify is often used to gain exposure to sell merchandise and tickets to concerts or gigs. Think of it as a social media outlet for the prospective musician. Spotify on its own cannot fully support an artist as its unfair policies don’t allow an artist to rely economically on streams alone, albeit that being the primary source of music distribution today.
Here’s the Catch…
You might have already realised where I am getting at. With the onset of Covid-19, there’s almost no live shows anywhere and even prominent local artists are struggling. Spotify is useful when one uses it in conjunction with their concert and gig schedules, and without these, artists have to rely on streams alone. The low monetary gain from streams means that Spotify is effectively useless for your local Bangladeshi artists who only gain a tiny amount of exposure, if at all.
You might think that even a little amount of exposure might help, but unfortunately, Bangladeshi artists are facing challenges here as well. Despite promising to support indie artists who didn’t have a proper digital platform before, one look at Spotify BD’s Instagram page will show you that Spotify BD’s priorities lie in another place. There’s only one or two Bangladeshi pop artists who are being properly featured, and the primary focus seems to be on the expansion of content from foreign artists. Prominent Bangladeshi bands like Indalo and Arekta Rock Band and others only have a selective fanbase on the platform due to Spotify’s algorithm prioritising mainstream foreign pop culture instead of homegrown artists. Now don’t get me wrong, you and I have every right to love our daily dose of K-pop and Ed Sheeran, but for a platform that is meant to uplift artists of the country it is operating in, Spotify BD is doing a terrible job.
These issues regarding Spotify aren’t something exclusive to Bangladesh either. Artists worldwide have been pointing out how earnings from streams mainly benefit record labels (who are the rights holders) and Spotify itself. Prominent artists such as Taylor Swift, Thom Yorke, and others have pointed out how artists and songwriters are subject to a system that deprives them of getting financially secured. While many still question Spotify’s policies and bash them for it, it is quite probable that any change to the platform and its model isn’t coming anytime soon. Bangladeshi artists can’t sit around for Spotify to fix problems that have long been realised and addressed, it has to overhaul its domestic industry and change the outlook and relationship between the listener and artist and break off from the traditional views regarding compensation and monetisation when it comes to music.
It is evident that we cannot just rely on one single digital platform to revolutionise a system that requires change from the very roots. Spotify cannot help Bangladeshi artists as long as the current structure of the Bangladeshi music industry is changed and re-purposed. Music is a livelihood as well and musicians should have the opportunity to practise their art while not worrying about the roof on their heads, a concept that only the industry but our entire culture is unfamiliar with even to this day. It is time for both listeners and artists to adapt to the shifting tides of time. Listeners have to support local artists more actively and musicians in turn have to look for alternative paths to distribute and popularise their content. How they’ll do it, however, remains to be seen.
Ayaz is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur who also happens to dabble in songwriting from time to time. Hit him up at [email protected] if you can tolerate an annoying Bob Dylan fan-boy fawning over fancy words.