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The music streaming debate: What are the best alternatives to support artists?


If you are a serious music fan, you undoubtedly have a subscription to a streaming service. With the proliferation of the internet at the turn of the new millennium, the traditional model that the music business had been using for nearly 50 years of popular song all but collapsed. The idea that “no one buys music anymore” very quickly turned from a snide remark to a stark reality When it became that MP3s, digital files, and illegal downloads were not going away, the very foundation of the music business began to crater.

According to RIAA CEO Mitch Glazier, “digital piracy wiped out more than half of recorded music’s economic value”. Glazier was specifically referring to the total revenue that the US music business saw as a whole in 1999, which was $14.6 billion. 2021 saw the American side of the industry rebound to almost $15 billion in total revenue, but that’s not accounting for inflation. Record companies, independent artists, and just about everyone who worked in music had to rewrite their playbooks when the internet suddenly made paying money for music completely passé.

According to the same report, streaming services netted $12.44 billion dollars in the US in 2021. That’s a whopping 83% of the total market share. Chances are, if you’re part of the hundreds of millions of music fans who need to hear a new album when it drops, then you are going to gravitate towards Spotify.

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By the end of 2021, the number of users who had bought a Spotify subscription topped out at 180 million. That’s for their most expensive service, and it doesn’t even account for family plans or other bundles. In terms of total quarterly revenue, Spotify reported $3.074 billion at the end of 2021. So all of these reports that the music industry is dying are overexaggerated, right? Record profits and a record number of total users for the world’s most popular streaming service must indicate that people are just as interested in paying for music as they have ever been, right?

Unsurprisingly, it’s the artists that have suffered the most from the new shift to streaming. Business Insider reports that the current payout system per stream on Spotify is anywhere between $.0033 and $.0054, with that number decreasing steadily since 2014. Those numbers don’t go directly to the artist either unless they’re truly independent: those streaming figures are split between parties based on the record deal, distribution agreement, or other promotional paperwork that a musician might have signed. The Beatles’ original record deal saw them split about one cent four ways for every record sold, an arrangement that any modern musician would kill for.

Thanks to the recent actions of artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, a small wave of artists opted to remove their music from the industry’s largest streaming service. Initially, it was in protest of Joe Rogan and the rampant spread of misinformation that came from his Spotify-exclusive podcast, but the lack of any actual payout has no doubt played a major part in those artists continuing to keep their classic records off of the service.

Streaming isn’t an automatic net loss, but if you’re not at the very top, then the chance of seeing a significant windfall of money is almost zero. Drake was 2021’s big streaming winner according to the same Business Insider article, earning $52.5 million thanks to his 21.5 billion streams. Drake has quite the machine behind him, including major label Republic Records and independent ventures like his OVO record label and his DreamCrew production company, so he’s not netting all of those profits.

So, as a responsible music consumer, you’re sick of seeing artists get pushed around and underpaid by the conspiracy theory-peddling behemoth that is Spotify. What are the alternatives?

There are plenty of other streaming services available, including Apple Music, TIDAL, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora. All of these services provide better deals for artists, even if they are minute. TIDAL gives 10% of your $20 monthly subscription directly to your most-streamed artist of the month, which is radically higher than the payout from Spotify. There is also Qobuz, which is one of the cheapest options at $13 a month and sells itself on providing higher quality streaming than Spotify, another complaint that Young levelled against the service.

It’s also worth noting that, despite the plummeting in physical media sales that the music industry will likely never come back from, buying music from your favourite artist is still a viable option. Most smaller (and even some major) names use Bandcamp, Soundcloud,, and more to provide a more direct stream of income. Buying an artist’s vinyl can be a major resource for them, considering that $1 billion of the $15 billion revenue in the US music business in 2021 came from vinyl sales.

If your major concern is helping artists get the compensation they deserve, then buying their albums at their merchandise booths while watching them live is going to be your best option. If your guilt over how little Spotify compensates their artists outweighs the convenience and widespread proliferation of the service, then options like Apple Music and TIDAL can provide almost as much music (more if you’re specifically looking for Neil Young or Joni Mitchell) with slightly more artist-friendly payment options.

If you don’t want to pay for your music at all, then YouTube is your best friend, unless you want to put your pirate hat back on. But the reality is that Spotify has invaded the music industry too thoroughly to simply boycott. Despite major attention and criticism in late 2021, Spotify continued to gain more users and didn’t see any major financial repercussions out of the small number of big artists who advocated leaving the service. So what is the alternative if you want to completely stop streaming on all services and still be a major music fan? Create a time machine and travel back to the pre-internet age.

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