T-Pain tweet sheds fresh light on saddening state of streaming service payments to artists

Streaming platforms have become the primary way to consume music, with more than 83% share in recorded revenue. (Image via SK)
Streaming platforms have become the primary way to consume music, with more than 83% share in recorded revenue. (Image via SK)

The less-than-rosy state of the streaming economy was recently laid bare by autotune superstar T-Pain in a now-viral tweet.

Here's the tweet:

The figures shown here are astounding and concerning.

The Skewed Reality of Streaming Services

When historians study the era of music we currently live in, they will certainly name it "The Dawn Of Streaming." Since the second half of the 2010s, it has become a cultural juggernaut and the primary medium through which music is consumed.

This mode of listening has a lot of pros. It brings every artist, big and small, onto an equal playing field, and gives indie artists a global reach to rival that of established names.

But this new structure of the music market is also deeply flawed. T-Pain isn't the first one to have raised a voice on this issue.

Many artists have spoken out against multiple unfair practices by streaming services, often pulling their music from the platforms. The Beatles, Prince, Neil Young, Pink Floyd... the list is doesn't end there, either.

One of the biggest pioneers for fair practice in the music industry is Taylor Swift, who is currently re-releasing her back catalogue to reclaim ownership of her own music. Swift wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in 2014, criticising Spotify for the poor payments it made to artists.

It never would have been possible to go back & remake my previous work, uncovering lost art & forgotten gems along the way if you hadn’t emboldened me. Red is about to be mine again, but it has always been ours. Now we begin again. Red (my version) is…

In 2015, Taylor also wrote a heartfelt open letter to Apple Music, questioning their decision not to pay artists during an initial three-month free trial of the streaming service.

But in today's day and age, digital streams have become integral to the music landscape. It is no longer a feasible stance for an artist to keep their music away from these platforms.

Streams now makes 83% of the total recorded revenue in music. In the past two years, where isolation has forced live shows to be canceled and physical stores to be shut, digital listening has grown by leaps and bounds.

Streaming platforms certainly seem to be here to stay.

Statements by Streaming Services

Not many platforms are vocal about the issue, and those that do shed a light on the matter, tend to rely on financial statistics to explain themselves.

In March 2021, Spotify, the world's biggest digital music platform, unveiled a page called "Loud And Clear", where it aims to show the economic flow of revenue and how it gets distributed among the labels, which then pay the artists in turn.

Loud and Clear (Image via:
Loud and Clear (Image via:

But in reality, the page is a somewhat glorified attempt by Spotify to justify the unfairness of the economy. Spotify goes as far as stating that even though they paid the artists less "per stream" than other platforms, their popularity created "better fan engagement."

Loud and Clear (Image via:
Loud and Clear (Image via:

To accompany the launch, Spotify CEO Daniel also posted a long thread on Twitter, with further statistics on the booming state of the music.

Since its 2014 low, the music industry has grown by 44%, driven primarily by streaming revenues which increased 500% over this same period. In 2020 alone, Spotify paid $5B+ and makes up about 20% of global recorded music industry revenue, more than any other streaming service. ⬇️

Apple Music, Spotify's biggest competitor, took a slightly less boastful tone while explaining its metrics. In a section titled "Apple Music Insights: Royalties", the company explains how they pay equal headline rate to all kinds of publishers and compositions, and that their average per play rate is $ 0.01

What One Can do as a listener

Subscribing to these services is no longer optional, but as listeners, what we can do is prefer services that offer at least a relatively fair deal to artists.

Additionally, buying physical album copies and artist merchandise, as well as attending live shows, is a sure-fire way to support the artists whose music you admire. A great way to directly pay the artists is also to use the "donate" button, which multiple platforms now have,

It is an ever-shifting world, but nothing shall stop great music from making its way to a curious listener.

Edited by Mason J. Schneider
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