Spotify's Changing Royalty Model: A New Era for Music Streaming

October, 26 2023

In a surprising turn of events, Spotify, the world's most popular music streaming platform, has recently announced significant changes to its royalty model. These changes aim to address several issues within the music industry and how royalties are distributed. While these changes have sparked debates and discussions within the industry, they represent a bold step towards fair compensation for artists and content creators. The changes are set to be made in Q1 of 2024 with the goal of moving $1 billion in royalties over the next 5 years to ‘legitimate’ artists and rights holders. While they did not directly define what a ‘legitimate’ artist is, the new model essentially sets the standard and builds an outline. 

1. Introducing a Threshold of Minimum Annual Streams

One of the most noteworthy changes is the introduction of a threshold for minimum annual streams before a track starts generating royalties. Previously, even tracks with very few streams could still claim a portion of the service's royalty pool. This change is expected to de-monetize a portion of tracks that previously absorbed 0.5% of the royalty pool, potentially reshaping how smaller artists and their distributors earn income.

This move addresses the issue of what some have called "micro-streaming," where countless tracks with minimal plays still receive a fraction of the available revenue. In an industry where competition is fierce and content is abundant, this change aims to encourage artists and labels to focus on producing quality content that resonates with a broader audience. It may also lead to a more equitable distribution of royalties, ensuring that only tracks with a certain level of popularity and engagement receive compensation.

However, critics argue that this change might inadvertently disadvantage emerging artists who depend on streaming revenue to build their careers. It places an additional barrier for artists trying to break through in a crowded industry. Therefore, the success of this change will heavily depend on how Spotify manages the threshold and what support it provides for smaller acts.

Music Business Worldwide confirmed with a source that “Spotify says tracks that [currently] represent 99.5% of ‘Streamshare’ will continue to monetize after these changes.” The reason Spotify is going after very low streaming songs is due to the fact that over 100,000 new works are being distributed to the platform per day. It is estimated that by demonetizing 0.5% of creators, the platform will save $40 million next year. That $40 million will be redistributed to the 99.5% of creators who fit the new model criteria.   

2. Financially Penalizing Distributors for Fraudulent Activity

Another significant change involves the financial penalization of music distributors, including record labels, when fraudulent activity is detected on tracks they've uploaded to Spotify. Fraudulent activity in this context encompasses practices like artificially inflating streaming numbers, using bots to manipulate plays, or other unethical methods to boost a song's popularity.

This change is a step toward transparency and accountability in the music industry. It addresses the longstanding issue of fake streams and plays, which not only distort the charts but also divert revenue from legitimate artists. By penalizing distributors involved in these fraudulent activities, Spotify sends a clear message that such practices will not be tolerated.

However, there are challenges in implementing this change effectively. Detecting fraudulent activity can be complex, and the burden of proof may fall on the platform, leading to disputes and potential legal issues. Additionally, it's essential for Spotify to work closely with labels and distributors to ensure a fair and just process for identifying and penalizing fraudulent activity without damaging relationships within the industry.

Starting in Q1 2024, Spotify intends to take a two-pronged approach to address artificially inflated play-counts on tracks. First, as it does currently, Spotify will remove any track identified as a victim of fraudulent streaming activity. Secondly, it will implement a monetary penalty for the distributor responsible for the affected track. This additional measure is aimed at discouraging distributors, including record labels, from continuing to release music from artists with a history of fraudulent streaming practices.

3. Introducing a Minimum Length of Time for 'Noise' Tracks

The third change revolves around non-music 'noise' tracks, such as white noise or ambient sounds, which are sometimes uploaded to streaming platforms. Spotify is introducing a minimum length of playtime that these tracks must reach to generate royalties.

This change aims to prevent the abuse of streaming platforms for non-musical content, such as long periods of silence or very short sound clips. It will help maintain the integrity of the platform as a music streaming service while ensuring that royalties are directed primarily towards genuine music content.

To give an example of this, In March 2014, Vulfpeck released an album called Sleepify to raise money for a free concert tour. They funded the tour entirely through royalties from the album on Spotify, which paid based on song plays lasting at least 30 seconds. Sleepify's tracks were just over 30 seconds of silence, and the band encouraged fans to play the album on repeat overnight while they slept. With each play earning $0.007, The Guardian estimated that seven hours of continuous streaming could generate $5.88 in royalties, and if 100 people did the same, they could accumulate $588. This is a prime example of what Spotify is trying to combat now.

The challenge here is defining what constitutes "noise" and what is considered a legitimate non-music track. Clear guidelines will be crucial to prevent misunderstandings and disputes. Additionally, content creators who produce ambient or environmental sounds may need to adapt their creations to meet these new requirements.

Implications for the Music Industry

The changes introduced by Spotify have generated mixed reactions within the music industry and the artist community. On one hand, these adjustments aim to create a more level playing field, where royalties are distributed more equitably, fraudulent activity is discouraged, and the platform remains focused on its core mission of music streaming. However, on the other hand, these changes may pose challenges for emerging artists and content creators who rely on streaming revenue to support their work.

To ensure the success of these changes, it's essential for Spotify to engage in open and transparent communication with artists, labels, and distributors. This collaboration can help address concerns, adapt to the evolving music industry landscape, and create a sustainable model for the future.

The music industry is in a constant state of flux, and platforms like Spotify must adapt to remain relevant and address issues within the industry. These changes represent Spotify's attempt to bring more fairness and transparency to the distribution of royalties while maintaining the quality and integrity of its platform. The success of these changes will ultimately depend on how well they are executed and how they benefit artists, labels, and listeners alike.