Even Jimmy Buffett Wants Spotify to Give Artists a Raise

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 10.09.14 in News

Is it time for casual music listeners to care about the debate over how much Spotify pays artists? In the words of Jimmy Buffett fans the world over: “Where’s the salt, where’s the goddamn salt?”

The list of musicians who are vocal critics of online streaming services may be familiar by now. Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke has compared Spotify to “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse” and released his latest solo album via BitTorrent instead. Others critiquing the streaming business have included David Byrne (Talking Heads), Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi), David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker) and the Black Keys. Earlier this year, though, none other than Bette Midler added her voice to the anti-streaming side.  And joining their ranks this week was the Parrothead leader himself.

At a technology conference in San Francisco on October 8, the “Margaritaville” singer asked Spotify CEO Daniel Ek for a raise, as can be viewed in the Vanity Fair video below.

“Do you see any time in the future where we might see a raise directly from you as opposed to going through the bullshit you have to go through to deal with a label these days?” Buffett asked. “How the stream of revenue gets to the artist, particularly young struggling artists, it’s really hard for that to actually happen in real life if you’re a young artist. So I’d hope that all the music service groups would kind of look at that. It’s one thing when it goes to the record label. Most of it doesn’t get to the artist, which would be nice.”

As The Verge reports, although Ek quickly replied, “I agree,” he didn’t go so far as to offer Buffett a pay bump. According to the Los Angeles Times, Ek said Spotify pays more than $1 billion a year to labels and songwriter publishers, representing 70 percent of its overall income. Referring to the moderator, music management mogul Irving Azoff, Buffett reportedly said of that amount, “But it’s actually still lower than what we used to get — right, Irving?” Azoff’s response: “Sell one of the planes.”

Streaming companies have long said that artists will share in the wealth as the amount of streaming revenue keeps getting bigger and bigger. According to the Times, Ek said Spotify negotiates mainly with the labels and publishers, noting that it takes time to get the deals in place. “Streaming is the biggest change to the music industry since the inception of recorded music,” he’s quoted as saying. “The recording industry will be bigger than it ever was, and will open so much opportunity for artists.”

Buffett is only one of the artists questioning Spotify directly this week. At a Spotify event this week in New York, as Hypebot reports, artists challenged the company about its business practices. Chris Castle of Music Technology Policy wrote, “What Spotify wasn’t expecting was a bunch of feisty artists who were not on the payroll who came expecting actual answers and not shillery.”

According to Digital Music News, which cites unnamed sources, Spotify has quietly embarked on a U.S. “information tour” about streaming royalties. The sessions were reportedly scheduled for October 6 in New York, October 8 in Nashville and October 10 in Los Angeles. At the New York event, Radiohead manager Brian Message called for the government to force disclosure of Spotify’s contracts with major labels, which are currently confidential, according to a separate Digital Music News report that cites attendees.