Column: Penny-pinching streaming services should pay artists their worth

Streaming services are not paying your favorite artists what they are worth. Kassidy Tsikitas Photo Editor

By Emma Weidmann | Arts and Life Editor

I shudder to think of a time when I had to buy music to listen to it.

From the moment I got my first iPhone, there was always an iTunes gift card in my stocking, and since my free subscription to Spotify used too much data on my ride to school, my dad put an embargo on listening to anything that I hadn’t already downloaded.

So, I was limited to my emergency reserves of One Direction and a couple songs off Taylor Swift’s “1989,” because I couldn’t listen to that on Spotify anyway.

It’s strange to think about now, but between 2014 and June 2017, Swift’s entire catalog was absent from most streaming services. You could purchase it, or you could not listen to it at all. That all changed once she successfully pressured Spotify and Apple Music to pay their artists more per stream — but the battle is far from over.

Spotify pays its artists $0.003 per stream, and Apple Music shells out a large sum of $0.008 per stream.

If you’re Taylor Swift, that doesn’t really matter, considering she has billions of streams and has just begun the third leg of her monumentally successful Eras Tour. The artists who are really hurt are the student musicians, the independent singer-songwriters without millions of listeners who will follow the music wherever it goes.

The villain lurks on the app dock of everyone’s phone. It’s ubiquitous across college campuses as students make their way to class, study in the library and gear up for weekend activities. It’s in each car on the highway as they barrel down Interstate 35 on the way to work, and it’s in each home when it’s time for spring cleaning.

These streaming services dish out three-thousandths of a penny per stream, and yet, these massive corporations have such strong brand loyalty that millions of users do free marketing for them each year.

Don’t believe me? I can almost guarantee that you posted your Spotify Wrapped or some equivalent back in November 2023. Even if you didn’t, your feed was surely dominated on “Wrapped Day” by the most insufferable people you know, all posting that their top artist was The 1975 (guilty).

In one of her old posts explaining her bone to pick with streaming, Swift said rare things must have high value, and music is rare, so it should not be free. Although I don’t believe music is rare at all, it is certainly worth more than a fraction of a penny.

Spotify Premium is $10.99 per month after the free trial. There are 226 million premium subscribers and 348 million others who suffer through minuteslong ads in order to use the free version of the platform. With that in mind, what reason is there for the platform to scrimp and save its coins like it’s Mr. Krabs or a greedy 19th-century oil tycoon?

Instead of promoting these streaming services for free, listeners should pressure them to do better for their artists. You don’t have to cancel your subscription, but be aware of the way streaming services are lowballing your favorite musicians and singers, and consider switching to a platform that places a higher value on music — the thing that makes our worst days better, connects people and provides the soundtrack to our lives. It’s worth more than a penny.