Above: Bret Lunsford illustrates the conflict of Creativity v. Corporate Ogre, 1984.
K has been exploding the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the Corporate Ogre since 1982. In the intervening 40-odd years the music biz has changed muchly, and the underground music scene has flourished. However, the more things change the more they don't: the Corporate Ogre has never been more monolithic, nor threatened the livelihood of independent artists more completely than what we are experiencing today.
Last October Spotify, the multinational streaming service that controls a majority of musical content listened to across the planet, announced a new royalty structure for 2024 that further degrades the ability of independent, regional, underground and ethnic music artists to be financially compensated for their work. Music that generates 1000 or less annual streams will be demonitized, that is, completely denied any financial compensation under this new system.
The rationale, according to Music Business Worldwide, is classic 1984 style doublethink, with Spotify claiming to support 'real artists' while actually moving to block artists' ability to earn a living from their work. Complaining that over 100,000 new songs are added to their streaming platform daily (as if more art in the world is a bad thing), they lament "without taking this action, Spotify thinks they would have generated around $40 million.” Again, that's good, right? $40,000,000.00 more in royalties to distribute to the creators of the streamed sounds. You'd think Spotify would tout this as an example of their platform's success, and their distribution of this amount to hundreds of thousands of independent music makers as a boon to creative expression. Instead they align their "business model" with that of their fellow Ogres. The new royalty structure plows any funds generated by songs annually streaming 1000 times or less back into the pool of $ to be distributed to the most popular artists, i.e. those supported by major labels like Universal Music Group, etc. Not only are Spotify not going to pay the little peeps, they are taking said artists' hard earned money ($40,000,000.00) and handing it over to those artists and labels already earning obscene sums. What the WTF. Naturally, the major labels fully support the new Spotify royalty plan.
Damon Krukowski is an independent recording artist who has also been organizing with United Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to create more opportunities for independent musicians. In a recent article printed in his Dada Drummer Almanach, A Pyramid of Inequality: Streaming Platforms Give Up Even Pretending, Damon breaks down what the new Spotify royalty plan means by reviewing 2023 streaming data provided by industry sales tracking company Luminate (formerly SoundScan). Imagining music streaming as a pyramid, with the few billions-per-year streaming songs at the top, Damon shows that under the new Spotify system 86% of all music will be "demonitized." Non-compensation of underground artists made some kind of (non)sense in the old days when random sampling was used to determine whose music got played on the radio and listened to in venues, but in our modern digital age where every stream can be tracked and actual music use kept track of in real time there is no reason not to compensate all artists for their work. Furthermore, as streaming replaces other forms of use for musical material, the options for earning a living are reduced. According to the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), "AFM musicians are finding it harder to make a living as Made-for-Streaming work continues to eclipse traditional film/TV work. Made-for-Streaming work doesn't produce residuals for musicians, leaving them with less money."
The UMAW and other artist-friendly organizations have proposed user-centric payment systems for streaming compensation, which would be a fairer and easily workable solution for financial distribution to artists. Spotify and their ilk are not actually interested in what is fair for the artist or listener. Their main goal is to continue the concentration of wealth in the music business by their Den of Ogres.
This leaves us underground music artists with fewer and fewer options for generating financial compensation for our recorded work. Of course, that doesn't stop us from creating the work, or getting it out to the people who may appreciate it. We find many underground artists are gaining a greater percentage of their income from physical sales of music in the form of phonograph records, compact discs and cassette tapes, and other creative formats of 'download cards' bundled with posters, stuffed animals and custom artwork. Also, garments and other items available at their souvenir stands and websites. One may find a variety of such items available via The K Mail Order Dept. and our Friends & Neighbors section. We still here, punking it hardcore in 2024.
Above: Bret Lunsford's illustration from 1984 still holds true in 2024.