Spotify Songwriter Controversy

by John Downey '23 on March 26, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Spotify Songwriter Controversy

Writers Protest the Streaming Service’s Pay Policies

Grace O’Connor ’22

 Spotify has become a world-renowned music-streaming app, boasting over 406 million active users and 106 million paying subscribers as of Dec. 2021. According to Variety, “the platform rose from 7 [percent] of the U.S. market in 2010 to a whopping 83 [percent] by the end of 2020—and recorded-music revenues saw their fifth consecutive year of growth, topping $12.2 billion, per the RIAA.” The magazine went on to add, “it’s no understatement to say that streaming saved the recorded-music business and that global market leader Spotify [has] led the charge toward the stability and growth that the industry enjoys today.” Needless to say, over the course of the past few years, Spotify has grown exponentially in popularity and success—as well as in its impact on the music industry. 

Songwriters, however, are not necessarily sharing in the bounty. On March 1, 2022, over 100 of these talented creators took to the streets of Los Angeles in a protest planned by activist group the 100 Percenters to express their dissatisfaction with Spotify’s current policies. More specifically, according to OkayPlayer, they are protesting the fact that the streaming service only gives most songwriters 0.003 percent of a penny per stream. 

Among those songwriters protesting is Kennedi Lykken. In a statement to The Los Angeles Times, Lykken expressed that her last royalty check totaled only $432. She has worked on tracks for Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, and Britney Spears. She has also won a Grammy Award. Needless to say, her impressive record calls for more than minimal royalties. 

Songwriters have been battling the “0.003 percent” rule for several years now. The 100 Percenters, the nonprofit organization leading the current protests against Spotify, was founded back in 2020 by a small group of individuals including songwriter Tiffany Red. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Red, who has written for Zendaya and Jeniffer Hudson, expressed her frustration that “people will say to her, ‘Oh, you’re a ghostwriter’” and explained that to such remarks, she always asserts, “‘I’m not a ghost, I’m a person.’” This is precisely the sentiment that 100 Percenters hopes to convey in their fight against the disproportionately low payment rate for songwriters. 

Another songwriter, Kaydence Tice, spoke up at the recent protest to share her story. Tice worked with Beyonce to co-write “Black Parade,” and despite such a massive hit to her name, she can barely afford to pay rent. 

Unfortunately, these songwriters’ stories are the norm in the industry, rather than the exception. Indeed, there are innumerable other songwriters with similar stories, songwriters whose success Spotify has not acknowledged with proper compensation. 

The manner in which Spotify is treating songwriters is ironic considering that the platform is meant to celebrate and highlight their talents. As singer-songwriter Heather Bright expressed in a powerful statement, “you can feel the oppression and the disrespect when you’re in rooms with people who have million-dollar homes while [you] have nothing.” 

Bright’s statement echoes the sense of degradation and dehumanization that songwriters are experiencing at Spotify’s hands. Hopefully, the streaming giant will soon realize its songwriters’ value, and treat them as they deserve.