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.

How Storywriters Inspire Songwriters

by The Cowl Editor on December 11, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

How Storywriters Inspire Songwriters

Popular Musical Artists Take Inspiration from Famous Works of Literature

Madison Palmieri ’22

From The Great Gatsby to the Harry Potter series, many well-loved novels have inspired hit movies or television shows. Less frequently discussed, however, is the degree of inspiration that the world of literature provides the music industry. 

Some examples of this phenomenon are more obvious than others. For instance, several tracks from famed English heavy metal band Iron Maiden, “Brave New World,” “Lord of the Flies,” “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” retell the literary works of those same names by Alduous Huxley, William Golding, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Edgar Allen Poe, respectively. 

Another renowned artist who has adapted literature into his music is Elton John. Like Iron Maiden, John has a song titled “Lord of the Flies.” Another one of his tracks, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” is based on the famous World War I novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque. Although its title is a bit less obvious, yet another Elton John song, “Restless,” is inspired by George Orwell’s 1984.

Similarly inspired by this dystopian novel is John’s fellow musician David Bowie. Three of Bowie’s songs, “1984,” “Big Brother,” and “We Are the Dead,” retell aspects of Orwell’s book.

Yet another famous act was compelled to write a song about 1984: Tears for Fears. While the group’s song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a less obvious tribute to Orwell than Bowie’s tracks, a close look at the lyrics, especially the bridge, makes it clear where the band drew their inspiration for the song from.

British rock band U2 has taken a unique approach to literary allusions in their discography. They named their 13th studio album, released in 2014, Songs of Innocence and named their 14th studio album, released in 2017, Songs of Experience. These titles are directly taken from a collection of poetry by William Blake. Blake originally published Songs of Innocence in 1789 before republishing it with new poems in a combined volume titled Songs of Innocence and Experience in 1794. Notably, like Iron Maiden and Elton John, U2 was also inspired by Lord of the Flies. Their song “Shadows and Tall Trees” off their debut album Boy takes its name from the seventh chapter of Golding’s novel.

Another British rock act inspired by literature is Bastille. Their song “Icarus” retells the myth of the same name, “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)” recounts the true events detailed in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood—and name-checks the novel’s title—and “Weight of Living, Pt. 1” relates the events of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Also, in a Twitter Q&A, Bastille frontman Dan Smith revealed that the group’s song “Poet” was inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

Folk rockers Mumford and Sons have similarly taken inspiration from sources ranging from The Bard to 20th century American literature. “Sigh No More” is inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and actually incorporates multiple lines from the play into its lyrics. “Dust Bowl Dance” is an interpretation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Their song “Timshel” was inspired by another Steinbeck novel, East of Eden.

Other notable literary-inspired tracks include “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry, inspired by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” “Cassandra” by ABBA, inspired by Homer’s The Iliad, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica, inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen, inspired by The Grapes of Wrath.

Another song, “Lost Boy,” was inspired by J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. More specifically, singer-songwriter Ruth B. had the idea for the track when she was watching Once Upon a Time, a television series that weaves different fairy tales and similar stories together and places their characters in the modern world.

It should come as no surprise that the artist whose fans have nicknamed her “the music industry” boasts perhaps the most impressive amount of literary references across her eleven-album discography. Indeed, while Taylor Swift’s most obvious homage to literature is her smash-hit “Love Story,” which retells Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and includes a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the singer’s albums are full of tributes to her favorite novels and characters.

1989’s “Wonderland” plays off of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; reputation’s “Getaway Car” borrows from the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” from that same album name-checks The Great Gatsby.

However, it is Swift’s two most recent albums—rerecordings not included—sister records folklore and evermore, in which her love of literature is most visible. On the former, “cardigan” references the Peter Pan characters Peter and Wendy, “invisible string” gives a nod to a famous line from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, “illicit affairs” paraphrases Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and “the lakes” name-checks famed poet William Wordsworth—who resided in England’s Lake District.

On the latter, “‘tis the damn season” directly incorporates “The Road Not Taken” as a lyric, “tolerate it” subtly retells Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and “happiness” alludes to The Great Gatsby’s infamous green light.

Needless to say, story-writers have provided songwriters with plenty of inspiration across all genres of literature and music alike. Just as directors and actors bring book-to-screen adaptations to life, musicians build upon others’ works and create new and enjoyable forms of art.