The Case for More Than Streaming


Anna Grez ’27
Staff Writer

When I heard that Joni Mitchell’s discography had returned to Spotify after a two-year hiatus, I was thrilled. Mitchell’s music has been influential to many artists, from Bob Dylan to Taylor Swift. Her powerful lyrics and unique chord progressions have allowed her to constantly stand out from the vast array of other folk musicians who rose to popularity alongside her.

Her 3.7 million monthly listeners were shocked when her music left the streaming platform in 2022 alongside that of Neil Young. The reasoning came as even more of a shock. Following in the footsteps of Young, Mitchell left due to Spotify’s “spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” according to an interview from NBC

The misinformation in question came from internet personality and conspiracy theorist Joe Rogan, whose podcast The Joe Rogan Experience was signed exclusively by Spotify in a $100 million deal in 2020. Rogan’s most controversial episodes include climate change deniers, anti-vax and COVID-19 deniers, and the use of racial slurs. 

Spotify has removed over 110 episodes of the podcast in an attempt to reign Rogan in, but allows the show to continue on the streaming platform. Joni Mitchell and Neil Young have nonetheless returned, Young claiming that the return is due to the spread of similar misinformation on Apple and Amazon music. Rather than remove music from these platforms as well, leaving fans without an outlet for listening, the two returned to Spotify. 

Despite my initial excitement at Mitchell’s return, I soon found myself with more questions than I’d had before. Why return to a platform that barely pays its artists? Certainly, the motivation could be to provide fans with an outlet for their listening, but was this move even the decision of the artist herself? If so, even more questions are raised.

The ability to remove music from streaming platforms is a privilege for artists, as it cuts off a significant source of income. Without the availability and advertisement of these platforms, smaller artists would not be able to grow their musical brands to the same degree. Luminaries like Young and Mitchell do not have this worry — their cult followings built over more than 50 years protect them from needing to seek out new crowds. 

Despite Spotify’s annual revenue of 14.33 billion dollars in 2023, the platform pays artists on average between $0.003 to $0.005 per stream. Approximately 70% of Spotify’s total revenue is distributed to rights-holders, leaving artists with an extremely small portion. This comes out to between $3,000 and $5,000 per million streams. Very few musical artists can sustain their careers off of streaming royalties alone; supplemental brand deals, streams from YouTube music videos, tour tickets, and merchandise are really what allows artists to make money.

Spotify ranks second for the lowest-paying streaming service to artists, only paying more per stream than Pandora. The highest-paying platforms are Apple Music, at $0.01 per stream, and Tidal at $0.013 per stream. 

Alternative models for artist royalties do exist, but are far less popular. Bandcamp, an online audio distribution platform, allows artists to upload music and decide for themselves how it will be sold, and for what price. Despite these alternative forms of music distribution existing, as well as the sale of physical music products such as records and CDs, streaming services make up 84% of the U.S. music industry revenue. 

Mitchell and Young are not the only major artists to have left and returned to Spotify. In 2014, Swift removed her discography from Spotify, stating in a Rolling Stones interview that she was “not willing to contribute [her] life’s work to an experiment that [she doesn’t] feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.” Swift returned to Spotify in June 2017 with the release of her single “Look What You Made Me Do.” 

While we celebrate the return of our favorite artists to the streaming platforms we pay for, we must consider the impact of the return and what statement it makes. Joni Mitchell refused to comment after her return to Spotify this March; does her return come from a place of wanting to reach her audience better and make her music accessible, or is this her selling out and compromising her principles? 

At the end of the day, Spotify exists in the context of our capitalist nation; it will always be designed to make a profit off of the hard work of others. Rather than be complicit and unconscious of its corruption, we should support the artists we love beyond our monthly payments to the streaming platforms they choose, and become more ethical patrons.

Photo Courtesy of Ella Lehavi ’24

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