“No Budget? No Bops.” Songwriters Hit the Streets in LA to Protest Spotify
The advocacy group 100 Percenters led a protest in LA trying to raise awareness around Spotify’s payout structure, which sees songwriters get paid 0.003% of a penny per stream.
The reality of exactly how much songwriters get paid out when it comes to the records they’ve worked on is staggering. Songwriters are currently paid 0.003% of a penny per stream by Spotify, a baffling fact to wrap one’s head around in comparison to the same streaming platform paying Joe Rogan hundreds of millions of dollars for his podcast.
Thanks partially to to Grammy-winning songwriter and entrepreneur Tiffany Red and her advocacy group the 100 Percenters, songwriters’ voices are finally being heard. On Monday, February 28th Red and the 100 Percenters led a small rally in West Hollywood, Los Angeles trying to raise awareness around Spotify and their royalty payout structure. It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles, with the sun beaming down, and there were about 50 protesters holding signs like, “Dear Spotify, pay the music creators who built you!” and “Dear Spotify, Reallocate your BILLION $ marketing budget to the MUSIC CREATORS who built you!”
At the scene, Red, who wrote “Replay” for Zendaya and “Boss” for K-pop group NCT, told Okayplayer:
“I want to see record labels pay songwriters. Record labels do not pay us. They don’t pay us for the session. They don’t pay us a songwriter fee. So the producer gets an upfront fee, we don’t get an upfront fee. We don’t get to participate in their part of the song, it’s called the sound recording. The copyright is two sides, there’s a publishing side and a sound recording side. The record labels are the ones that take all the money from the sound recording. They’re in a free market, we’re not. While our money is regulated, they get to do whatever they want. They keep 80% of the money.”
The rally was held at 9200 Sunset — Spotify’s former Los Angeles offices after moving to a location in Downtown LA that’s over 150K square feet. The move is another indication of songwriters being left behind as streaming giants spend a bulk of their profits in areas other than royalties.
Al Sherrod, a Grammy-nominated, multi-Platinum producer and songwriter who goes by Points, details the importance of showing up and speaking out. “We’re putting people on notice,” he said. “Honestly, that’s what it’s about. Everybody’s on notice. The songwriters are really tired of being treated unfairly and not paid our worth. No writing, no song. When’s the last time you heard an instrumental you loved? The songs are important and the songwriter has to be important.
Points, who’s also a father, continues:
“I’m really out here because if we’re going to have this type of job, be available years from now, we’ve got to make a livable wage doing it. If we’re not doing that, then my daughter can’t be a songwriter. Or a kid can’t be a songwriter. A kid in the Midwest who loves writing songs is not going to have anywhere to go to sustain themselves because they’re not getting paid their fair share. Spotify pays songwriters a percentage of a percentage of a penny. You gotta get 40K or 50K streams to be able to buy one slice of pizza, that’s ridiculous. Spotify makes billions and billions of dollars off the songs that we write.”
The majority of the protest was controlled by Micah Powell, aka Micahfonecheck, who was on the microphone. In the past, Powell has contributed to songs like Omarion’s “Post To Be,” Jhene Aiko’s “Tryna Smoke,” Kevin Gates’ “Jam” and Sevyn Streeter’s “Before I Do.”
“Obviously, we’ve been paid inadequately for years,” Micah said. “Since the inception of the music business and now with streaming, and things a lot more scarce — we need every point we can get in order to keep doing what we love. In order to making the world happy. What is the world without music? The world is nothing without music. Music is the universal language, so why don’t we get paid according to what we make? According to the creativity and awesomeness we make. We make the music that makes people dance, makes them feel sad, makes you feel happy. If you want to vibe, if you want to take a night drive, we make all of that. We’re asking for more than a third of the penny.”
While Spotify isn’t the only streamer songwriters have issues with, protestors chose to focus on the billion dollar tech giant because of its role in an appeal filed to the Copyright Royalty Board to overturn royalty increases for songwriters. Red expressed the desire for Spotify and the other DSPs who are appealing the 44% increase — including Pandora, Amazon, and Google — to drop the appeal. “I want our 44% increase to happen,” Red said. “I want the judges that are over the CRV trial to hear us and consider our livelihood. This is not a living wage and if you’re not privileged, if you’re not part of the elite of the music business, forget it. They’re making billions and celebrating in our face.”
Anyone who was present at the protest could feel the energy and the undeniable bond and connection amongst creatives who are fighting for their rights.
“Our whole goal is to fight for songwriters’ wages,” Marie Lyons, Senior Advisor at the 100 Percenters, told Okayplayer. “Also Daniel Ek — who runs Spotify — let him know that we’re no longer going to tolerate not being paid for work. You see a lot of really amazing, creative people here that are really passionate about what they do and feel they should be paid fairly for that. Some people are struggling to pay their rent, that is really why we decided we have to protest. We have to do something and moving the needle from a third of a penny would make a huge difference… My challenge to Daniel is: give us a call so we can have a conversation. That’s what’s next.”
To keep up with the 100 Percenters, follow them on Instagram here. They are also planning to do a march in March (no pun intended).
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based writer who grew up in the Bay Area. She lives, breathes, and sleeps hip-hop, and is literally on top of new music the moment it is released. If there’s a show in LA, you can find her there.