I'm making a new album inspired by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek – here's the weird story behind it

Okay. So, a few weeks ago I noticed a headline on NME.com: ”Is Spotify’s Discovery Mode just asking acts to work for ’exposure’?” (Highly recommended read, by the way!) Now obviously for a small indie band like ours Discovery Mode immediately sounded intriguing. Maybe this was a great opportunity to get our music in front of new people? I don’t mind putting in the work as long as there’s a reward I’m happy with at the end of it, right? Instead, after reading the article I just lost it. I’d completely had it. And I’m sorry for the upcoming choice of words, but this was literally what I was thinking: Fuck the music industry. Fuck Spotify. Fuck every greedy-ass Big Data corporation with their billionaire CEOs scamming me out of my last savings just to maybe (and that’s a big f-ing maybe!) hook me up with some aetherial ”exposure”. 

Because what Spotify’s new Discovery Mode is, is nothing more than another moneygrab from artists. If you as an artist let Spotify have something that’ll likely amount to something like half of your royalties – which are ridiculously low to begin with; we earn 0,004€ from one stream and that’s just because we don’t have a record label or manager and get to keep all the royalties ourselves – Spotify will in turn alter it’s algorithm to be more favourable to the new music you’re pushing out. Now you may argue ”Well look here, Jon. See it as an investment. If they take half your royalties but in turn you triple your stream amount, you end up winning, don’t you?” I’m sure that’ll be Spotify’s company line as well. 

What they’re not saying, but as business people have absolutely factored in, is that they’re creating a new normal with this Discovery Mode. Because if just a fraction of artists opt into this, and they will because like with anything new; if you’re first to use it you’ll reap the greatest benefits before your peers. And so eventually everyone who releases music on Spotify will be forced to forego half of their royalties just in order to have any kind of competitive chance on the platform at all. It’ll be the new normal for artists and Spotify will have doubled their revenue from streams. Which apparently they desperately need to do as they’ve only picked up debt for the entire length of their corporate existence – while at the same time their CEO is a billionaire. Not a millionaire. Or more logically – in debt himself. No. A billionaire. Someone financially savvier please explain to me how that is even possible?! 

Anyway, in essence what Spotify have done is exactly what Facebook have been doing for years: restricting the artist’s access to their listeners by setting up their algorithm in such a way that to gain any (possible!) exposure, the artist has to feed these hungry machines their last pieces of their remaining budget. Would anyone like a band t-shirt? Sorry, but we had to give that production money to Facebook and Spotify just in order for them to (again, possibly! – I’ve not figured out how big of a sum you have to pay for a Facebook post to reach absolutely everyone that’s following the page – it’s probably in the thousands…) notify you about our latest release. By the way, the best way to follow any artist, not just us, is signing up to their e-mail list where at least they can definitely reach you while you can still ignore the e-mail if you’re not feeling up to it. So if you want to support us and not lose a single penny of your savings, sign up for our twice-a-month newsletter here: https://thefishermanandthesea.com 

So yeah, the impossible battle against the Facebook algorithm in combination with this new development at Spotify is what broke the camel’s back for me. I just lost it. I threw the phone away I was reading the article on and tried to calm myself by just looking out the window for a few minutes. Then I started laughing. Hysterically. How is any of this fair to people without a huge bank account or an organization like a record label behind them? While everyone keeps telling indie musicians that thanks to social media this is the best time to be an indie musician because you can reach everyone via Facebook or Instagram, the fact is it’s the same it’s ever been, just packaged in a timelier way. Sure you can reach anyone via social media – if you’ve got the fat wallet for ad campaigns you’re going to be forced to run just to pop up on people’s radars (and do that an average of seven times before your target audience is going to click your ad – yes, there’s actual science around this issue as well). Now I’m not saying you don’t have to invest in marketing when you’re releasing new music – I realize you have to do that and I always put aside a certain budget for this stuff out of my own pocket. But buying a banner ad on billboard.com is not the same as paying a social media company to let my newest post be shown to the people who have signed up for my posts and are relying on the social media platform to pass that new information about my release onto them! Without paying Facebook, the organic reach of a regular post on our band’s page is going to reach somewhere between 1-4% of the people that are following us. 1-4%. Let that sink in. It’s more than likely you’re in the other 96-99% who will not see that post organically. Unless of course, I pay Facebook for them to ”free” my post. Sounds an awful lot like ransom, doesn’t it? Far as I know that’s still a crime, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s a person or information being held ransom – a crime is a crime. But don’t get me started down that path. I feel like I might have to go down that way sometime later… 

But! After all those myriad stages of shock, disbelief and hysterical anger… I felt inspired! 

A few weeks prior to me reading that NME article, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek had declared that musicians should work harder towards building sustainable music careers in the modern music business. Artists just couldn’t go away for three years anymore to work on an album (and tour, by the way/road) and expect the Spotify algorithm to still favour them after being gone for so long. In fact, Spotify’s algorithm needs an artist to release something new every 4-6 weeks (!!) for the artist to stay ”current” and the algorithms favourable to your music (unless you’re Ed Sheeran of course, but that’s a whole other can of worms I’ll open another time). Essentially Don Ek wants us all to become his content creators while paying us on provision; you know, fractions of a penny and whatnot. Now a whole lot of big name artists slammed the Don for that, after which some younger artists slammed those artists for not being in touch with the modern music business etc and back and forth and back and forth, like these things always go in today’s oversaturated news landscape. 

But what conveniently gets buried in all this mudslinging is the original point, which is that Don Ek doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s never played an instrument and definitely hasn’t released music in any shape or form himself. So with the timeline of 4-6 weeks between new releases that he’s figured out for his content sharing platform, aka Spotify, it appears he’s one of those kids that believes music just magically happens. The magical musician has an idea and before you know it, it’s already a perfectly produced audio file on your computer. 

Now, I hate to break this to you Don Ek, but there’s a little more to it than that. After that first idea for a song – and let’s say this musician is practically a magician like Prince or Michael Jackson and has written the whole song in one 15 minute sitting, chords, lyrics and all – you still have to arrange the song. You know, stuff like ”this song could use a drumbeat, a bass, maybe even a piano. Let’s take a little bit of time to figure out what those might sound like” and ”this song also needs to have some dynamics, like quieter parts here and louder ones there”. It also needs to be recorded by someone who’s at least got an inkling of what they’re doing, it needs to be mixed, produced and mastered by equally talented people. It needs to be promoted in order for anyone to give a shit, so you’ll probably have to shoot a music video as well. Let’s not even get into the calculations of how much money all of that costs, but let me share this ever more obvious insight with you, dear Don Ek: 4-6 weeks is not the time which to squeeze all of those aforementioned stages of getting a song from idea to finished streaming file into, agree? 

I know, I’m taking forever and ever to get to the point. But I wanted to completely let you in on the mindset I’m in at the moment. And like I said before, after a brief moment of being appalled – I actually felt inspired. And that caught me off guard as much as anyone, especially after all my negativity I just ranted (ab)out. Maybe Daniel simply doesn’t understand the long process of music making that ends up as audio content (or resale product, if you’re feeling less amenable) on his platform. I sure as hell don’t know anything about coding, yet am fluently conversing on the effects of coded algorithms here, right? 

So what I decided to do is to make a record for Daniel and document the whole process from start to finish. Yes; from the point where the first small ideas for songs emerge to the finished song that I hand over to Spotify. Now, I’m also not doing just one song but an entire album for reasons that I’ll explain later. And I’m letting you partake on that journey via live video on Youtube starting tomorrow! You’ll be able to watch me write, record and produce these songs in real time while being able to chat with me, ask questions and even make suggestions if you like! Because music is about community, joys, sorrows, inspiration, people – life in its essence. So even if you’ve never touched an instrument in your life or sung a note outside of the confines of your shower, please know that you’re more than welcome to stop over anytime and ask or let me know anything you like! 

As the live videos will simply be me writing an album, I can promise you it’ll be anything but edge-of-your-seat excitement most of the time, but instead the realest possible look into how a music album gets created. No edits to hide failures, frustrations or other personal shortcomings of mine. Instead you’ll see the moments of inspiration and convergence of ideas that lead to a piece of music being written. I’ll keep my fingers crossed all of that happens, anyway, haha… 

”But Jon, aren’t you in the middle of recording an album already?” Well, yes we are indeed. And not to worry either; me writing one album while I’m simultaneously recording another with the boys is nothing if not ordinary. Records we make as a full band simply take longer to make than records I do mostly on my own. In fact, the final nudge for me to write this completely separate body of music for Daniel was when we had to cancel a studio rehearsal with the guys scheduled for this week because of new tightened gouvernment restrictions due to COVID-19. We’ll get back at it early next year probably, but we’ll also have to postpone the studio sessions from January to hopefully just February. So not to worry, the album we’ve been working on will not be delayed in any way because of this new record I now have time to make. The record I’m starting work on tomorrow will in fact come out earlier than the one we’ve been working on for a year now. Funny how that goes, right? 

So, if you’ve read through all of this, by God I think you have a future in law! Or maybe just not a case of severe ADHD? Whatever the case, you know I love you for being here and I’m sure you’re more than ready to get into this participating in seeing an album done from start to finish, right?! If I may, I’d suggest you subscribe to our Youtube channel (you can subscribe to any Youtube channel if you’ve got a Gmail address) and turn on notifications in order to never miss a video. But if you find that tedious, you can also subscribe to our newsletter that we send out every two weeks. You’ll get all the relevant updates that way as well. You can sign up for the e-mail list here

Peace & Love, 
Jon

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