Spotify must now show songwriters the respect they deserve – or risk a backlash

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The MBW Review offers our take on some of the music biz’s biggest recent goings-on. This time, look at the mounting opposition to Spotify’s mechanical rights settlement in the US market – and the future of Daniel Ek’s streaming company. The MBW Review is supported by FUGA.


Spotify is saving the record business. There really isn’t much of a debate anymore.

According to MBW forecasts, Daniel Ek’s company will generate around $5bn this year and pay over $3bn of it back out to music rights-holders.

It will do so by monetizing less than 1% of the world’s population via subscription – leaving an overwhelming expanse of potential growth for its core business.

Yet the outcome to another question seems slightly less certain right now.

Is Spotify capable of saving itself?


The Swedish streamer just went through two years of anxious negotiations to secure a small reduction in the percentage of revenue it pays record labels.

In the case of Universal, Sony, Warner and Merlin, this is believed to have moved down to 52% from 55%.

The assumed knowledge is that these agreements have sated Wall Street’s demand for Spotify to treat profitability more seriously – and that the company will now merrily steam ahead to a direct listing onto the NYSE.

Yet there are still some choppy waters to navigate for Spotify, which lost the best part of $600m last year.

And that goes for one side of the music business in particular.


Many major songwriters – including Kenny Rogers, Neil Young and the estate of The Doors – have now officially voiced their outrage over Spotify’s inability to identify and pay a tranche of mechanical rights in the US marketplace over the past six years.

In doing so, they have sternly rebuked Spotify’s attempt to buy the silence of those composers affected via a previously announced $43m settlement offer.

Defending its position during a crucial related case in Nashville this month, Spotify made the wild legal argument that it wasn’t even legally obligated to recognize these US ‘reproduction’ rights.

“Songwriters, lest we forget – when the revenue graphs, the sales projections, the A&R bonuses, and the Billboard Power lists have turned to charcoal and ash – remain by far the music business’s most important people.”

The streaming company’s remarks were slammed as “offensive and baseless” by NMPA boss David Israelite, who angrily suggested that such an assertion “spits in the face of every songwriter that has made Spotify’s business even possible”.

Spotify’s anti-mechanical argument has since been dismissed (in its current form) by the judge in the Nashville case – leaving its figurative saliva salvo looking not only a little pointless, but also as a major PR own-goal amongst the songwriting community.

Who, lest we forget – when the revenue graphs, the sales projections, the A&R bonuses, and the Billboard Power lists have turned to charcoal and ash – remain by far the music business’s most important people.


Spotify has long entertained a tense relationship with songwriters – folks who are endlessly thankful for its revolutionary brand of shareable on-demand music, but angered by diminutive streaming royalty checks for even the world’s biggest smash hits.

The deflating share of Spotify’s vast royalty pot that makes its way to songwriters is, of course, not the fault of Daniel Ek’s company.

That blame lies at the door of decades-old copyright structures combined with the smarts of the record labels – who still receive around five times the portion of every $1 paid out by Spotify than their publisher/songwriting brethren.

“In the nine years since Spotify launched, we’ve seen a string of stunning technological feats. Yet try to ascertain who writes Elton John’s lyrics… and you’ll fail.”

Yet there is another area where, for my mind, Spotify has directly and deeply failed songwriters, and for which there is hardly an excuse: the continued non-appearance of any credits for composers on its service.

In the nine years since Spotify launched, we’ve seen a string of stunning technological feats – from its ability to serve pinpoint personalized playlists like Discover Weekly to its industry-changing muscle in handpicking, and then breaking, fresh talent to a global audience.

Yet try to ascertain who writes Elton John’s lyrics, or the momentousness of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s contribution to Motown, or the fingerprints of Max Martin on an array of pop smashes… and you’ll fail.

For all of the brilliant things Spotify has – and continues – to bring to the world of music, this, frankly, remains a shabby source of shame.

There’s surely been no better time to fix it.


Spotify is currently at pains to remind the world that it values songwriters to a fanatical degree.

Sadly, its recent, well-intentioned launch of a ‘Secret Genius’ series to celebrate the best composers only draws clanging attention to its very worst oversight.

There is no service on earth that songwriters would rather have place their credentials up in lights than Spotify.

“I’d suggest that ‘Secret Genius’ is like covering a bullet hole with a Band-Aid. But it’s actually worse than that.”

Unfortunately, their genius on the platform remains… well, you’re welcome to smash that punchline out of the park yourself.

I’d usually suggest that ‘Secret Genius’ is like covering a bullet hole with a Band-Aid.

But it’s actually worse than that.

It’s like covering a bullet hole with a Band-Aid… on which you’ve just cheerily doodled some novelty pictures of firearms.


To compound the ridiculousness, Spotify last week held a songwriting camp in London with ‘Secret Genius ambassador’ Wayne Hector.

If you don’t know Hector, he’s the highly respected, Ivor Novello-winning British songsmith who’s penned pop hits for the likes of One Direction, Nicki Minaj, Westlife, Rascal Flatts and JLS.

The event – which also involved UK luminaries such as Charli XCX and Jamie Scott – was a worthy idea designed to recognize a serious talent, devised by Spotify’s European Songwriter Relations team.

But guess what happens when you open the Spotify app and search ‘Wayne Hector’?

You already know.

It’s an embarrassment.


In the coming weeks, Spotify will face heavy fire from US songwriters looking to take their pound of fiscal flesh ahead of the firm’s big entrance onto the NYSE.

Hundreds of writers in New York have just signed an objection to Spotify’s $43m settlement in the missing mechanical royalties case – and the gist of their annoyance is, essentially, that the figure is way too low.

In addition to the aforementioned (The Doors, Kenny Rogers, Neil Young), these names include Stephen Stills, George Benson, Michael McDonald, The Black Keys, Rancid, Travis, Zack De La Rocha / Tom Morello and the estates of both Sonny Bono and John Lee Hooker.

“Spotify can be something great for both music lovers and creators of music. We hope to sit down with them soon and work out something that is mutually beneficial.”

Randall Wixen

Many of these protestors are signed to Wixen Music, whose founder and CEO Randall Wixen told MBW for this article: “Spotify can be something great for both music lovers and creators of music.

“We hope to sit down with them soon and work out something that is mutually beneficial.”

No doubt in Wixen’s mind, a nine-figure settlement sum would be a start.

But Spotify’s future relationship with songwriters is more important – and actually more valuable – than basic recompense.


In response to angst over its lack of public-facing songwriter credits, Spotify may try to inculcate in its critics the idea that the necessary metadata is simply too complicated.

It would have a point: until the music business can successfully work out a single Global Repertoire Database – probably the industry’s greatest modern failing – a comprehensive picture of songwriting’s worldwide history will forever seem an impossibility.

Yet not quite having all the requisite metadata hardly stopped Spotify launching in the US in 2011 – where the holes in its Stateside mechanical library now threaten to cause it some serious financial damage.

It’s simply a matter of will.

There are 30m+ tracks available on Spotify, of which somewhere around 10%-20% are believed to attract no plays whatsoever.

A commitment to attaching searchable songwriter (and producer) credits to 5m-10m of the most popular songs is entirely within the capability and technical wizardry of Spotify’s global team.

It would go a very, very long way.


Daniel Ek is expected to become an extremely rich man if Spotify successfully pulls off its imminent IPO/direct listing.

When that time comes, many songwriters may gripe that his riches were built on their backs – and not feel particularly warm towards music tech’s latest billionaire.

Such sour grapes would feel a little unfair on Ek: he did, after all, rescue the recorded music business from the dark ages with little more than a brilliant idea and his headstrong belief – before building a business that continues to outpace behemoths likes Apple, Amazon and Google.

“more than money, Daniel Ek should now be thinking about legacy, and what Spotify’s brand will forever mean in creative circles.”

Yet more than money, Ek should now be thinking about legacy, and what Spotify’s brand will forever mean in creative circles.

Spotify’s commercial team say they have a defining phrase in their minds when concocting global campaigns: ‘Every song has a personal story.’

Well, every story has an author – and to rob them of their due notability at such a pivotal moment in music’s history is an ugly transgression that simply must be reversed.


Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.35.51The MBW Review is supported by FUGA, the high-end technology partner for content owners and distributors. FUGA is the number one choice for some of the largest labels, management companies and distributors worldwide. With a broad array of services, its adaptable and flexible platform has been built, in conjunction with leading music partners, to provide seamless integration and meet rapidly evolving industry requirements. Learn more at www.fuga.comMusic Business Worldwide

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  • emilym1

    I used to work for the legendary manager, Jazz Summers – he said “get the songs right and the rest will follow” so so true. Its exciting to see the industry being transformed through streaming but heartbreaking to see songwriters being treated so badly. There is no music industry without songs. Songs are the beginning of everything. Several years ago screen writers went on strike as they had a similar experience in Hollywood- No films could be released or made for several months- maybe songwriters should do the same – it might show people how important songs are ?

  • creatorsfriend

    FFS. WE (the recorded music industry) dont have a decent database that says who wrote what and who publishes those writers. And we are blaming Spotify for this? Are you kidding?
    in addition with regard to the song/master splits it is the corporate behemoths who decide what the split is that are the problem. Universal owns the record company and the publishing company. Where are the questions to them as to what the split should be? And Warner and Sony. Of course they dont want songwriters to get a greater proportion because the latter are on 80/20 deals in favour of the songwriter but the masters are on 20/80 deals (at best) in favour of the record company. Go figure. Its not difficult

  • Adam

    “Yet try to ascertain who writes Elton John’s lyrics, or the momentousness of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s contribution to Motown, or the fingerprints of Max Martin on an array of pop smashes… and you’ll fail.” – The problem here is that the vast majority of Spotify users (and music listeners) don’t care about this at all. They just want to listen to Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran on a loop and leave it like that.

    Trying to shove these types of things into Spotify doesn’t help anyone except songwriters egos. One of the reasons Spotify has been so succesful is it’s simplicity.

    • Laila Samuelsen

      Songwriters ego you say. The writers create the music, the label cashes in. The artist get rich from shows and sponsoring. The writers are paid less than workers in the 3rd world. And no credit. Sure. Why would anyone want credit or money for work. Crazy writers. But you are right. Nobody cares.

  • Kevin Bacon

    How about showing Producers the respect they deserve and credit they are often legally entitled to. The phrase “minimum viable data set” is the curse of this industry.

  • Zimmerman

    Both Google and Spotify are fighting the requirement to provide correct ‘credit where credits due…accuracy is more of a threat to their kids college fund than piracy ever was, because they (arguably) see it, (and the correct metadata they are required in Section 1202 of the DCMA to provide) as an impediment to their future financial ‘credit’. Streaming must pay songwriters and credit them, or else risk songwriting becoming a hobby not a job. Music will deteriorate as a result. 90% of the Billboard top 100 last year used pro-writers.
    However, interestingly, if streaming is an ‘individual public performance’ as Spotfy argue in that case, then shouldn’t songwriters get 50% of the revenue like they do on BBC Radio? And performers would get 50% of the mechanical via PPL. It’s an argument that may well backfire on spotify in Europe where we have Moral Rights and Equitable remuneration rights alongside rights in Broadcasting.

    So if spotify is a broadcast, then Making Available needs a re-think.

  • TONPROJEKTION

    Same to movie or porn industry.
    Where is our money at –
    it’s shared in cash between gangsters.
    If you’re lucky, u’ll get some advertising

  • Sami Eräjää

    I don’t get it.. In an interview on the MBW podcast (2015), Justin Kalifowits, founder of Downtown Music publishing, described how major labels are uploading thousands of songs to streaming services on a weekly basis without providing appropriate metadata. Now Spotify is to blame for not providing this data? Not to mention since the dawn of popular music history, no one ever cared about who wrote or produced what song as long as it has an artist (think of like brand) name on it. I agree these people deserve limelight and I’m personally interested in who really made what, but it feels we’re barking at the wrong tree here.

    And what about the elephant in the room? Youtube, the most used music streaming service in the world, who pays less than Spotify. Do they do any of this? Nah, Youtube is so big, people rather have their works there and get paid less than not have it there at all. Correct me if I’m wrong, I just find this puzzling..