Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Orangepeelmystic performs Nov. 10 at The Jungle in Somerville. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez)

Which stage of capitalism is it where we all knowingly walk into the buzzsaw, music makers and listeners alike? That’s where we’re at with streaming platforms. It’s a bloodbath, and we’re all sliding willingly into the tub.

The latest nightmare to send a shudder up your spine is the rollout of Spotify’s new royalty model – one highlight of which is that songs that don’t garner 1,000 plays within 12 months won’t be eligible for royalty payouts. Guess what? Two-thirds of songs hosted by Spotify wouldn’t be eligible for payouts under the new royalty model.

It’s usually at this point in the public discourse that the Psychopath Contrarians step forward: “The payout per-stream is so low anyway (as little as $0.0033 per stream, by some estimates) that the artists aren’t really losing money.”

The Grand Flummoxers also like to get in on the action: “Artists aren’t really paid per-stream in the first place. They get paid according to ‘stream share,’ which is a concept that I’m happy to pretend to explain until you get bored and walk away.”

There are also the Techie True Believers: “Just be grateful that the billionaire galaxy brains behind Spotify are devoting a single iota of their brilliant attention to exposing your art to the world when they could be high as a kite at Burning Man, waist-deep in nude life coaches.”

How about that “exposure” argument? Go ask a freelance writer how well “writing for exposure” treats them. (Psychopath Contrarian take: “My generationally wealthy son interned for no pay at The New Yorker last year. Now he’s a bestselling novelist, wine connoisseur and monkey philanthropist. Sometimes you have to pay your dues.”)

It’s strange how quickly some participants in the public discourse concede the basic premise that it’s okay to not pay most artists for their work. If they’re not … streamed enough? The financial services infrastructure, in which we’re all embedded, has no difficulty diverting fractional percentages of the transactions it handles into its own pockets. It just has a really hard time diverting those pennies to you.

“You don’t understand,” the tech bro interjects, his face beet red, nostrils flaring. “Fractions of a penny mean nothing to you. All those fractions added up in my sole, solitary pocket, though, will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams.”

The music industry, always on the cutting edge of exploitation, is trying to update its act for the 21st century. But if the old guard record label execs think Big Tech is going to play nice in exchange for a slice of the pie, they might end up like the farmer from Aesop’s fable who nursed a snake back to good health and ended up getting bit. “You knew I was a snake …”

The ownership at Spotify, YouTube, Bandcamp and Tidal don’t want a piece of the pie. They want the pie itself, the oven, the cook, the kitchen and the first-born child of the farmer who grew the ingredients.

Just say no? Streaming platforms have become so embedded in our habits of music consumption that it’s hard to turn away. Even for musicians. What’s the favorite platform to stream music for the local electro-pop artist Velvet Dreaming?

Spotify and YouTube.

Why? Because Spotify “easily scrobbles songs on last.fm” and “I’ve had my Spotify account for over a decade [and it helps] me keep track of the changes in my music taste.” Because YouTube “contains lots of obscure music not on streaming platforms.”

Tech bros around the nation just achieved multiple orgasms reading through Velvet Dreaming’s list of reasons why they like Spotify and YouTube for music. First, “scrobbling” involves one computer system talking to another computer system about your listening habits. Sure, it’s monetization of your personal data at the end of the day. Do it in the right way, though, and people will line up for it.

Second, Velvet Dreaming said they’ve used Spotify for “over a decade.” The average marriage lasts only seven years. If a streaming platform can do better, that’s “till death do us part”-level revenue earning potential.

Third, Velvet Dreaming likes the “obscure music” on YouTube. Most of us aren’t focused on obscurities as the main entree of our music consumption, but we all listen to some. Like fractions of pennies, it adds up. And if the world is willing to accept that infrequently streamed artists deserve no compensation (see the new Spotify royalty model), that’s a value-add for streaming platforms at zero cost to ownership.

Nice work if you can steal it.

While the tech bros and record execs wrestle over bigger pieces of the pie, here are some local shows to put money (more than pennies!) into an artist’s pocket.

Friday and Saturday: Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys Present: Something Strange (Crystal Ballroom, Somerville)

“Boys and girls of every age / Wouldn’t you like to see something strange?” We’re still banging this drum. The music collective that’s up for Best Video at the 2023 Boston Music Awards knows its way around visual spectacle. The circus comes to Davis Square for two nights only.

Tuesday: Corsano, Kelley and McBride (Lilypad, Cambridge)

Chris Corsano has collaborated with the cream of the crop in experimental music, from Jim O’Rourke to the mononymic Björk. He’ll lead a trio of like-minded improvisational jazz-adjacent shoguns at the Lilypad. Expect drums, bass and some type of shiny, multivalved honker.

Nov. 24: dowsing Rod // Sleep Jumper // The Dream Today // Plastyc Peachez (The Jungle, Somerville)

There’s no front room, there’s no backroom and there’s hardly even a restroom. But there’s a stage, sound and a hot bowl of tater tots waiting. Welcome to the Jungle! The Dream Today is a gazey, heavy pop outfit with chops that makes this bill worth a look.

Speaking of The Jungle, Velvet Dreaming just headlined a solid lineup there Nov. 10 joined by orangepeelmystic, Targus Targus and Axel & Lolo. Local lazer lordz Digital Awareness provided visuals.

Axel & Lolo flaunt pop stylings that could cheer up Elliot Smith on a bad day. Targus Targus was pure conga-led prog rock energy. Orangepeelmystic made devastating use of a commercial-grade fan during an experimental outing that rigged a 10-car pileup collision of synthesizers and raw percussion. Velvet Dreaming closed out with a lights-out sashay technique. A killer set that highlights exciting local developments in dancehall pop.

A nice break from the usual run of Boston brewpub rock. But was it scrobbable?


Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News.