Friday, July 19, 2024

Balla Kouyaté and Mike Block perform. (Photo: Kristin Otharsson)

The end of year is a time for reflection and gratitude.

But there’s room for a little bitter with your sweet – especially when the hot tea is being served by Spotify Wrapped.

No, we’re not going down a rabbit hole to decry the preposterously low levels of compensation that the streaming platforms hand out to artists. We already took a recent look at Spotify’s morally repugnant new royalty model.

Instead, let’s let the artists speak for themselves about Spotify Wrapped, which the streaming platform glosses thusly: “Think of 2023 Spotify Wrapped as a celebration of the real, the realer and the realest listening moments that defined our year.”

Okay, let that nonsense slide right off your brain, onto the street and into the gutter. In normal human-being language, Spotify Wrapped is the year-end analytical breakdown of your streaming stats. For music listeners, the analytics tell you about your total hours listened, most-listened artist, tracks and so forth. Artists get the same stats in reverse: how many times their music has been streamed, who is listening, where are the listeners and how long are they listening before it’s “Thank U, Next.”

Analytics are a double-edged sword. While some musicians enjoy tracking growth in their listening base, others recoil at the reductive nature of the year-end report. Spotify Wrapped isn’t exactly the “l’art pour l’art” vibe that many artists try to cultivate.

While the reports made the rounds on social media (eminently shareable!) the old alt-rock lion Thurston Moore stirred from his den to tweet sagely: “Spotify sucks. My music, Sonic Youth and solo, is on it as a matter of course, but I never utilize it per listening. It is a shameless systematic rip-off of working musicians.”

In the same missive he retweeted a graphic from the United Musicians and Allied Workers underlining the exploitation wrought by Spotify’s royalty model. The graphic framed the abysmal payouts within a colorful hamburger design. You know the saying: “It’s a big shit sandwich …”

Local independent artists took the results in stride and mostly used the report as an opportunity to thank supporters for a great 2023 and to shout out possibilities in the new year.

The Mighty Suicide Squirrels were all butterflies and rainbows: “Not a bad first year. [It’s] been fun playing shows with lots of great bands and now friends. Looking forward to next year and hopefully many more.”

Ska punkers Pink Slip were effusive with joy: “Holy shit yall!! It means so much to see how many folks connected with us this year, can’t wait for even bigger things (and a new EP) for 2024! We love you all so much! 💗🏁💗”

Talk Chalk was innovating in the merch space: “thank u for listening 🥹 if we’re ur #1 artist DM us a screenshot and we’ll send u a gift that’s definitely not a human hand❤️❤️ stay spooky we will see u next year 💫”

And the hip-hop artist Maeko has his sights set on all seven continents: “Can’t stop until they’re playing Maeko in Antarctica!! 🧊🦦🗣️”

Some artists, though, took Thurston Moore’s more strident line.

Alt-rockers The Jacklights deserve to be quoted in full:

“It’s that time of year … we’re sharing our Spotify wrapped, along with what Spotify doesn’t share. We’re tremendously grateful to everyone who listened to us on any platform this year, came to a show, booked us for a show, bought merch, wrote a review, played us on the radio or supported our band in any way. That said, bringing music to people isn’t free for any artist, and streaming platforms pay pennies. We put our music on Spotify for ease of listening because a ton of people use it, but if you listen (to any artist) on there, please remember that unless they’re big enough to be selling out stadiums, this is NOT how most small, independent artists get paid – and musicians can’t live on exposure alone. This Friday is a BandCamp Friday – consider purchasing music or merch from your favorite bands there or going to a live show.”

Well said … But shout out to Sapling for weaving pancakes into the mix:

“‘Spotify for artists” is an oxymoron. Stop giving your content to a billionshazillion dollar hee haw. Stop calling your art content. Listen to Gang of Four in a tree. Make some pancakes. P-a-n-c-a-k-e-s. If Spoffo wants a pancake, you say fuck you, pay me first. Your pancakes are discontent. P-A-N-C-A-K-E-S. The Finnish word for pancake is pannukakku. That’s fucking great.”

And extra points for the extreme pith of rock n roll outfit The Sleds:

“Thanks for the 25¢ Spotify!!!”

One major takeaway: Live shows, merch and physical album purchases are all great ways to compensate an artist when the streaming platforms don’t. Not that you need to pick up all the slack for greedy tech titans. If you use streaming platforms, demand more from them. Vote with your time and attention, and don’t give a pass to the worst offenders in 2024.


Here are a few shows worth your time and attention.

Dec. 9: Sarika, coraldefense, Tiefling, KSRMR (The Jungle, Somerville)

You never know what you’ll stumble across in The Jungle. This matinee bill is a tight lineup of four artists digging in the electropop pumpkin patch. Expect the experimental. KSMR’s latest EP “Gritona” sounds like Washed Out meets Claire Rousay.

Dec. 13: Open Mike Eagle, Pink Navel (The Sinclair, Cambridge)

After a mini-tour trumpeting the arrival of his LP “How to Capture Playful,” local rhymer Pink Navel returns to the area in style with an opening slot for Open Mike Eagle at The Sinclair. The headliner is a Chicago-to-LA transplant, so between the two of them all the coasts are covered: East, West and Third.

Dec. 14: Piebald, Weakened Friends, Radio Compass (Middle East, Cambridge)

Straight outta Andover! It’s Piebald, rock ’n’ roll veterans who haunted Slummerville in the ’90s and occasionally reunite to rock your world in the present day. Catch them live at the Middle East with strong support from Maine’s Weakened Friends. Maybe the Piebald “Christmas Adventure” 7-inch will be at the merch table?

Dec. 15: Dead Gowns, H. Pruz (The Rockwell, Somerville)

Are we in the middle of a Maine-assance? Portland’s Dead Gowns roll through town this week too. Lead singer-guitarist Geneviève Beaudoin pens razor-sharp alt-folk ballads and always arrives with a top-notch collection of musicians to bring the songs to life. Brooklyn’s H. Pruz joins the bill in the black-boxed belly of Davis Square.


Speaking of Davis Square, the long-running world music initiative Global Arts Live continues to organize crackerjack shows at Crystal Ballroom and beyond.

Last Sunday two locals, cellist Mike Block and balafonist Balla Kouyaté, teamed up to hybridize European tradition with a West African inheritance. The pair have been collaborating since 2008 and bring a professorial tone to their live shows, which instruct about the histories of their musical tradition along with entertaining through sound.

No surprise – they’re on the faculty at the New England Conservatory. Will Sunday’s show be on the test?

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