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Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Tidal and FAC respond to backlash of CEO saying “content” costs “close to zero” to make 

Streaming platform Tidal and the Featured Artist Coalition (FAC) have both responded to the widespread backlash of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, following his claims that “content” costs “close to zero” to make.

The comments from the CEO of the streaming giant were shared last week (May 29), and saw Ek take to X/Twitter to imply that it is easier and more affordable than ever to create “content” thanks to modern technology.

“Today, with the cost of creating content being close to zero, people can share an incredible amount of content. This has sparked my curiosity about the concept of long shelf life versus short shelf life,” he wrote.

“While much of what we see and hear quickly becomes obsolete, there are timeless ideas or even pieces of music that can remain relevant for decades or even centuries,” he added, before questioning: “What are we creating now that will still be valued and discussed hundreds or thousands of years from today?”

Needless to say, the comments were quick to spark a response from across the online community, with countless music lovers and musicians coming forward to criticise the CEO as being “out of touch”.

“I for one don’t make ‘content’. I make music,” wrote KT Tunstall. “It’s *possible* to make music cheaply, but you still need equipment. And making music the way I make it also employs other people and takes time, so yes. It’s such a completely fucking myopic thing for him to say.”

Similar comments were shared by The Future of Music Coalition – who wrote: “It actually can still be expensive to make records, especially if you care about paying your collaborators fairly” – and Primal Scream bassist Simone Marie Butler who wrote: “Fuck off you out of touch billionaire.”

Now, rival streaming platform has also weighed in on the debate, and stated that it disagrees with the outlook of the Spotify CEO.

Taking to the official Tidal X account, it reaffirmed that it sees music as “art” rather than “content”. “Come on, Daniel. Art is priceless and its ‘cost’ is much more than just money, it’s heart and effort,” it wrote, replying to a news report sharing Ek’s statements. “We thought everyone knew that.”

Since sparking such widespread criticism over his tweet, Ek has gone on to share another update, apologising for dismissing the struggles faced by musicians and using the “reductive” label of “content”.

“It’s clear I was far too vague in the post, including with my clumsy definition of content. I understand how it came across as very reductive and that wasn’t my intent,” he wrote yesterday (June 2).

“Just to clarify – my original point was not to devalue the time, effort, or resources involved in creating meaningful works, whether it’s music, literature, or other forms of creative expression.

“What I was most interested in exploring was how, in this environment of constant creation, we can identify and ensure that the bold, exciting, world-changing ideas and pieces of art don’t get lost in the noise,” he added. “My focus was on exploring the staying power of the most creative, most thought-provoking ideas. That didn’t come across, and that’s on me.”

Part of the criticism towards Ek’s latest comments may have also stemmed from the recent reports that Spotify have made record profits of over €1billion (£860m) – following staff being laid off and subscription prices rising.

At the end of 2023, Spotify announced that it was cutting down 17 per cent of its workforce in order to save costs. That was after an earlier decision to lay off another 6 per cent of its staff at the start of 2023, which at the time it said was to promote “speed”.

It also came following the news that the streaming service had officially demonetised all songs on the platform with less than 1,000 streams. The policy was launched on April 1, but had been planned by the platform for some time. It was quickly criticised for making it harder for artists to generate royalties from their music and restricting new artists looking to crack the music industry.

Reports of the huge profits also came after the number of premium subscribers rose by 14 per cent in the first quarter (up to 239million), and after the streaming service confirmed that it would be raising the price of its monthly premium membership yet again.

Following Ek’s second update, apologising for the comments, the FAC also shared a comment, highlighting how the initial post was dismissive of the efforts that musicians have to put in to see any kind of reward.

“I was disappointed to read last week’s social media post from Spotify’s Daniel Ek, however, I’m glad to see that he has addressed his comments and acknowledged the upset that it has caused,” said FAC CEO David Martin in a comment to NME.

“His original post failed to acknowledge the financial investment artists make in all manner of areas, such as equipment, studio time and musicians, and the time commitment – normally in the order of thousands of hours – required to produce art which affects people.  This is before considering the sheer, emotional and creative energy that artists pour into their work.

“I also welcome his clarification about the material that fans subscribe to his platform to enjoy…artists create art, not content.”

Daniel Ek, chief executive officer of Spotify. CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The outlook by the FAC coincides with that of countless artists in the industry, who have been increasingly vocal about how the rise of streaming has made it harder to make money as a musician.

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, for instance, said that streaming has “mortally wounded” many artists, while James Blake recently claimed that “the brainwashing worked and now people think music is free”.

Last year, NME chaired an artist-led ‘Year in Music’ panel at the FAC’s 2023 End of Year Party, where a number of musicians spoke about these same challenges.

There, Murray Matravers (frontman of the band formerly known as Easy Life) pointed out that the royalties that artists receive from streaming platforms is also severely hurting musicians’ income. “I assumed as a naive young man that if we got to where we are now then I would be really, really rich,” he said. “That’s just not the case sadly. I just want to see artists getting paid for selling records. Wouldn’t that be good? That would be a good place to start.”

Earlier this spring, it was also reported by NME that a case had been made for a £1 ticket levy on all arena gigs to help aid the survival of grassroots venues and artists.

Here, English Teacher frontwoman Lily Fontaine – who had previously spoken to NME about the importance of grassroots music venues as essential cultural hubs – recalled how artists are facing “a crisis in terms of funding” and being able to support themselves.

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