Friday, June 26, 2015


I like Spotify.  I can listen to nostalgic music and to new music.  I like finding new indie artists that make the kind of music I like.  My tastes are not in the mainstream.  I have often thought that Spotify was probably not artist friendly, but a couple of days ago I became sure of the fact when I learned of a band's issues with Spotify.  I know that the story is true as I know the band.

This week the band Smokey and the Mirror had their album Thin Black Line removed from Spotify because too many of their fans were listening to the album too many times. I was one of those fans. I attended the Album Fundraiser Concert for this album and wrote about it here.

This is their story dealing with Spotify.  The band told the story on their Facebook page.

We are a folk band. We get by on a shoestring. We raised just under $5000 from our fans to help record our last album, Thin Black Line. We put roughly $5000 of our own money into the album as well. It meant the world to us that so many folks cared enough to donate their hard earned money to our artistic endeavors. We went into the studio and made an album that we are proud of and that we felt honored the investment our fans made in us.

We released Thin Black Line on April 15th. We put a lot of time and energy into the decision to load our album onto Spotify. We listened to what other artists like Taylor Swift and Jason Isbell had to say against Spotify. We were with their viewpoint at first, but then we also started to notice fewer and fewer folks buying our CDs at shows. We even called our distributor, CD Baby, to ask a few questions about whether or not we should be on Spotify. We asked our rep, "Why should we have our music on Spotify?" She answered with a question, "Do you want your music to be heard by anyone under 30?" We caved. We made a 180 in our thinking about Spotify and got with the times.
The album came out on April 15th and was released on Spotify around that same time. We made a big push with our fans. 2500+ Facebook fans and roughly 4000 folks on our email list. We asked them to have a listen. Many of our fans were not Spotify members. Some of them wrote to us and told us that they were signing up for Spotify just so they could listen to our album and support our music. Even our favorite local bookstore, Nightbird Books, starting playing our album in the store. We were overwhelmed by the support. We still are overwhelmed. It has been so amazing to hear from folks who have truly enjoyed the album and have listened to it multiple times. Many folks admitted that they wouldn't have bought the CD but that Spotify gave them a way to listen to and fall in love with the album.

Today we were notified by our distributor, CD Baby, that Spotify removed our album because they analyzed the listening data on our album and felt that it was excessive and that the listening was coming from a small group of listeners and/or the listeners were predominantly listening to our album more than other content on Spotify.

We were shocked. We inquired and it turns our that Spotify has removed our album and WILL NOT reinstate it. In our option it seems that Spotify is not working for independent artists.

Here is the explanation from CD Baby:

"Hi Bryan –
Spotify made the decision to pull the album in response to streaming activity that they determine to be abusive. This can happen if fans are encouraged to stream the album on repeat for long periods of time or something along those lines. Most digital music providers are ok with a lot of streams for indie content, but if a handful of users are just playing an album or track on repeat, which does not resemble normal listening behavior, they will remove the content to avoid financial losses. Royalties that are accrued by this kind of streaming will usually not be paid out if they are determined to be abusive.
Please let me know if you have any questions.

As of today we had roughly 79,000 total plays of the songs on Thin Black Line. That is equivalent to the 4000 fans on our email list listening to the record 1.5 times. Does that seem excessive?
Just so you get an idea about the revenue from 79,000 listens it equates to roughly $474. Is this the financial loss that Spotify is worried about?

At this point it sounds like Spotify will not be paying the $474 in royalties from our listens. We can live with this, we will book another gig. But, it got us thinking, why would Spotify care enough to withhold such a small sum from a small time, independent band? It just doesn't feel right.

In the end, we are going to pull our other music from Spotify. They don't deserve it. They won't care, they have already made what they wanted from us. We spent the last 2 months trying to get our entire fan base to get interested in Spotify. Even if 100 of our 4000 fans signed up as new premium subscribers that is $12,000 of revenue (annualized) to Spotify, they are also opting to keep the $474 in royalties they would have had to pay out on our album listens. They WIN. Independent artists lose.

We are not telling this story to complain or to be outwardly negative. There is enough negativity in the world we live in. We are telling it because we support independent musicians. We promote shows, run a festival, and tell our audiences about independent musicians every time take the stage. If you care about independent musicians like we do, find another way to support them other than Spotify. It is hard being a professional musician in 2015. Spotify claims to be the salvation of musicians and declining sales of recorded music. We think our story sheds light on this claim. We will let you decide for yourself.

We have spent the last 9 years touring. We have spent the last 6 running a festival. We have worked hard to earn support from our fans. The problem that we see with the modern music business is that everything is data driven. Facebook likes. Spotify follows. The number of reTweets. It is all nonsense.

We built a list of 4000 fan emails the old fashion way: one person at a time one show at a time. Folks didn't stumble onto our digital songs. Folks came to shows, sometimes small shows. Hell, we once played the best show of our lives to a 4 person audience in Birmingham
The point is that we have a fan base that is not really into Spotify. We decided we would make a big push with this new album on Spotify to try and get our fans to tune in and use the service. This showed up as an anomaly in the Spotify data.

We went all in on Spotify. This is not a publicity stunt. We wouldn't invest our lives, money and time into our art just to have it pulled off the service we had bought into that we thought would help to get our music out to a larger audience.

Someone posted our story to the Spotify Community message board today. Here was the snarky response from one person:

"Re: Indy band album removed because of a too loyal fan base

What do I think, the artist profile page show 30 followers. Something is off? You can not reach 79,000 plays of a single album without at least having a far larger number of followers, the math and common sense does not work out, something is off here. Where did those mysterious 4000 fans come from, and then listen to the album but then mysteriously did not follow the artist? Something is not correct. Spotify has ways to track how albums and tracks are played and where the streams are being played from, be it if something looked fishy they might have made the proper move to the pull the release until further investigation was complete. Fraud is fraud. I would not expect a company to pay for any kind of fraud, businesses would fail everywhere from it. And why did not this mysterious hardcore 4000 fan count not also purchase a CD copy of the same release? Most indie artist are able to pull this off with 4000 in CD sales, this should not be that hard, most bands of any genre are able to pull this off just selling CD's at gigs and small shows? Most indie artists would notice rather quickly a spike in CD sales from such an event, 4000 x $12 bucks a pop is almost 50k in revenue, did this band see a revenue increase of almost $50,000 from this increased interest in their music? There are big gaping holes in this story.

I even checked on this release at Rdio and it only has 54 plays. I truly think something is off with this story and this was all just a publicity stunt. Spotify is in the news allot and ever since Taylor Swift's somewhat narcissistic view on things and her melodrama, other artists are probable thinking, can we create a false narrative to get some media attention on the Spotify Brand?

Also it is smart to also provide sources for stories like this, even if the story might be complete B.S. anything that can not be fact checked or even looked into is fishy enough and gets nothing but scorn from me.

Bryan Hembree of Smokey and the Mirror points out that in the 60's if a DJ started spinning your record nonstop they called it hot wax and you had a hit. That radio is long gone. Now individuals are DJs, they control what appears on their personal "station" playlist. If a modern day DJ decides to spin your record non stop the streaming company calls it abusive and you have a banned record. Weird.

Bryan says, "the bad news is that Spotify banned our album. The good news is that we haven't banned it. You can still stream it at our website.

You can support the band by buying the album here.

Go here for an update on the story

1 comment:

  1. I am listening to it right now. I don't listen to spotify or Cd's. I am old. : )