‘There must be something (better) out there’

Local artists weigh in on the positives and negatives of streaming

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the streaming era has drastically affected artists with its significantly low pay per stream and its impact on international visibility.

Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and other artists recently pulled their discographies from Spotify, citing the platform’s role in spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation by podcaster Joe Rogan, with whom Spotify signed a $100 million licensing deal in 2020. As the controversy has expanded to include Rogan’s racism and Spotify’s poor compensation for musicians, artists are opening up about the advantages and disadvantages of music streaming and other forms of online distribution.

Devin Latimer is a member of Winnipeg folk group Leaf Rapids, who recently pulled their music from Spotify. Despite their decision being sparked by the controversy, they say they’ve long been dissatisfied with the streaming service.

“It made us look around and think about how there must be something (better) out there. We changed over to Tidal, which still doesn’t pay a lot, but it does pay three times more than Spotify,” Latimer says.

The decrease in monetary gain since streaming came into play has been unsettling for artists with established careers. In the past, selling merchandise and physical album copies could usually cover the expenses that come with playing at festivals. Now, that isn’t the case for many artists.

“When we played at a festival, we could make $5,000 in fees for that weekend and make up that amount in CDs, which had a great impact on sales. Now with streaming, (physical sales) basically decreased down to barely anything, so it has made a great impact on artists in all genres to the point that festivals still cost the same, but merch sales have decreased,” Latimer says.

Emily Sinclair, vocalist of local indie-pop band Virgo Rising, has seen most revenue coming from Bandcamp, where the band also sells merch.

“Streaming platforms like Bandcamp are where we see more monetary gain, because they have those events where all the money goes towards the artist,” Sinclair says.

Setting aside money matters, there are still aspects of streaming that are worthwhile, especially for emerging artists. Sinclair pointed out that Spotify has helped increase the band’s visibility in and outside of Canada.

“(We) went from seeing people in Saskatchewan and Alberta to people from Hong Kong and all over the world. That was the first thing we noticed, seeing people outside our country, which was really cool,” Sinclair says.

Virgo Rising’s multi-instrumentalist Jenna Wittmann also pointed out that songs from their latest EP, Sixteenth Sapphire, being added to playlists helped increase their music’s streaming performance. Currently, the band is satisfied with the recognition they gain through digital distribution.

“It would be nice to see (monetary gain), but where we are at now, it’s just good to know that people are listening to our music and that it is accessible,” Wittmann says.

Both Leaf Rapids and Virgo Rising are on SoundCloud and Bandcamp. Follow @virgorisingmusic and @leafrapidsmusic on Instagram to keep up with tour dates, purchase merch and more.

Published in Volume 76, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 17, 2022)

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