Will Butler Pens Essay on Joe Rogan, Spotify and the Devaluation of Music in the Streaming Age

"At its worst, [Spotify is] a bad actor in a worse industry that historically treats artists miserably"
Will Butler Pens Essay on Joe Rogan, Spotify and the Devaluation of Music in the Streaming Age
The Joe Rogan/Neil Young debacle feels like one of those pop culture controversies that might never stop sprouting new heads; a medusa of a story that seems capable of opening new avenues of debate with each passing day

However, one of the major tentpoles of the discussion — one that Neil Young himself has essentially ignored completely in his beef with Spotify, pledging allegiance to Amazon Music in the aftermath — is the way that Spotify (and streaming services in general) treat artists, and the impact that treatment has on how we consume and create music. 

Will Butler, like so many working (or attempting-to-work) musicians, has thoughts on this particular facet of the story. The Arcade Fire member and solo artist has written an editorial piece for The Atlantic that explores how streaming has impacted the lived realities of working musicians, and what it means for the future of not only music consumption but music creation. He doesn't sound too optimistic about the whole enterprise. 

He covers plenty of ground in the piece, but speaks specifically to the difference between the music industry today and the music industry of twenty years ago (and twenty years before that), writing:

The business of music certainly feels less coherent than it did 20 years ago. A "successful" artist is more than ever a hodgepodge of a ticketing company and a merchandise company and an intellectual-property investment. I attribute much of my own good fortune to timing. When the first Arcade Fire record came out in the early 2000s, people were using the internet to find new things, but were still willing to buy a record if they cared about what they found.

He continues, saying that "the business is far worse now. I knew a lot of bands in the early 2000s whose members could quit their day job for a few years and make a living on relatively small amounts of record sales coupled with touring. 

"Today, fewer artists are crossing the bar of being able to live purely off making and performing music. A lot of artists are failing to find a place in an 'audio industry' that ever more efficiently mines smaller veins for what little cash can be extracted, or in a broader entertainment industry that has more in common with Marvel-movie spectacle than any particular sort of artistry."

He goes on to relay the story of his grandfather, who led a big band in the 1940s and participated in a strike by the American Federation of Musicians that lasted more than two years. Eventually, the record companies changed their royalty rates, establishing a fund for live musicians who were put out of work by the advent of recorded music. 

Butler closes the piece by writing that "solidarity is a tempting response to technological change, but my tired brain just can't see the mechanism for it in this era. I honestly feel like a master sock weaver at the start of the industrial revolution. People will still get their socks, maybe worse than the ones before. And in the end, technology will plow us over."

You can read the whole piece here