Weird Al Yankovic making a silly, dramatic pose.

Weird Al’s Spotify Wrapped Top Listener Message Probably Isn’t What the Company Expected

For Spotify users, the year-end wrap offers a chance to view the songs they listened to the most and even hear a pre-recorded message from one of their tune artists. The message from Weird Al was probably not what the music streaming service anticipated, though.

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In his message, Weird Al said, “It’s my understanding that I had over 80 million streams on Spotify this year. So, if I’m doing the math right, that means I earned $12.” If Weird Al fans are surprised by the Spotify criticism, they really shouldn’t be.

In 2023, Spotify had 574 million users. Though they were once the leader in the field, Apple Music is now trailing behind Spotify by millions of users. Spotify’s most recently reported quarterly earnings were $69 million dollars. One group that is not sharing in those profits, according to Weird Al and many others, are the artists whose music is streamed on the platform.

According to reported data, Spotify pays artists $0.0033 per stream, but the compensation for artists is actually more complicated than that. Spotify compensation is based on stream share, meaning how often a song is streamed in a particular country or region. So not only do artists need to make sure their music is often streamed, they need to make sure they are a regionally top-streamed artist. 

And one more factor makes Spotify’s compensation practices complicated and potentially unjust? Spotify does not pay the artists directly. Instead, Spotify pays the rights holders—the labels backing the artists. So compensation depends on the agreement the artist holds with their label. Some labels are likely to take a big cut.

While it’s admirable that Weird Al used the platform and the occasion of the year-end wrap to call Spotify out on their poor compensation of artists, those as well known as Weird Al are less impacted than new or indie artists hoping to use Spotify to gain a following. Spotify has recently rolled out a new policy that artists with less than a thousand streams will be ineligible for any kind of compensation at all. 

And authors now stand to be impacted by Spotify’s compensation schemes. Spotify recently announced they are expanding beyond their music and podcast offerings to also include audiobooks. Spotify subscribers will be eligible for 15 hours of audiobooks, a move that has the U.K. Author Union concerned. Though several large publishing houses reached an agreement with Spotify about the audiobook streaming, authors and agents have complained that they were not consulted.

Spotify has been subject to some pretty intense scrutiny and criticism over the years. Many were angered when the platform refused to pull Joe Rogan despite racist remarks made by the right-wing podcaster. However, there’s a political connection to Spotify that is even more troubling and less well known. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek is using his company’s future to fund military infrastructure

The political views of Swedish billionaire Daniel Ek have surfaced as a reason for concern by both users and artists. Neil Young pulled his work from Spotify, accusing the CEO with being complicit in spreading anti-science info during the Covid pandemic. Music producer Darren Sangita pulled his music after learning that Daniel Ek was investing money in the military AI startup, Helsing. The company provides AI war software and describes its work as “defending democracies.” Its a phrase that’s not terribly comforting to anyone familiar with the justifications for the war in Iraq or the U.S. backed coups in Chile and Iran, among other historical events. 

While all this information may put a damper of Spotify’s year-end wraps, subscribers should know where their dollars are going, especially since the cost of Spotify has increased.  For people looking to pull the Spotify plug, there are other streaming options, with apple remaining the top competitor. Amazon and YouTube both offer music streaming services. Other, lesser known options include Tidal, Deezer, and Qobuz. Other contenders include Napster and Pandora. Subscription services are comparably priced across those options.

Socially conscious listeners may want to investigate where those subscription dollars go on each platform, how artists are compensated, and whether their subscription dollars are funding war.

(featured image: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

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