Alright, Okay, You Win

I'm Off Spotify (sort of)

Alright, Okay, You Win
From the cover art of the final(?) release I put on streaming platforms as William Chernoff: Hometown. Original art by Nicole M. Shewchuk.

Let's talk about streaming platforms – Spotify, as a metonym for them all – and an April Fool's joke that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Last year on the Rhythm Changes Podcast, I answered the question, "Why do you think Spotify is good?" with an apology. (Time of the episode where I give the answer: 24:50.)

Here's what I said back then...

Why is Spotify good?

"The only way that a bunch of people like me are going to find careers, eventually, is if we have the maximum number of options available to us; and I don't think these options are necessarily all zero-sum. [...]

"A younger group like daysormay, I'm not going to go up to them and say, 'Hey, what you're doing is wrong, you need to stop getting 100,000s of streams for your stuff and go sell it on Bandcamp.' [...]

"They've decided that that's working for them and that they want to run with that, and so if Spotify is part of what enables them to do what they think is good, then I like it."

I still stand by all of that, but now I'm bowing out, doing an about-face, confessing to you that it won't enable me personally (as an artist) to get it done going forward.

You see, I've been the streaming optimist and apologist among my longtime colleagues. They told me streaming is a rough go for artists, it's bad, we should reject the model to some extent.

And when the la reserve / Cellar / Caity Gyorgy stuff really started to click and to earn Spotify streams for Canadian jazz, I felt quite vindicated.

My own limited successes puffed me up and had me poo-pooing my friends who said, "I don't have the time to put into promoting my music on streaming." I told them no, this is the way, you should find time for that if you find time for anything on your own music.

And I still am so proud of what cross-border indie jazz distribution collabs are proving possible out here.

But then I read Bob Lefsetz's April Fools newsletter.

The April Fool's Lefsetz Letter

Longtime Rhythm Changes readers know that I read Bob because he is an avatar of a culture I'll never truly understand: boomer culture, where the music really mattered and meant something (at the 'mass media' level).

And this is what he published on April Fool's Day. It's a made-up list of Spotify changes, a fictional deus ex machina of all the hottest controversies in streaming this year – interspersed with links to real articles.

This is one of the made-up things that Bob said was happening at Spotify, emphasis mine:

For certain markers you get an additional payment. These start at ten million streams and go up to a billion. Because if you don’t have ten million streams, you’re not really in the recording business, even though you might think you are. [...] This is how it’s going to work: you can put your track on Spotify, but if you don’t have 10,000 streams in a month, your song is removed. [...] And, if a song was taken down, it can never go back up, unless it reaches ten million views on TikTok.

In a joke article, that's a kernel of truth. The economics of streaming mean that yes, if you're not at a scale that sounds quite large to talk about, it's really just drops in the bucket – and you're better off nurturing your own audience with people you can know, if you won't have a go at that scale.

As long as I'm focusing on Rhythm Changes – which I intend to be a long time, I'm not really in the recording business. I must admit that.

It's okay. Maybe you, like several subscribers here, are firmly in that business indeed. Or maybe you're not, like me now. That's okay too.

I don't have the time to put into promoting my music on streaming all the time, so I can't insist that you do it.  I discovered that I'm more like my friends, who urged me that maybe streaming isn't for everyone, than I am like you. Alright, okay, you win.

I originally published this edition of the Rhythm Changes Update for subscribers-only and have since made it available for anyone on the web. Please enjoy browsing this website for more content.