Guest Blog: Tamara Schlesinger on how streaming isn't helping independent musicians

Ten years ago, I wrote an article about how little income I was making from Spotify. In 2008, my band 6 Day Riot had just had a sync on Scream 4 (the Hollywood film) which had 10,000 plays in a month. It was pre-playlists or at least my awareness of Spotify playlists. So Spotify play was a big deal for me then. But not what I made. Grand total: £10.

Nothing has changed in terms of my income from streaming since then. Well ok, I now make £0.004 per stream. But as my latest single ‘Don’t Leave Me’ has just been released I am not directing fans to go and buy it. Instead, I am sending daily updates suggesting they stream my track or follow me on Spotify. Let’s just remember that one sale of a digital single (£0.79) is worth the same as 790 plays on Spotify.

Once, when you heard that an unknown artist had over a million streams you thought that was exciting - they must have a real buzz about them. Somehow, everyone had discovered them early. But now each and every new act seems to have over a million plays, as they are included on a playlist –  often paying companies to pitch to playlist curators.

Why would I even consider risking my career to write something like this? Frankly, Spotify isn't doing anything for me. I am not making the "big" playlists and so my streams are real: my fans are just listening to my music and hopefully enjoying it.

I want to question what is going on in the industry right now. As we release our latest music we are led to believe that the ‘New Music Friday’ playlist is the be all and end all in terms of creating a buzz. It means that we have made it, or at least made an impact. As an artist who mainly generates income from syncs (music used in TV and film), I struggle to get fully on board. Streams don't give me any real income. I could pay a company to pitch my music to curators but I would rather spend money on making the music that actually generates and income for me. Let's not forget that the major labels (Warner, Sony & Universal) all have shares in Spotify.

Who decided that streams mean success? The same people who once decided that Facebook likes meant that you had a "buzz" about you? Do those millions of streams fill gig venues and sell significant amounts of music? If so, I should reconsider my marketing strategy for future releases.

There are acts with millions of streams and just a few hundred followers. So how many people actually become real fans after hearing you on a playlist? There are acts who have millions of plays that can't sell 20 gig tickets. And then take those like She Makes War, with lower numbers of Spotify play, but who recently charted at no 15 in the Official Independent album chart through crowd-funding her latest release with PledgeMusic.

My PR and plugging teams would love me to appear on a good playlist. And given the present scene, so would I.

It's the industry that has made streaming into a thing  - yet another box to tick before they get excited about you, just another lazy A&R strategy to find acts that are bankable... But those acts with real plays, sell out arenas and millions of albums and really don't care about being on playlists. Independent acts like me are losing out on generating sales, by falling into the trap of believing that conforming to this new marketing strategy will do more for us than a simple purchase of a song.

This is the music business in which there is always some new hoop to jump through. So, with all these reservations and a sense of powerlessness, here I go, refreshing my Spotify for Artists app. I am proud of my new single ‘Don’t Leave Me’ and I want people to hear it. Because the power lies in others hands, I will be a critic and also play a game that I think is pernicious.

Tamara Schlesinger first made waves on the music scene as the frontwoman of acclaimed alt-folk collective 6 Day Riot and also as a prolific songwriter. Her past work has been included in a host of high-profile syncs for TV series and Hollywood blockbusters – most notably Skins, Scream 4 and 127 Hours. Her voice can also be heard in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.

Now as MALKA - she weaves mesmeric percussive rhythms among a charge of irresistible call and response chants and instantaneous melodies. She explores a carnival of global sounds intertwined with an explorative affirming message.

Her highly praised debut album Marching to Another Beat received steady support at 6music from the likes of Lauren Laverne and Steve Lamacq and syncs on both MTV and Netflix.

MALKA’s lead single ‘Breakout’ from her forthcoming album received regular play on BBC 6music, Radio X and was playlisted on BBC Radio Scotland. She will be gracing the stage supporting Fujiya and Miyagi and playing festival slots at Camp Bestival and Secret Garden Party over the summer.

MALKA’s most recent album, Rata-tat-tat, was released in October 2017 to wide critical acclaim. You can follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, catch up with her on Instagram, or visit her website.

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