Spotify and musicians have been going back and forth for some time over the amount Spotify pays out. See here for a recent story on the issue.
Meanwhile, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon on Spotify and it seems to show that at least a few artists are benefiting from the licensing woes of their brethren. The phenomenon, which I’ll call Song Placebo, occurs where Spotify has failed to secure a license for a top radio song, thus signalling to pragmatic cover artists that a common search term on a service with millions of subscribers is open for business. If you google around, you’ll find that a listen on Spotify is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $.007 – .01 per listen, and there is an argument that cover artists would probably reap a high amount of the absolute cash because they are less likely to be signed to a major label. Taking the high-end of that range then, a cover artist is probably reaping about $1 for every thousand listens on Spotify, give or take 20%.
So how prevalent is Song Placebo’ing? Probably more common than you think, and two artists in particular seem to have nailed it. Let’s look at some prominent examples.
Rihanna’s “Stay” is certainly a hit, certified Platinum in the US with sales over 3 million, and radio success topping Billboard charts in multiple countries. But as the image above shows, it is nowhere to be found on Spotify.
The top hit is a cover by Shaun Reynolds, a UK-based singer-songwriter dude who is a leading prescription writer for Song Placebo. His cover of “Stay”, which is sung by a guest named Laura Pringle, has a whopping 19.8 million listens on Spotify. Opening up Shaun’s larger portfolio on Spotify reveals that Shaun quite likes him some covers, and his top 10 are all works originally (made chart-toppers) by other artists. “Stay” stands out, however, as the only one that seems to have gained any traction (his second most popular song has 200k listens, and his third just 20k). But at the conversion rate above, “Stay” has generated about $19,800 for Shaun. Not bad for a song he didn’t pay a dime to market.
Tyler Ward is another ‘popular’ cover artist in the Song Placebo game. Here’s what his top 10 hits look like:
As you can see, his top 10 is all covers. In contrast to Shaun Reynolds, however, many of the songs he has covered are actually up on Spotify, though in the case of a few of them at least, I know they were put up after Tyler had a chance to corner the market. Altogether, Tyler has more than 11 million listens on these covers alone, good for $11k.
Is there a video of Shaun Reynolds and Tyler Ward meeting, called “When Shaun Met Tyler”, you ask? Why, of course there is.
So no judgment on these artists, providing our Song Placebo before the big labels come to terms with Spotify on the details for the real deal. I’m sure Shaun and Tyler are hard-working, aspiring artists, using covers as a vehicle to push their brand while also making some income. No shame there.
But it opens up an interesting question about the legal justification for allowing “covers” of songs in the first place, and possibly questions about how much we really value an original recording versus a cover. 19 million people made it through Shaun’s version of “Stay”, and probably liked it (it’s a good cover)! In a world where artists are fighting to move payouts from $.007 per play to more than $.01, though, you have to wonder if Shaun and Tyler are helping to prove that we don’t need the real thing when an army of Song Placebo providers are willing to give us “the same” for less.