The age of streaming has flatlined musical consumption and communities. Underground musicians are able to leverage the same tools as say, Ariana Grande or Bruno Mars, making discovery and access to any kind of artist or genre easier than it has ever been. So, with an unprecedented amount of music at our fingertips, spanning every possible taste, is this increased visibility in line with compensation? The short answer would be no, and it isn’t limited to music — comedy is undergoing a similar crisis.
This week the Wall Street Journal reported that Spotify had removed the work of hundreds of comedians from its platform, including some of the biggest names in the game like John Mulaney, Tiffany Hadish, and Kevin Hart. The decision was made because of a royalties dispute between the streaming behemoth and Spoken Giant, a global rights administration company that helps “comedians, podcast authors, speech writers, and other spoken word creators” reap the total benefits of the work they create.
A number of comics, like the ones mentioned earlier, are backed by Spoken Giant as the company attempts to change the way royalties are earned by these kinds of entertainers. When a comedian’s jokes are played though a digital service(s) like Pandora, Spotify, or YouTube, they earn compensation through their label or distributor. However, the process of actually constructing this content (i.e. the writing process) does not generate any compensation for the artist in question. This is where Spoken Giant comes into play.
Songwriting parallel — Songwriters collect royalties for writing music, but comedians don’t enjoy the same benefit for writing their own jokes. As the consumption of both music and comedy has converged through digital service providers, Spoken Giant has brought this discrepancy to the negotiation table with Spotify. Discussions stalled on November 24 and shortly thereafter, material from those being represented by Spoken Giant was pulled.
The reasoning? While there was nothing concrete, Spotify did provide a statement to the WSJ, outlining that it had dolled out “significant amounts of money for the content in question, and would love to continue to do so.” Whether or not discussions will continue in the future is still up in the air — as is the possibility of this content returning to the service.
Streaming is not going away and, in fact, is embedding itself even further in our daily lives. As many of us choose the most convenient route to consume art, it begs the question of whether or not that can be done ethically.