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Spotify vs. songwriters: a controversial tale

Posted at 8:38 PM, Jul 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-02 21:39:24-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Spotify recently sent out a message to songwriters: We paid you too much money last year, and now we want our money back.

According to Spotify, because of changes in how songwriters and publishers are paid, they actually overpaid songwriters and are requesting reimbursement.

Spotify is one of the most popular places to listen to music online. They have curated playlists filled with the most popular artists on the planet, as well as up-and-comers, but what they don't have is the support of a growing number of songwriters.

“Spotify: they just don’t get it,” Bart Herbison, executive director at Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) said.

The people at NSAI work on behalf of songwriters to get them better pay and more say in the industry.

They've had a lot of wins recently, including helping pass the most progressive copyright reform bill in the past century in 2018, as well as securing a pay raise for songwriters, because in this streaming age, it's hard for songwriters to actually see a paycheck from their songs.

Even if you co-write a major hit like “Livin' on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, you'll only see an extremely small portion of profits.

“For 35 million plays for one of those songs, the songwriters earned 185 dollars,” Herbison said.

That's another reason why NSAI and songwriters are unhappy about Spotify trying to take money away from them after they were already paid last year.

NSAI announced they want to audit Spotify to see where all the money is going, and whether songwriters actually owe anything.

“Without any court challenge, open those books, let us audit you, and see if you overpaid,” Herbison said, directing the request at Spotify.

Regardless of the overpay issue, Herbison said that Spotify is not a true supporter of songwriters, because they're appealing decisions that get songwriters more money, which other companies are doing as well, but Herbison says those companies are not capitalizing on their talent.

“Those other companies aren’t having songwriter awards, or songwriter playlists, or programs like ‘the songwriters secret genius’ and then turning around and just spitting on us,” Herbison said, adding that he's encouraging people to switch to Apple Music instead of Spotify. “Apple didn’t appeal that verdict. They said, you know what, it’s fair, we’re going to pay the songwriters, we’re not going to challenge that.”

Many prominent songwriters throughout Nashville have already canceled their Spotify premium subscriptions in hopes to make a statement.

“The only way Spotify or any business or corporation is going to feel this is in their pocket book,” Herbison said. “Cancel your Spotify subscription and go with Apple. That sends a message, and that is supporting the American songwriter.”

Spotify did not respond to a request for comment on this story.