What Should Indie Artists Do When Spotify Doesn’t Pay?

Canadian singer-songwriter Esthero released a single on streaming services following a major sync license. Her earnings weren’t enough to cover three months of living expenses, let alone living, creating, and thriving.
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This is a guest editorial and podcast by Michael “Double 0” Aguilar​,​ a music producer, former Olympian, and one-half of the hip-hop group Kidz In The Hall. ​Subscribe here to ​Aguilar’​s ​Free Range podcast, a discussion about the world through the lens of hip-hop.

Embarking on a recording career is a herculean task in 2020. Not only do you have to spend 10,000 hours becoming a master of your craft, but you also have to become an expert promoter, marketer, video editor, photographer, comedian, and model. Then, once you release your art into the world, you need something new for the next week, because everyone’s attention span is short. 

When you are truly independent—no manager, no budget, no publicists—this process can seem fruitless. This feeling of pointlessness is what Canadian singer-songwriter and one of hip-hop’s muses, Esthero, discovered when she released her latest single “Baby Steps.” 

On the heels of a significant sync license for her song “Black Mermaid” in the Netflix flick, Nappily Ever After, Esthero believed the resurgence of her old music would help drive the new single. After about a month on streaming services, she realized there was a big problem. Even if she reached a few million plays on “Baby Steps,” the payout wouldn’t even cover three months of living expenses, let alone living, creating, and thriving. 

With that, Esthero decided streaming wasn’t the best way to release her record. She pulled it off streaming sites and pointed everyone within social media earshot to her website to purchase a digital download—the old-fashioned way. Her economics were vastly better, and even if fewer people heard the music, at least it felt like, monetarily, it was worth releasing.

When it came to the next single, Esthero decided to try the streaming services one last time. This time, however, she brought a brick and mortar business tactic with her: The sampler. Rather than uploading a full song to streaming services, Esthero opted to post a snippet of the song with an ad embedded in the file, instructing the people listening to buy her music on her website. Consider this a brilliant chess move to circumvent a system that, as of this writing, has yet to figure out a legitimate way of supporting artists monetarily.

Below, you’ll find my sit down with Esthero, where we dig deeper into her reasoning behind the brilliant embedded ad and ultimately discover how the move impacted her career goals.