Part of a noble crusade to get emerging acts over that 1000 Spotify plays bump
Spotify have a reputation of not paying their artists a fair cut of streaming royalties. Spotify CEO and Jeff Bezos lookalike Daniel Ek sees it differently. Not long ago, Ek claimed that a ‘narrative fallacy’ had been created. “Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape,” he stated, going on to say that, “you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” As you can imagine, some musicians were angry. It sounds like turning artistic expression into content farming, and as someone who works in an industry that lost its shame over doing that to journalism about twenty years ago, it’s a bit cringe-inducing.
But let’s be fair and balanced. This is journalism, not content! Maybe Ek has an insight into how the kids are making tunes. Maybe that business model suits future generations. For this <1000 club, where we help a small act get over their first big streaming hurdle, I spoke to the founder of Speak & Spell Records, Josh Fortune. Josh set up his Cambridge-based electronic label when inspired by friends he’d met online through a Discord server.
“I had already built up this giant group of music friends who I love, and a couple of them were artists. I was trying to be an artist myself,” he says. “I wanted a place to put all of it together, and hopefully build a space for artists with an electronic theme.”
Speak & Spell are now a sturdy collective, and have gone on to release impressive, forward-thinking electronic music with a DIY flare. Shye makes gorgeous, playful mood music built on toy pianos and kalimbas. Her album Obscura is a true highlight on the label. Then theirs Vale-Smith’s hyperactive and richly-textured tapes which flip club music into introspective motifs. Under the name Russolo Collective, Josh is making explorative beat collages that emphasise the rough edges; an artist in the editing room.
“I make all my music on my phone,” Josh says, candidly. “The Tape 1 stuff was made on my way to work, on the train, in a coffee shop. I find that sitting down to make music doesn’t work too well for me. It’s very DIY. I grab samples from wherever I can get them. I try and make it as smooth as possible, but I know it’s clunky in places. I kind of like that.
“I use synths and instruments in my band but when It comes to electronic music, the faster I can put stuff together the better. The more accessible the tools are the better.”
Talking to Josh, it’s clear he makes music instinctively, in quick bursts. That speed is what Daniel Ek sees as the future of music. But Spotify isn’t Joshua’s go-to favourite platform.
“Bandcamp provides the space for it,” he says. “It’s so easy to upload. It’s free. You can add merch. The aesthetic of it is just wonderful. It’s easy for people to go on there and just buy stuff. When it comes to other streaming services – and we’ve done this with Vale-Smith and we’ve done it with Shye too – it takes months to get it on there. We don’t have that time. We don’t wanna wait three months.
“If it wasn’t for Vale-Smith I don’t think I’d have my music on Spotify. I don’t really care. If someone wants to listen to my music, I want it on Bandcamp, nowhere else.
Radicalise / Breathe is the only Russolo Collective release currently on streaming. It’s a caustic collection of freeform electronic tracks, not the kind of thing that was made to do big numbers or get playlisted, and for Speak & Spell that’s not the point. They’ve already harnessed a community of creatives and passionate fans. Connection and exploration is clearly more important to them than capital.
Perhaps it’s wrong of me, but I can’t help but wish they all crack the 1000 plays mark soon anyway. Legitimacy through a play count is a silly idea, but there’s no doubt that there are plenty of people who would enjoy these projects who aren’t going to find them unless they get dropped at their feet through the algorithm. Some people just aren’t into spending their nights scrolling Discord or music boards. But those of us who care can tip the balance in art’s favour by supporting it, whether that’s directly on Bandcamp or on streaming. Probably both.
I can’t help but ask Josh what he makes of Ek’s comments. “It baffles me,” he says. “How can you run a music streaming platform and be so out of touch?” Of course, Ek is coming at this music thing from a business angle, not a passion angle, but what Bandcamp and Speak & Spell demonstrate is that those ideas don’t have to compete – that following the interesting stuff benefits everyone. It certainly benefitted me following this unique group of artists through whatever ideas they dream up. Vote with your attention, and give it to Speak & Spell. Let’s get them >1000.
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