Spotify has revealed its most streamed songs in Ireland in 2022 – and the results are simultaneously less than earth shattering and more than revealing about the state of home-grown music.
Taylor Swift has been the streaming service’s top artist in Ireland over the past 12 months. That’s no surprise: she’s also the most streamed musician in the UK and the number two globally, behind Bad Bunny. Only one Irish artist, Dermot Kennedy, makes Spotify’s Ireland top 10. He comes in at number six – squeezed between Kanye West and The Weeknd – with his debut album, Without Fear, landing as Spotify’s fourth-most-streamed LP of 2022 here.
Irish singers’ relative lack of success on Spotify will add fuel to the claim that it doesn’t do enough for artists, particularly when it comes to the royalties it pays each time a listener streams a song
If his solitary presence in those lists were not sobering enough for the domestic music industry, a sole Irish track features in the countdown of Spotify’s most popular songs in Ireland this year: Make Me Feel Good, a retro dance number from the Dublin duo Belters Only, which comes fourth.
Otherwise it’s international pop all the way down, with Harry Styles’s sweet, slight As It Was claiming top spot, followed by Where Are You Now by the Belgian DJ Lost Frequencies, and Heat Waves by the UK indie band Glass Animals. Make Me Feel Good is followed by Elton John’s Cold Heart; behind him is another boomer, Kate Bush, whose Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) benefited from a deal with Netflix that saw it feature prominently in season four of Stranger Things.
Entirely absent are the ghosts of Irish pop past: U2, The Cranberries and even the relative newcomer Hozier.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising: Spotify has about 200,000 users in Ireland, and the biggest proportion of them are in the 25-to-34 age group. Spotify’s most streamed music in Ireland is therefore likely to be a Gen Z sugar rush.
But Irish singers’ relative lack of success on the service will add fuel to the claim that Spotify doesn’t do enough for artists, particularly when it comes to the royalties it pays each time a listener streams a song.
“It takes 3.5m Spotify streams a month for a songwriter to earn UK minimum wage £1,600/month – and that’s if they wrote it 100% themselves and own their publishing,” Helienne Lindvall, president of the European Composer & Songwriter Alliance, tweeted in response to this year’s figures. That equates to a fee of less than £0.0005 per stream, which is to say less than 1p per 20 streams – in euro terms, call it roughly 1c for every 18 streams.
And not many Spotify artists rack up anything like enough to make a living from the service: globally, the music of an estimated 11 million artists is on Spotify; only 9,000 of those artists are reported to have more than 100,000 streams a year.
In that context, most artists’ streaming revenue can quickly be eclipsed by the royalties from radio play: here, RTÉ Radio 1 pays €4.11 per minute for every song it broadcasts, or about €14.40 for an average track; 2FM pays €1.44 per minute, for a more modest €5 for an average track. Radio fees in the UK can be a lot higher, of course: a few years ago BBC Radio 2, the UK’s most popular station, was paying £24.27 – that’s £85, or €99, for an average track.
Could Spotify pay Irish artists more? The average fee it pays in the United States is reported to be between $0.003 and $0.005 per stream, which equates to between $3,000 and $5,000 per million streams – or almost 10 times the songwriting figure Helienne Lindvall cited.
Early in his career Dermot Kennedy said that inclusion on a Spotify playlist helped him break through. But more recently he has had cause to reconsider the streaming model
Why is the size of its fees so tricky to pin down? A complicating factor is that Spotify pays the rights holders – usually record companies – rather than the artists. How much individual performers receive when their labels share out their overall streaming revenue is likely to depend on each artist’s contract with their record company.
You also have to factor in Spotify’s “streamshare model”: rather than pay a fixed fee per stream, it explains, “every month, in each country we operate in, we calculate streamshare by adding up how many times music owned or controlled by a particular rights holder was streamed and dividing it by the total number of streams in that market”.
That establishes how much of the pie each rights holder receives each month. But the overall size of the pie isn’t guaranteed. Spotify keeps about 30 per cent of the revenue generated each month by subscriptions and advertising, and passes the other 70 per cent to the music’s copyright holders. If Spotify’s income grows, so will the size of the pie those rights holders share each month; if that income drops, the pie will get smaller.
What does all of this mean for artists in Ireland? One issue is that if Spotify’s Irish users listen to a few dozen global stars half of the time, half of the royalties the company pays from the revenue it generates in Ireland will go to those few dozen stars and their record labels – it’s not hard to find tracks by Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Ed Sheeran that, globally, have been streamed more than a billion times each. In fact Spotify features them on a playlist, all 324 of them. (Hozier and The Script are the only Irish acts on it so far.) That leaves little to share out among the very many other artists whose music is on the service.
A pro-Spotify argument is that streaming helps artists identify where their listeners are, which is crucial information when it comes to arranging tours (live performance being most bands’ sole remaining method of earning a living from their music, given that streaming has largely replaced record sales). There is some truth to this. Early in his career Kennedy said that inclusion on a Spotify playlist helped him break through – Spotify’s biggest playlists are the ultimate destination for any young artist nowadays, regarded as far more important than, for instance, a UK number-one single. Kennedy went so far as to write to the company’s chief executive, Daniel Ek – estimated net worth €1.5 billion – to express his gratitude.
And Kennedy has had a fruitful 2022. He headlined Electric Picnic, then saw his second album, Sonder, go to number one in both Ireland and the UK. But he has had cause to reconsider the streaming model, as he recently told the Daily Telegraph. “I went from doing nothing to doing something because of Spotify,” Kennedy said. “However, I also don’t want to be the artist who is out there whooping and hollering about a platform that doesn’t pay artists a lot of money. They hold the keys in a way. And that’s not fair: artists should be paid more. There’s a conversation to be had for sure: to be getting billions of [streams] and collecting essentially nothing ... It’s pretty wild.”