Functional content — think rain noises, whale sounds, recordings of wind rustling the leaves and the like — will be significantly devalued under Spotify’s new royalty system: Plays of this audio will generate one fifth of the royalties generated by a play of a musical track, according to a source with knowledge of the streaming service’s new policy.
In response to a request for comment, a Spotify spokesperson pointed Billboard to the streaming service’s blog post from Tuesday (Nov. 21). The blog notes that, “over the coming months,” Spotify will “work with licensors to value noise streams at a fraction of the value of music streams.” The blog does not say what the fractional amount will be.
Spotify’s decision to count functional content at 20% of the rate for music tracks is the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of bad press for rain sounds and the like. While this type of audio is often used for the seemingly innocuous purpose of relaxing after a long and stressful day, Spotify wrote on its blog that the space is “sometimes exploited by bad actors who cut their tracks artificially short — with no artistic merit — in order to maximize royalty-bearing streams.”
This initiative, says Spotify’s blog post, is intended to free up “extra money to go back into the royalty pool for honest, hard working artists.”
As a result, some of the most powerful executives in music have launched a sustained assault on rain and its various non-musical cousins over the course of 2023. “It can’t be that an Ed Sheeran stream is worth exactly the same as a stream of rain falling on the roof,” Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl told analysts in May.
Two months later, Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge told analysts that streaming services must ensure that “real artists don’t have their royalties diluted by noise and other content that has no meaningful engagement from music fans.” He later amped up the rhetoric by describing companies that upload this content as “merchants of garbage” that were “flooding the platform with content that has absolutely no engagement with fans, doesn’t help churn, doesn’t merchandise great music and professional artists.”
When UMG rolled out a new royalty system with Deezer in September, the streaming service said it would replace “non-artist noise content” with its own functional music, while also excluding this audio from the royalty pool. “The sound of rain or a washing machine is not as valuable as a song from your favorite artist streamed in HiFi,” Deezer CEO Jeronimo Folgueira said. Deezer said plays of rain, washing machines and other non-music noise content counts for roughly 2% of all streams.
Spotify did not provide a comparable number in its blog post. It is taking one other step to limit the impact of functional content on the royalty pool: To generate royalties, a functional audio track must be longer than two minutes.
“These policies will right-size the revenue opportunity for noise uploaders,” Spotify wrote. “Currently, the opportunity is so large that uploaders flood streaming services with undifferentiated noise recordings, hoping to attract enough search traffic to generate royalties.”
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