No More Poormouthing: Daniel Ek’s $310,000,000 Edifice Complex is Real, and Spotify’s PR Effluvia is Overflowing

As we reported February 9, Spotify is using hundreds of millions of its supernormal stock market riches to acquire naming rights to the Barcelona soccer team. The latest manifestation of Daniel Ek’s monopolist edifice complex was confirmed by Music Business World Wide and Variety among others, as well as Spotify itself. Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou stadium (largest football stadium in Europe) will now be known as Spotify Camp Nou.

I assume that when Netflix finds out about this, there will be an epilogue to their Edward Bernays-style epic corporate biopic that will ignore the Rogan catastrophe but will include the Barcelona deal with a tight shot on the Spotify Camp Nou and probably a t-shirt vendor.

Let us take one clear message from this navel-gazing naming-rights deal to assuage Daniel Ek’s psyche after a losing bid to acquire the Arsenal football club and join the International League of Oligarchs. That message is that we don’t ever want to hear again about how Spotify “can’t make a profit” or “pays out too much money for music.” Daniel Ek–who controls the company through his super voting stock–has been running that diversion play for way too long and it’s just as much BS spewing from his mouth as it is any of the Silicon Valley oligarchs who whinge about how poor they are when they appear in court.

Let us also agree that anyone who takes a royalty deal from any DSP that does not include an allocation for stock valuation is quite simply a rube who must be laughed at and mocked in the Spotify board room. This stock value allocation doesn’t require a grant of shares, but can include a dollar contribution that tracks share value and should be paid directly to both featured artists, session musicians and vocalists through their collective rights organizations on a nonrecoupment basis.

But don’t let me describe the bullshit, read it yourself directly from Spotify’s “Chief Freemium Business Officer” whatever the hell that means:

Statement of Alex Norström, Chief Freemium Business Officer, Spotify

“We could not be more thrilled to be partnering with FC Barcelona to bring the worlds of Music and Football together. From July, our collaboration will offer a global stage to Artists, Players and Fans at the newly-branded Spotify Camp Nou. We have always used our marketing investment to amplify Artists and this partnership will take this approach to a new scale. We’re excited to create new opportunities to connect with FC Barcelona’s worldwide fanbase.

Spotify’s mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity, supporting artists to make a living off their art and connecting with fans. We believe this partnership creates many opportunities to deliver on this mission in unique, imaginative, and impactful ways.”

Yes, that’s right. Daniel Ek’s edifice complex is all about unlocking the potential of human creativity because it’s all for the artists, don’t you know.

These people continue to embarrass themselves with their insufferable 1999er BS without realizing that any artist whose name shows up on a single Barcelona jersey will extract a considerable additional payment that the artist will keep and the labels won’t save Spotify on that one. Even if they do, there are only certain artists who don’t mind their names appearing on Barcelona jerseys–for a price. The overwhelming majority will not only not want it but are insulted that the “Chief Freemium Business Officer” is so ignorant of their name and likeness rights that he would even remotely float the idea that Spotify had the right to do anything like that level of grift.

If Mr. Freemium is really serious about “supporting artists to make a living off their art”, forego the edifice stroke and just pay that money directly to featured artists, session folk, and songwriters that have made him rich. Until then, he should just say you’re damn right we used the stockholders money to soothe Daniel Ek’s wounded ego because he desperately wants to be accepted by the Party of Davos and the League of Extraordinary Dweebs. Because we’ve already established what kind of people they are, it’s just a question of negotiating the price.

But let’s face it–what the monopolist really wants is a branded Monopoly game.

Working for free only pays off for the owners of AI. And then there’s a negative side.

Yes, the word around the pitstop on the race to The Singularity is that the Epsilons are getting tired. The dominance of artificial intelligence playlist algorithms on artists’ careers is beyond chafing at a surface level–it’s wearing away muscle and bone.

Stuart Dredge has an insightful post on the subject with a couple choice quotes:

“We’re asking artists to do a lot. They’re not just recording and touring. Now they’re expected to understand crypto and NFTs, and expected to be using TikTok on a regular basis, and be on their Twitter feed, and on Instagram, and creating content and engaging with fans,” said Matthew Maysonet, head of sales and marketing at Empire.

“It’s a huge task! They’re holding multiple jobs in addition to creating art, and I think a lot of times, people forget that music is art, and it takes a certain mindset and level of focus to create that itself, let alone commercialise and monetise it.”

“We do risk burnout for some artists who are using all these socials, including having to worry about the algorithms on different DSPs. ‘If I don’t release a single every five to six weeks I’m not pinging that algorithm and my monthly listeners are going to decrease…’”

“Those are things that artists never had to really worry about before, at least on this score. I’m excited to see how we as an industry accommodate and approach that over the next few years to even things out a little bit… I think it’s something we should be addressing.”

It is something we should be addressing, but it’s at the core of the streaming juggernaut that has made a number of powerful people very, very rich. We don’t have to renew Daniel Ek’s role as Simon Legree, but firing him will not be easy since he essentially is the streaming hegemon based on his supervoting shares of Spotify’s stock alone.

What is artificial intelligence that is at the core of playlist algorithms? it’s kind of like having a continual seat belt warning with an automated driving system that keeps you from moving over 5 mph but forces you to drive forward and then backward over endless speed bumps combined with always-on parental controls all rolled into one and implanted in your brain, but operated by droids who speak in sentences they claim to be declarative but end with a question inflection who keep warning you that you’re choosing not to work hard enough for a reward (so it’s your fault you’re broke) while Daniel Ek and the swamp children float through a miasma of misery asking “how many fingers, Winston?” as though that made sense. And you do it all for free so a Prime Mover can scrape your data, your fans’ data, and the data of your unborn children and sell it to the other members of the data timocracy, all for the hope of hitting a jackpot when the odds are all on the house. Because Justin Bieber.

Cool, huh? Let’s have more of that. And somewhere Russ Solomon is saying, “Miss me yet?” This is why I say “data is the new exposure.”

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that artists have had about enough of this whole thing, but having boarded Kafka’s Merry Go Round with hope, they are having a hard time getting off with their sanity.

Which is to say that changing this predictable Hunter S. Thompson universe we’ve allowed to fester is not going to be easy, but if we don’t…we may find that “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Daniel Ek’s Edifice Complex: Millions for tribute, but not one red cent for royalties as Spotify buys naming rights to biggest football stadium in Europe

If screwups were Easter eggs, Daniel Ek would be the Easter bunny. Right in the middle of Spotify’s crashing stock price, billion-dollar stock buy backs, shenanigans at the Copyright Royalty Board (which grows more chaotic by the day), the Joe Rogan controversy, and an investigation by the UK competition authorities after an investigation by the Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee of the UK House of Commons, here’s another Easter egg that Little Danny missed.

According to Marca, the sport site based in Spain, Ek is soothing his (so far) failed bid to buy the UK football club Arsenal by acquiring the naming rights to Barcelona FC’s super-stadium, Camp Nou, the largest football stadium in Europe. According to Marca:

Sponsorship seems to be the way in which Laporta hopes to get the Blaugrana out of the red and into the black.

An agreement with music streaming platform Spotify, which is expected to be confirmed imminently, will see the club receive 225 million euros.

In turn, Spotify will sponsor the men and women’s shirts as well as their training wear. Furthermore, Spotify will have the rights to the stadium for the next three seasons- which has received mixed reviews from fans of the club.

Barcelona expect annual income of 20 million euros from Spotify to sponsor the Camp Nou, which is estimated to be more than Manchester City‘s deal with Etihad – who sponsor their stadium for 15 million euros per season.

That’s right–not one red cent for artists (or songwriters) but millions for tribute. And how did this deal come about do you think? Well, realize that Barcelona is also shopping for a rather large loan to renovate the Camp Nou stadium and they turned to…Goldman Sachs, which happens to be one of Spotify’s investment bankers. So which came first?

Does Goldman think there’s anything unethical about a company that screws creators all the livelong day but spends hundreds of millions on naming a soccer stadium after itself? (OK, I got that out with a straight face, but you can laugh now.) Evidently not, because in the catechism of Goldman, you stop at the fees novena.

And speaking of fees, what is the source of funds for Daniel Ek’s latest self-aggrandizement or whatever you call it? Perhaps a loan from Goldman before interest rates spike this year if the Federal Reserve really does say goodbye to the easy money era that has bubbled up assets around the world?

Spotify’s Got Another Artist Relations Issue: Joe Rogan

Remember when Spotify bought Joe Rogan’s podcast and signed him to deliver futures? Big money, big press release. Big chuckles in some quarters, why? Welcome to the world of artist relations, Mr. Ek.

Here’s a suggestion. When you sign an artist who you know is controversial going in, expect…you know…controversy. Is that really so hard to figure out? And understand that whatever that artist does, their brand is potentially going to be wrapped around your brand.

In Spotify’s case, there are plenty of controversial recording artists who have been distributed by Spotify. None of that has blown back on Spotify. In Joe Rogan’s case, however, Spotify is essentially the label. Remember all that guff from Daniel Ek about middlemen and gatekeepers? Well, guess what? Spotify is ostensibly Joe Rogan’s gatekeeper, but nobody told Joe Rogan. Which is problem #1 for Daniel Ek.

I seriously doubt that Mr. Rogan gives a hoot what Mr. Ek or any of his employees think of Mr. Rogan. I’m not a listener, so I have no idea how genuine the outrage is, but even if it is the most genuine outrage, Daniel Ek signed up for this. Daniel Ek paid lots of the shareholders’ money for this. Daniel Ek has the company’s governance structure rigged so he’s both president for life and also controls the board. Which is problem #2 for Daniel Ek–he brought this on himself.

So here’s a little unsolicited advice. When your artist comes to you with a recording that you simply cannot bring yourself to release, what you don’t do is tell them to change it. What you don’t do is censor them. That is, as we say in the trade, a chickenshit move. And I don’t care which or how many employees are offended.

What you do is you offer the artist one of two options, both of which are financially painful but ethically healing. First, you have a frank conversation with the artist where you explain that you are not putting out their record but you respect their right to say what they want to say. And if you don’t actually believe that, then you are in the wrong business and you have problem #3.

Then you tell the artist, I will let you go and you don’t owe me anything. This is the clean break option.

If the artist doesn’t want to leave–and notice that money has not come into the conversation and isn’t going to–you tell them they are free to take the record somewhere else and Godspeed and you’ll work with them on their next record. You want nothing more than to preserve your relationship with the artist whether on or off the label. You should want this because if you thought highly enough of them to sign them in the first place, and if they thought highly enough of you to sign with you in the first place, then that relationship is what matters, not the cash.

The cash is rarely significant and soon will be forgotten…well, you’ll definitely take grief from the bean counters, but screw them. What people remember is how you conducted yourself in the situation. That’s what matters.

And that is what seems to be lost on Mr. Ek. Be honest–are you surprised?

@ArjunKharpal: Chinese tech giant [and Spotify partner] Tencent reportedly surveilled foreign users of WeChat to help censorship at home

[Editor Charlie sez, what data does Tencent scrape for listeners to the Tibetan Freedom Concert...oh, right, that’s not available.]

Chinese internet giant Tencent has reportedly been surveilling content posted by foreign users on its wildly popular messaging service WeChat in order to help it refine censorship on its platform at home.

WeChat has over 1 billion users globally. It is the most popular messaging app in China and ingrained in daily life, allowing people to do everything from making payments to hailing taxis.

Surveillance and censorship of social media and messaging platforms in China is commonplace. Companies that run such services often remove or block content that is likely to offend Beijing.

But Citizen Lab, a research center that is part of the University of Toronto, said in a report published Thursday, that “documents and images shared among non-China-registered accounts are subject to content surveillance and are used to build up the database WeChat uses to censor China-registered accounts.”

Read the post on CNBC