Episode 6 of The Playlist sees the final piece of the puzzle come into view – the artist. Those talented men and women who actually produce the music we love to listen to. Naturally the episode opens with a beautiful stage performance before we jump forward to Stockholm in 2024. We see exactly what the digitalization of music and the effect Spotify and other streaming services have had on artists like Bobbi T. Remember her? She’s the woman we’ve been seeing snippets of across the season.
Before that, Daniel meets with an investor called Jim, who wants to maximize revenue using their newest venture “Discovery Max.” No it’s not a TV channel but another part of Spotify that will bring down the cost of music. This new model would see record companies make off with 70% of the profit and halve the royalties given to artists. Daniel agrees, tentatively, but tells him to do it in a way that “keeps people on their side.”
That’s easier said than done when there are protests about Spotify’s impact on the music industry. Specifically, the protestors bring up how stifling this whole endeavour has been for them. Bobbi is one such artist feeling Spotify’s effect. She’s struggling to provide for her children. The more gigs Bobbi does, the closer she’ll get to giving her daughter what she wants, which includes a new iPhone.
Eventually Bobbi speaks out. She releases a video of her talking to the masses, telling them she’s written 6 albums in the last 10 years. She’s had many hits and some of her songs have been played close to 200,000 times a month of Spotify. However, she can’t actually pay for her rent so she’s been taking side gigs in order to pay her way.
The irony here is that record labels are actually making more money now than they ever did before, with the industry raking in 23 million dollars last year. And how much do the artists make? Peanuts by comparison.
Bobbi reaches out to Daniel personally, telling him they should sit down and talk about a new model that benefits everyone. However, Daniel watches Bobbi’s video apathetically and simply unfollows her. Despite that, the video goes absolutely viral and those small protests outside Spotify HQ turns into a massive movement as people and artists turn against Daniel Ek and the others, with the hashtag “Scratch the record” hitting the masses.
Time of change is upon them, and with some of the salaries for the Spotify execs reaching six figures (all whilst musicians are struggling to make a living), it’s another sickening example of the growing divide between the rich and the poor. It’s not a great look. Daniel is told by the investors not to let this get any bigger than it already is, but time is very much of the essence and the situation very volatile.
Daniel blames himself for what he’s signed up for, realizing that the balance of power has once again switched back to the very people he was trying hard to stick it to originally. Daniel shows up to meet with Bobbi in a bar and offers to show her the secrets of becoming successful on Spotify. Bobbi turns it around, pointing out all the other musicians struggling and how, as the most powerful person in the music industry right now, he’s not doing enough to make a fairer platform for artists to shine.
Fast forward to Washington DC in 2025 and with “Scratch That Record” still doing waves, Daniel Ek is brought in to try and speak Spotify’s case. Bobbi T is there as well, and she listens as Daniel Ek is brought before the senate to explain the state of the finances for different artists.
Spotify controls a majority of the stake in many countries and in some, they have five times as many users as their nearest rival. And yet, some artists are making as much as *checks notes* 12 dollars a month. However, these artists can’t exactly take themselves off the platform as it would mean they lose their exposure to the masses. So in all intents and purposes, Spotify is basically a monopoly.
Senator Landy likens Spotify to a cartel, which rattles Daniel Ek who realizes exactly what he’s built. Bobbi also gives an impassioned speech about musician rights and how streaming has become an exploitation, and until the balance of power is redressed and made fairer for everyone, the ones who suffer the most are those who make the music.
After the hearing, Bobbi and Daniel Ek talk. The latter admits that he regrets not walking out on the negotiations and deciding to do everything on his terms. Had he not listened to everyone else, things could have been different. But as it stands… they’re not. And Bobbi walks away.
The final episode ends things on a thought provoking note, highlighting the troubles artists have in an industry that continues to slip further toward a monopoly every day. This chapter does a great job highlighting all of that, with a desire to really get to the root cause of how difficult it is to make a living as a musician nowadays.
I mean, it wasn’t much better before with record labels taking a good chunk of money but perhaps it was less damaging than it is now.
The show has been a really solid watch on the whole, effectively showing the inception and current business model of Spotify and how it came about, along with al the casualties along the way and how difficult it is to make a living in this industry.
The visuals and cinematography on the whole have been pretty good and the ending certainly wraps things up nicely, with Daniel Ek on one side and Bobbi on the other, either side of the Washington Monument.
While it’s not the best drama of the year, this has been a thoroughly enjoyable watch on the whole and certainly a thought provoking one too!