Fans streaming the new single by pop singer Esthero have discovered it’s been deliberately doctored to protest against Spotify’s royalty rates.
Ninety seconds into Gimme Some Time, the music dips, and Esthero explains the full version of the song will only be available on her website.
The money Spotify generates is “really not a liveable income,” she explains.
“I really hope you enjoy my music enough to actually go and support and buy the song from me.”
Speaking to BBC 5 Live, Esthero said the protest “came from a general sense of frustration and powerlessness,” at the payments offered by services like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, which can be as little as $0.003 per stream.
“I would like to just make a living,” she said. “I can’t give something away for free and expect you to purchase it as well.”
‘I got angry’
The Canadian singer has been writing and recording music since the 1990s, working with the likes of Outkast, the Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West (she played the voice of a robot on his Glow In The Dark Tour).
She grew disillusioned with streaming services last year, after her song Black Mermaid was featured in the Netflix film Nappily Ever After.
“It was like a dream placement,” she said. “It was written into the script of the film, so the lead character was talking about it and saying the lyrics. You really couldn’t ask for any better.”
Thanks to the exposure, Black Mermaid quickly became her most-streamed song, generating 1.3m plays on Spotify alone.
But Esthero says it generated less than $5,000 (£4,031) in royalties. When she compared that to the potential income of a million downloads, “I just sort of got angry”.
Initially, she considered pulling her music down altogether, but then she came up with a cunning plan: Edit the streaming version, so it acts like a “trailer” for the full song, and use it to expose “the fact that the pay is so little” on streaming sites.
“I thought, ‘I should have a little V for Vendetta moment and tell people what’s going on,'” she said.
The protest has already picked up support from artists like Nitin Sawhney and chairman of the Ivors Academy Crispin Hunt, who encouraged people to “smash [the song] into the charts“.
“I’m really glad that she’s brought attention to this,” said Helienne Lindval, who chairs the British Songwriters Committee.
“To make the same amount of money you make from a download, the person who’s listening to the track would have to listen to it 200 or 300 times, sometimes even more than that.
“It’s something that’s affected us so much that people are leaving the industry and artists are finding it hard to survive [even if] they have a lot of fans.”
Lindval added that the financial situation had had a detrimental effect on creativity.
“Because of the streaming economy, it is better to make music that is very broad, that is liked by as many people as possible,” she explained. “So what you get is a more generic and streamlined output of music.”
Esthero said fans had been “extremely supportive” and “understanding” about her protest.
“I think we underestimate the empathy of the audience. If you give people an opportunity to support [you], they will do it.”
She was unsure whether Spotify had noticed her protest, but “I’m assuming they’re going to catch me and take it down” eventually.
The BBC contacted Spotify, which declined to comment on this story.