Illustration: Gareth Arrowsmith

It’s generally acknowledged that Napster changed the face of the music industry forever. Launched in 1999 and shut down two years later, it spawned numerous online file-sharing programmes or peer-to-peer networks that allowed internet users access to pretty much any song they wanted. This, quite understandably, outraged a music industry who never envisaged that the music they produced would ute available so easily and crucially so freely. Eventually iTunes and other paid for music download services clawed back some of the initiative and millions of pounds that had been lost.

But now Spotify is set to revolutionise once again, it’s probably already doing so for many of you. Unlike Napster it’s legal but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happy about it.

In case you haven’t a clue what Spotify is – it’s is an online streaming music service which allows users access to a library of millions of songs instantly. There’s no downloading or fee paying like iTunes.

Think of a song, type it in and hey presto it’s playing on your computer. There is a paid subscription service but you can forgo this for the sake a few ads inserted into your playlists. All legal.

This is great for music lovers, obviously. But what about music makers?

Spotify insist that they fairly compensate artists whose music is played through their service. But the question is how much is fair? They have said that as their revenues increase from more subscribers and more advertisers, so too will the royalties for artists whose songs are streamed.

But The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) has described Spotify as an “all-you-can-eat music streaming service” and raised concerns about their lack of transparency when it comes to saying just how much they pay artists in royalties.

An excellent graph from the website Information Is Beautiful gives a stark picture of just how pitiful a sum an artist earns from Spotify plays. The amount earned from one play is £0.0002 meaning an artist would need their track to be played over four million times just to earn a basic living.

But what about the little guy and the bands and artists we read about in these pages? Someone has to stick up for them because when it comes to Spotify, these guys are getting a bad deal.

That’s all fine if you’re Lady Gaga. Earlier in the year The Guardian reported that she earned just £105 from her song Poker Face being played on Spotify over one-million times. But Miss Gaga can rely on other revenue streams from sell out concerts and public appearances that involved her being dressed up in the various parts of a dead cow.

But for the up and coming musician recently signed to a record label, it’s not so fine. Their attire is pretty normal and his or her gigs are anything but sell-outs in small venues. Their trying to eek out a living but it’s hard to work on making good music when the reward is so small as is the case when their music is put on and played through Spotify.

If a horribly infectious song like Poker Face can garner just over one millions plays what hopes for some acoustic jingle from some quaint indie boppers from somewhere average like Wigan. Are their any quaint indie boppers from Wigan, I wonder?

Since launching in Europe in 2008, Spotify have been seen as the good guys, certainly good in comparison to the illegal file sharing networks that continue to operate across the internet in the aftermath of Napster, which itself is now a fully legal online music service.

But in doing so it appears that they have escaped in-depth scrutiny save for certain bloggers with time on their hands to look into the nitty-gritty of just what they do or don’t do for artists.

All that said, Spotify hasn’t yet hit the US and there’s a pretty good reason for that. A lot of people in the music industry don’t like it. It has so far failed to secure licences from Universal, Warner, Sony and EMI.

Meanwhile Apple, whose iTunes service Spotify directly challenges, has told major record label execs that they doubt whether the music subscription service can ever generate significant revenue.  It’s a valid point when just 3.5% of the 7 million people who currently use Spotify actually pay the subscription fee for it.

Undoubtedly there’s a big benefit to Spotify, it allows us – the music connoisseurs – unfettered access to music from all over the world, of all different genres.

But what about the little guy and the bands and artists we read about in these pages? Someone has to stick up for them because when it comes to Spotify, these guys are getting a bad deal.

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