Daniel Ek, Defense Tech and why ‘Boycott Spotify’ is gaining momentum – Billboard

With 2,141 SoundCloud followers, the veteran British psychedelic music producer Darren Sangita didn’t really hurt Spotify when it pulled its music from the streaming service last month. “I’m a zed-list music celebrity,” he says. But he couldn’t support a company whose founder, Daniel Eck, has invested more than $114 million in Helsing, a European security startup that makes artificial intelligence software to “protect liberal democracies from harm.”

“Indirect evidence points to massive investment in military/AI technology,” says Sangita, who runs independent label Sangita Sounds. “I was just extremely disappointed. Aren’t there other alternatives that Mr. Ek could have thought of investing in to make the world a better place and perhaps a safer place to live?

The early November investment of Ek’s year-and-a-half-old company Prima Materia sparked a social media ‘boycott Spotify‘ movement that gradually overtook the Z-list. Skee Mask, a German techno producer and DJ, discouraged his 16,900 Twitter followers earlier this month from donating their “last penny to such a wealthy company that obviously prefers war development to real progress in the music industry. music”.

The investment in Helsing, whose executives told the Financial Times they specialize in using infrared, sonar and radio frequencies from military vehicle sensors to help soldiers detect enemy drones and hostile troops, adds to Spotify’s irritating artist story on its platform. Although all three major labels have a stake in the company and audio streaming grew 12.6% in 2021, according to MRC Data, artists from Paul McCartney to David Crosby have criticized the platform for its low royalties. “It’s such a small percentage,” McCartney said last year.

Like YouTube and Apple’s iTunes Store in earlier eras, Spotify has become a distributor artists can’t afford to bypass, given its 381 million users worldwide, including 172 million paying subscribers. . But for Samir Gupta, a percussionist from Brooklyn, NY, who combines jazz and Indian tabla music, Ek’s investment in Helsing was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, causing him to remove his music from Spotify for focus on Bandcamp, where he released 15 albums. “All that money that’s taken from artists and musicians is funneled into that,” he says, referring to Helsing. “I don’t know a single musician who would ever say, ‘That’s the function of music.'”

Artists have rarely boycotted distributors of their own music: in 2014, Taylor Swift briefly pulled her catalog from Spotify; for years, stars from Garth Brooks to Kid Rock have refused to allow their songs on the iTunes Store; and Prince wouldn’t allow YouTube streaming. More recently, Spotify has recently become a flashpoint for artists bored with the streaming economy. Last April, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers staged a picket outside the Swedish company’s global offices. “It affects everyone, and it’s something a lot of musicians don’t know about because they don’t pay attention to Spotify,” the singer-songwriter said. Julia Holter told the Los Angeles Times.

Representatives for Spotify and Prima Materia would not comment. According to the investment firm’s website, it has invested in Northvolt, a battery cell company aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% over the next eight years, and H2 Green Steel, a technology company producing batteries. low carbon steel. The company “works with scientists, engineers, inventors and investors to develop some of the cutting-edge technology needed to have a significant positive impact,” its website says.

Spotify is not the first in the music business to generate backlash for working with military entities – directly or indirectly. In 2015, Apple, which created the iTunes Store, iPod and Apple Music, partnered with the Pentagon to produce a wearable product for soldiers called expandable electronics. In the late 2000s, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Usher and others received up to $1 million each for private concerts for family members of late Libyan dictator Mumar el-Gaddafi.

Anita Ramasastry, a law professor at the University of Washington who teaches a course on business, social responsibility and human rights, would not comment on Spotify, Helsing or Prima Materia, but pointed out that a company should have a “human rights policy” to guide its investments. “A company like Spotify should use its influence to try to prevent harm,” she says. “It’s not just about profit. It’s about ‘what is the end result of the company they invested in?’

Victor L. Jones