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Spotify's Loud and Clear site includes an analogy between musicians and football players, ostensibly to explain how "aspirations" to make money from creative/athletic pursuits are more widespread than actual career success.  

This comparison is not original or unique to Spotify, and does make some limited sense. With both art and sports, you can choose to spend your time on them, and the process of making music or training for football is labor in the sense of requiring time and effort, but most of the people making this choice are not going to end up being financially compensated for their labor. A small minority are able to make a living from it, but you cannot join this minority simply by wanting.  

The key difference between music streaming and football, however, is that in music, every stadium is Wembley.  

If you are an amateur soccer player, you know that you are an amateur soccer player. You play on an amateur team, in an amateur league, probably with amateur referees in a random city park that has other uses the rest of the week. No matter how astonishing a goal you score, it is a goal in an amateur game in a park on Sunday.  

In music, however, everybody plays in the same venue, nominally in the same league. Any song on any of the major commercial music-streaming services could be streamed 1 billion times tomorrow. Structurally, in the music version of football, an amateur player from a local park could kick a ball and it could slip past Caoimhin Kelleher in the 121st minute to send Liverpool crashing out of the FA Cup.  

That game was at Old Trafford, not Wembley, but the point is that this mostly doesn't happen. The statistical economic dynamics of music and football are very similar, which is why the analogy presented itself in the first place. But the aspirations are exactly why it doesn't work. In football, not only do you know your current status, but you can see the potential future steps in your career, and how they might happen. You could impress a local scout with your park goal, and get a tryout for a local semi-pro team. You could lead the semi-pro league in assists and get signed for a year by a second-division team. You could captain your second-division team to promotion, and like a fairy-tale, three years later you are getting crushed 7-0 by Manchester City and trying to claw your way out of the relegation zone so your dream can continue just a little bit longer.  

In music, there used to be a story like this. You played club gigs in your hometown, and gave demo tapes to your friends. Somebody who ran a local label maybe heard you and liked you enough to help you put out a record. Maybe that record got played on college radio a little, and got you a chance at a deal on a minor major label. Maybe your minor major-label debut had a minor hit. Maybe your label stuck with you and you got to make more records. Maybe your third album has a song about getting drunk alone in your hometown and introducing yourself again to your friend's mother and it blows up and suddenly you are playing in Wembley. Or Fenway Park, at least.  

Streaming offers the tantalizing illusion that these laborious steps have been eliminated by technology. But really they haven't. Music is an attention economy. The dominance of the biggest attention companies used to be reinforced by constraints of physical distribution, but it mostly survives the format shift. Most of the songs on the biggest playlists still come from the three major labels.  

Which doesn't mean that the story of your potential career hasn't changed. The new steps might involve playlists instead of clubs, viral videos instead of college radio, and maybe a judicious distribution deal instead of an old-school contract with an advance you will never recoup. And these new steps, if they happen, could happen more suddenly than the old steps, and thus it can feel like they could happen suddenly at any moment.  

But, still, mostly they won't. Mostly the paths to big success still go through labels, particularly major ones. Mostly the old major-attention economy survives through minor adaptations. Whatever aspirations they have, or labor they expend, most of the 10 million artists on streaming services will never get beyond semi-professional status in the most marginal sense of "semi". I have songs on Spotify, too. They took labor to make. A few people have streamed them, and I have been paid a few cents for those streams. Last time I checked, my lifetime earnings from streaming music were well on the way to $5. From $4.  

But I am an amateur. I know I'm an amateur, I'm not trying to make a living by making music. If streaming services all start imposing minimum stream-thresholds for royalty payouts, I may never get to that glittering $5 in the distance, and that will be morally disappointing but practically fine.  

If you're trying to become a professional, it's not fine. If regressive thresholds take away your sense of progress, that's not fine. If the successes you aspire towards operate like lotteries, so that you can't work towards them, that's not fine. If the people who operate the economy in which you will or will not be able to make a living sound like they are dismissing you as a non-participant, that's not fine.  

I like the football analogy, actually, but I think it applies the other way around: if you own a stadium, and you invite all the players in the world to come in and play in front of all the fans, you don't have to promise them all glory, but you better not try to tell them that some of their goals won't count.
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