Missing Kpop on Spotify: Explained

Spotify KPopIf you’re missing Kpop on Spotify, relax. It’s not you, it’s them. Spotify and Kakao M, a large distributor of Kpop music, have not yet reached an agreement between the global music streaming platform in relation to renewing their global license.

On March 1st, a bulk of Kpop songs appeared to be greyed-out or marked unavailable for streaming on Spotify. “Despite our best efforts, the existing licensing deal we had with Kakao M (which covered all countries other than South Korea) has come to an end,” said a spokesperson for Spotify. The unavailability of these songs has sent waves of concern among Kpop fans across the globe including the Philippines.

Korea has a strong music-streaming culture having platforms like Melon, which is also owned by Kakao M, and Genie as its second-biggest streaming platform. Spotify recently entered the Korean streaming market at the beginning of February sans-Kakao M music available on their platform.

For context, Kakao M distributes songs from a significant number of popular artists, a majority of which make up the top 400 annual hit charts of Korea. For any Korean artist, having their music available on Melon is a lucrative choice to compete with their contemporaries as well as make a profit. However, to broaden their reach to international markets they’d have to work with Spotify, a feature that Melon cannot offer their artists because they’re a local streaming service. This is why Kakao M has the power to monopolize a huge chunk of Kpop songs licensed under them for distribution.

That being said, the absence of these songs are greatly felt by international Spotify users as this is one of their primary legal streaming channels for Kpop music. However, songs under the “Big 4” which include labels like SM, YG, JYP, and Big Hit–who are behind acts like NCT, Blackpink, TWICE, and BTS respectively, aren’t exclusively distributed by Kakao M and can still be enjoyed on Spotify.

The disruption not only affects listeners but as well as artists who hope to reach a global audience, as pointed out by Epik High’s Tablo. “It is our hope that this disruption will be temporary and we can resolve the situation soon. We remain committed to working with local rights holders including Kakao M, to help grow the Korean music market and overall streaming ecosystem together,” Spotify added.

Spotify is no stranger to licensing woes given their rich history with Taylor Swift and Jay-Z pulling their entire discography out of Spotify only to put it all up again on the streaming platform. This is mostly due to the fact Spotify doesn’t pay artists enough. As of 2021, Spotify generally pays between $.003 (Php 0.15) to $.005 (Php 0.24) per stream, meaning an artist needs about 250 streams to make a dollar (Php 45-48.) Then imagine how that has to be evenly split between everyone who contributed to making one song.

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