Spotify is designed to make itself indispensable. It offers up endless choices. It keeps playing when the track or album you\u2019ve clicked on is over. It tries to predict your tastes, so you keep consuming content\u2014er, music\u2014for as long as possible. But at the end of the day, it\u2019s just a format. And Spotify may not be the right format for everybody. That became clear recently when Spotify CEO Daniel Ek shared a disturbingly narrow vision of how music and musicians should work. In an interview with the website Music Ally, the tech billionaire responded to criticisms that Spotify doesn\u2019t pay artists enough by pointing to the artists themselves. \u201come artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can\u2019t record music once every three to four years and think that\u2019s going to be enough,\u201d he said. \u201cThe artists today that are making it realize that it\u2019s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.\u201d Not surprisingly, Ek\u2019s prescription for success didn\u2019t sit well with many musicians, who felt that he was favoring production schedules and marketing campaigns over the intimacy and craft of the creative process. \u201cIt really illustrated his ignorance about how musicians operate,\u201d Nika Roza Danilova, better known as songwriter Zola Jesus, tells\u00a0SPIN. \u201cAnd it really revealed his utter lack of empathy or understanding of the arts. Which made me realize he\u2019s not really probably a fan of the arts\u2014he\u2019s a fan of business.\u201d In some ways, Ek is right. Music, like many forms of content creation these days, requires artists to embrace technology and market themselves in ways they\u2019ve never done before. On top of writing music, an independent artist interested in building a career and fan base also has to engage with social media, regularly maintain digital platforms, and tour relentlessly to pay the bills. Success relies on a type of all-consuming, tech-savvy engagement that would\u2019ve been unthinkable 20 years ago\u2014and Spotify is hardly the only platform responsible for that reality. Yet this doesn\u2019t make the process of actually conceiving the next Kid A or Purple Rain any less laborious. Nor does it make Spotify\u2019s royalty payouts any less meager for many musicians, who according\u00a0to one recent estimate earn a whopping $0.00348 per track stream on Spotify\u2019s platform. As Cracker singer David Lowery shows in the report, by that rate you\u2019ll need a million streams just to make $3,500. Many niche and experimental artists have different definitions of creative expression and success. Getting a million streams is not really a part of that picture, but their art is still worthwhile and they still deserve to make a living. Of course, there are also artists and creatives working in more behind-the-scenes roles\u2014as backing musicians and other studio contributors. Their work often goes unacknowledged on the Spotify app, which doesn\u2019t feature the kind of expansive liner notes found in a traditional record sleeve or on sites like Discogs. These artists don\u2019t cater directly to fan bases or produce music with an eye towards maximum listenership\u2014but they\u2019re still undeniably a part of this vast, unwieldy community, whether they're acknowledged or not. Holly Herndon, speaking by phone from her home in Berlin, sees the issue as going beyond just one executive or platform. In Interdependence, a new podcast that she hosts with her partner, digital artist and philosopher Mat Dryhurst, they\u2019ve been discussing how to transition away from the idea of independence (celebrated in Spotify\u2019s case by its emphasis on endless choice and personal playlist curation) and move towards a model of collective engagement and community with a \u201cnarrative of interdependence.\u201d One of the guests on the podcast was Jesse Walden, an investor behind a recent venture capital undertaking called Variant Fund, which promotes using blockchain technology to develop essentially co-op versions of digital platforms, where users who contribute content get an ownership stake. \u201cEverything feels a little bit too atomized at the moment. Like, even working with a Patreon or something like that, it still feels like this kind of independent, solo endeavor when I feel like there could be more collective projects,\u201d Herndon says. \u201cIt\u2019s so strange and conservative that we have more tools available to us than ever before and somehow we manage to make everything way more uniform.\u201d Spotify is easy, convenient, and cheap\u2014offering access to 50 million songs for just 10 bucks a month. It\u2019s also a defining model of how many different kinds of content get consumed today, so it\u2019s hard to fault anyone for using it. But there are other ways of engaging with music, including some that give you a more direct connection to the artist. Zola Jesus makes a living by staying in contact with fans through her Patreon newsletter and by selling music off of platforms like Bandcamp. Like many artists, she also depended heavily on live shows and touring for steady income\u2014until that crucial revenue evaporated with the mass closure of clubs and bars due to the coronavirus pandemic. All of her efforts constitute the kind of \u201ccontinuous engagement\u201d that Ek was talking about, yet she only draws a fraction of her total income from streaming services like Spotify. \u201cIt\u2019s hard as a musician to say, \u2018Buy music, people!\u2019 because everyone understands that we\u2019re going through a huge economic depression or recession right now,\u201d she says. \u201cYou want your music to be available to everybody. But at the same time, we\u2019re also really struggling. So if people do have the means and resources to support musicians on Patreon, buy their albums on Bandcamp, buy their merch from their official web stores, these are direct ways to support artists. And they\u2019re going to see that. They\u2019re going to live off of that.\u201d Ultimately, even if music listeners do listen to more records and MP3 downloads (and subscribe to more artist Patreons), we\u2019ll all still live in a system where the presence of Spotify and similar platforms looms large. It\u2019s enough to make you wonder what kind of impact this will have on music and its creation. Then again, music has been around for tens of thousands of years. Formats, however, come and go.