Content Creators Respond: Social Media & Streaming Model is Broken

Jacob Devaney
6 min readJun 23, 2023

Even Snoop Dogg can’t make a living on revenue from streaming platforms! Writers, musicians, film makers and independent creators across the board are getting the sh*tty end of the stick in the increasingly broken digital marketplace. Let’s dissect the problem and discover ways that independent creators can begin taking back their power and making a living again in spite of the challenges we face.

We Need Artists and the works they create. We all develop our personal identity and find a sense of connection with others based the music, films, shows, and books we consume. Artists shape the way we perceive the world while giving us new perspectives to contemplate, celebrate, and reflect on. Despite playing a pivotal role in community, culture, and society artists struggle to receive fair compensation for their works on digital platforms.

“For artists, getting thousands of streams or views doesn’t equate to a proportionate share of the money.” -Adam Rumanek, Forbes

The Promise: The internet emerged as a revolutionary platform that allows digital delivery of content directly from the creator to their audience. Independent bloggers and podcasters presented fresh ideas and perspectives that challenged established narratives thus expanding global discourse. Youtube allowed aspiring filmmakers, musicians, vloggers, and content-creators the opportunity to gain large followings and influence. Ebooks and digital print-on-demand allowed authors to publish their work without going through a publisher.

The early 2000’s were truly a remarkable renaissance in creative expression for independent creators as can be seen in this quote from 2003:

“The democratization of information makes it possible, that ideas, opinions, cultural diversity, knowledge, and education will be accessible anywhere, anytime, and to everybody.” -Human Rights Action, 2003

The Reality 20 Years Later is a bit like watching The Empire Strikes Back after seeing Star Wars. Independent voices and content creators have been beat into a temporary state of submission through social media and streaming platforms. In previous times historians have called this struggle the clash between management and labor or the battle between the aristocracy and proletariat. Now it is being played out between the content creator and the distribution platforms on a digital landscape.

“The existing inequality has attracted considerable attention — and frustration — from performers who ask why does everyone in the streaming economy seem to be prospering except performers whose work drives it all?” -World Intellectual Property Organization, 2021

This current situation echoes many of the same historical patterns we inherited from feudalism where serfs were bound to labor on their lords estate. Artists create tons of content and just give it away on social platforms in hopes of exposure to receive pennies. The lords of this new land are Google, Apple, Netflix, Spotify and Audible who use the artists contributions to gather large audiences to scrape users data, leverage their platforms brand-value, and sell advertisements to giant corporations. In addition these platforms decide which artists and voices get elevated and which remain in a dark corner.

In previous eras when labor felt exploited they would organize strikes, convince consumers to boycott, or even resort to sabotage. Management was also known to hire private police to brutalize defiant workers. Prior to that artists and “fringe” scientists like Galileo could be accused of heresy, ostracized or threatened with torture for challenging established beliefs and social structures. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the rise of independent voices and the birth of the internet has brought a backlash that has many artists and content-creators feeling squashed and exploited.

“The present convergence of crises — in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more — is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new.” ― Charles Eisenstein

The Next Chapter is being written right now. It is my hope that humanity can transcend this antagonistic relationship between artists and these giant tech platforms by creating a win/win for each party. If artists were to pull all of their content from these social platforms these platforms would be unable to attract an audience to scrape data from and leverage the artists’ creations to sell advertisements. Yet artists also need platforms that allow them to distribute their content and reach their audiences.

The relationship between the artists and the platform could be cooperative with each benefitting, yet it is unfortunately an exploitative relationship instead. Some have proposed legislation that fights for the rights of artists and content-creators. Yet this can be a slippery slope as we have now seen how government regulation into social platforms can lead to politicized censorship. A better solution might be that individuals vote with their dollar and where they place their attention.

For example, in the early days of organic farming there were people who happily paid a little more for their vegetables because they believed in shifting the market away from chemical agriculture. In a similar way the fair-trade movement emerged and people were willing to choose slightly more expensive coffee knowing that the workers who harvested it were treated fairly and receiving a liveable wage.

The Future is Fair, Transparent, and Equitable. As a blogger who started out on Huffington Post before AOL purchased it and someone who managed social media for a large international brand, one could say that I have some skin in the game. As I have watched this process unfold I have been disheartened like many others. In the process I have engaged with other artists in discussion of these challenges along with the potential solutions on the horizon.

Enter Emilio Miller-Lopez, a musician with an internationally-touring band, a festival promoter, and technologist. Sharing many of these similar frustrations he has been developing a platform called PORTL as an avenue for disenfranchised artists. The model he and his team are developing is based on the concept of “fair-trade media”.

They offer 80% of the revenue generated to the creator while PORTL receives 20% for operational expenses. With this arrangement the platform only succeeds if the artist succeeds. This creates a collaboration between the tech-platform and the content creators rather than an exploitative model. The platform also does not engage in data-harvesting and it uses carbon-neutral servers.

Emergent Models Throughout history when there is economic disparity or an inverted power-structure people are forced to come together and create new models. The internet came along and offered new opportunities for the democratization of information and a free market of ideas. It brought forward new collaborative and transparent models for communities of people to communicate ideas globally. Then the old power structures and established gatekeepers squeezed these new technologies back into a crumbling paradigm that is built on the principles of feudalism and exploitation.

Return of the Jedi We recognize the cycles of history and know that old patterns eventually fall away but usually not without a fight. It is clear to see that most of us are done with the exploitative business practices that lead to great economic disparity as well as environmental degradation. We recognize the importance of artists in a healthy culture and celebrate efforts to create better models in the digital landscape that honor their contribution.

We need artists and solution-makers to assist us in birthing new paradigms. In recognition of the broken social media and streaming model we seek better ways to uplift inspired voices towards positive change in our world. We need the writers, the musicians, the filmmakers and the artists to lead us into this new paradigm that highlights collaboration, creative thinkers, and innovators. It is time for them to receive their fair share.

We are still at the dawn of the digital age despite the hurdles and hiccups we face. There is a better way.



Jacob Devaney

Cultural-Creative, Media-Maker, Dreamer, Musician. Technology, Art, Science, Health, Spirituality, Culture, Community, Environment. UNIFY Co-Founder