Music streaming services offer us all a convenient, portable, and fun way to enjoy music—plus, they’re a great conduit for discovering new artists and songs. The relatively-low monthly subscription fee for these services certainly seems ideal to us listeners, but how sweet a deal is it to the artists who created the tunes?
As the manager of a globetrotting rock band, I know the answer is a pittance—literally, fractions of a penny per play—but when I set out to research the current rates for this year I gleaned some interesting facts.
This year’s study by Digital Music News (DMN), shows that once-reviled Napster actually pays artists the most, while uber-popular Spotify hugs the bottom rungs as one of the worst paying, along with Pandora and YouTube.
Here’s the lowdown on approximately what an artist earns each time you play one of their songs on these services:
Using best-paying Napster as an example, for an artist to earn $1 on just one song at those current rates, that song would seemingly have to be played roughly 60 times—BUT WAIT!—of course, the digital distributor takes their cut for servicing the songs to each streaming company, as does the artist’s record label for producing/releasing/marketing the recordings, thereby further reducing the artist’s cut. According to DMN, last year Universal Music Group alone earned $4.5 million per day from streaming services.
So now it’s back to the drawing board to calculate how many plays to get the artist who created the song up to just $1 of income. There are so many hidden factors that make it difficult to calculate, but in 2013 David Lowery (guitarist for Cracker) publicized that Cracker’s tune Low was played 1 million times on Pandora and all he made was $16.89.
Using Lowery’s example, that boils down to . . . drum roll, please . . . you need to play a tune in a streaming service nearly 60,000 times for the artist just to reap $1 of revenue for that one song. Again, the business of music is complex, so these are all approximations, but it illustrates the ridiculousness that is the state of streaming.
Don’t get me wrong. . . . I certainly enjoy the membership benefits of several streaming services (for which I pay). But after this year’s research, I’m inclined to switch over to Napster (who currently provide artists with the largest payouts)—until the next streaming company decides to step up and increase artist payouts for their work.
But more importantly, I’ll continue supporting my favorite artists by outright purchasing the songs and albums that I love. As a fan, it’s the least I can do to support the art that so deeply impacts my world.