Music

Streaming Saved the Industry, Not the Artist

In case you haven’t heard, streaming is saving the music industry. Music sales brought in $7.65 billion last year, and the industry saw its first double digit increase in sales since the late ‘90s. The majority of that revenue is coming from streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Actually, according to Billboard, streaming revenue is more than that of vinyl, CDs, and downloads combined. Yes, the industry is benefiting greatly from streaming royalties, but those so quick to celebrate should remember that at the end of the day, the executives of any major labels aren’t singing those songs – the artists are, and the artists aren’t the ones reaping the benefits.

“Don’t get me wrong, the great thing about Spotify is it allows us to see how many people our music is reaching, and which songs are the most popular, which is helpful when we’re touring,” says Ben English, lead vocalist of rising metal band Invent, Animate, “But there’s a lot of room for improvement where the payout is concerned.”  While the per stream payout tends to vary based on where you find your numbers, as well as the artist’s ownership agreement, the average tends to be just fractions of a penny – somewhere around $.0011, in Spotify’s case. “I think our biggest check to date has been for, like, $200.00,” says English, “And that’s split between the band members.”

I did the math. If I listened to a full album by my favorite artist every day for a year, I’d only be forking over about $5.00 for the year. That’s less than $1.00 per song. I know I’m only one person, but to further put the pitfalls of streaming where the artist is concerned into perspective – at that rate, it would take 1.5 million plays on a song before an artist could make the equivalent of minimum wage per month on their music. While this is fairly simple for big name artists like Drake, who has 40 million monthly listeners and is the most streamed artist on Spotify, it puts new artists in a situation where it’s nearly impossible to make money.

In Inspirer’s recent interview with singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, she says, “It’s not that far off from busking, going out and playing your music in the subway, kind of like the artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s. You can go make a song on your computer and upload it right away. […] At some point the question has to be asked, what is music worth, monetarily? With streaming, it’s like the old saying of, ‘Getting paid a penny is better than not getting paid anything.’ I’m sure it’ll level itself out and the artist will start getting paid.” The question is when?

Most recently, Spotify has agreed to allow Universal’s artists to restrict new releases from the streaming service’s free tier for up to two weeks. However, that only means that paid subscribers get first dibs to the new music, which may or may not entice free users to subscribe. Although paid subscriptions generate more revenue, this new agreement also means that Spotify will pay less royalties to Universal. Considering an artist’s revenue is what’s left after the labels, PROs, streaming services, and publishers get their cut, it’s hard to say exactly who this new policy is going to benefit.

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, especially when they appear to be in the industry’s favor, but we so often fail to recognize that the industry has historically had a tendency to treat artists as a part of the machine, when, actually, they are the machine. There’s no label president or streaming service that could exist without the artist, so why are they still being treated as if they, and their contributions, are disposable?

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Lily Grae
Lily is an entertainment writer who grew up around the corner from Janis Joplin's hometown. Consequently, she found herself enthralled with the music and stories of the leading women of rock & roll at a young age.
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