5,300 streams on Eternify has equaled $24 for my album, Welcome to Postwar USA. Five. Thousand. Plays. So, let’s talk about this.
A payout on Spotify for one play is $0.005. That’s not even a penny, kids.
Firstly – Eternify was made by someone to stream 30 seconds of an artist’s song, which is the minimum time a song must stream for an artist to get a payout. So right out the gate, my 5,000 plays is not even a sensible baseline for me to use with this experiment, because it is unlikely that I’d get this many plays in an average month. That 5,000 plays is 5,000 30 second plays – 5,000 full-length listens by human ears. Is it cheating? Sure. Will it be shut down soon? Probably. Is it fair? Maybe not, but what streaming does to music isn’t fair, either.
Apple, Spotify, Tidal, everyone – they’re pushing streaming music as if it’s a game-changer for musicians that are looking to make money from their music. Apple is pretending that by offering an artist dashboard and itunes connect, fans will choose to stream an artist’s work more, which would lead to more money in that artist’s pocket. Guess what? Spotify has that, and it does nothing.
Apple, by the way, pays the same streaming rate as Spotify. Hell, that’s the same rate that every streaming service pays out. So no, they’re not “Changing the game”, or caring about artists. An artist dashboard to post special little messages to your fans? What is this, Myspace? Oh, right, if it were, there would be more fan interaction, and more respect, because Myspace, at least, caused for that to happen. Artists made their name off Myspace for years. No one is going to make their name off Apple music, Spotify, or any other streaming service. YouTube, yes, but that is a different beast.
So, anyway, back to the number of streams. Let’s think for a moment what it would take for me, a relatively-known artist, but still not of any major clout when it comes to competing with, let’s say, Deadmau5, to get over 5,000 streams on Spotify.
The answer; I would simply have to wait and hope. Why? Because Spotify offers you, the artist no way to market your music to get more plays on Spotify. You have to hope that people seek you out (which they won’t, if they haven’t heard of you before), or you have to hope that you land on a popular taste-maker playlist. That’s it, really. You can’t do anything else to push for plays on Spotify. Well, I suppose you could buy google ads and push traffic to your Spotify artist page, but there’s no point in that, when it takes FIVE THOUSAND PLAYS to make the amount o f money you’d spend on a week-long Google ads campaign to get plays on Spotify.
See where I’m going, here?
I did a vlog long ago on the costs of producing a record for the average independent artist. That cost is typically between $1,000 and $10,000. After you’ve done that, you’re EXPECTED, by Apple, Spotify, “fans”, The industry, and corporations, to GIVE that music away for $.005 a stream, or HOPE that you sell it for $.99/song. If you don’t, you’re seen as a “greedy musician” or someone who doesn’t want to share their music, or some other bullshit that has to do with “You’re not embracing the power of the tools given to you to be a successful musician” – unless you’re top-tier, meaning, you already made your money in the industry. You know, selling CDs, like all these other guys did? Dre, Reznor, Jay-Z, nearly every top-tier artist has made their money in the old model of the music industry. This new model has no sensibility when it comes to how one sells one’s art.
Let’s further break down 5,000 listens on Spotify. If I had 5,000 ORGANIC (not pushed via Eternify) listens on Spotify, it’s safe to say that the average person probably listened to three songs, being that people very rarely listen to full albums anymore. So, at 3 songs per person, that’s 1,666 people listening to my music. This is an estimate, of course, but I have faith this would stand fairly true in most situations. So, that means I would potentially have 1,666 fans that listened to my music for a collective 5,000 plays on Spotify – people that I would love to talk to and show them how buying music directly, or buying shirts, or anything else that would more directly support me as an artist, helps to keep art flowing. Many people think they’re supporting artists by paying Spotify, or Apple, or whomever – $9.99 a month should help pay artists, right? Well, sure, it does, but only at the paltry rate of $0.005 per stream.
Oh! Let’s break that down, too. Let’s say that the average person listens to 1,000 songs a month on Spotify. At the regular payout, that’s $5 that Spotify pays out to artists in Royalties. Not to one artist, but that’s $5. So, yes – Spotify pays that $5 out in royalties. They keep the other $4.99, theoretically, to run their business. It doesn’t seem terrible, at least, on paper. but when you figure the average amount that will be paid to an artist is less than a dollar for a lot (a lot) of streams, it starts to look a lot less sensible.
Now, people usually tell me that I’m expecting too much, by saying that Spotify, Apple, and their ilk should pay artists more. I get that it costs money to run a business, I run one of my own. I’m not trying to be greedy, here. I’m not saying that every single artist should get paid a dollar per stream. I am saying, however, that if you think that 5,000 streams equaling the cost of two Starbucks drinks as a payout to an artist is fair, you’re nuts. I don’t expect any of these companies to give two shits about music. They do not. Stop fooling yourself into thinking that these companies like music. If streaming the sound of fish tanks would pay them money, they would do it. These companies are seeing a trend in music consumption, and they’re answering with a service. Good for them, except that they’re doing it without having to compensate artists in any sensible way.
1,000 fans seems like a lot, and it pretty much is. Convincing 1,000 people that they should like your music now is much, much harder than ten years ago. People expect everything for free, on average, and there is no education from those services that provide everything for free that state that you should choose to be a patron of the arts, if art really “matters” to you so much. People have this grandiose idea in their heads that artists are somehow paid in so many different ways that they don’t have to worry about money. They think that just because you have your music on iTunes, you MUST be making money from your music! If you’re on a stage, you MUST be making money from it, so why would they need to make a conscious decision to support you? And aren’t you supposed to do it all for the love of it, anyway?
Every time someone hits me with the “Do it for the love” argument, I die a little inside. Money isn’t going away. It sucks, and it fucks things up, but it’s not going away, and we have to play the game to at least get some food to eat, so please don’t tell me that I’m supposed to do everything “for the love of it”. If people pay talent-less losers simply for existing in this world, then they can choose to support the band that made a song that really helped them get through that one tough week, or that artist that made a song that makes them smile. You can CHOOSE to support art. That is not something that Apple, Spotify, or anyone else tells you.
Apple yammers that Connect will help to connect you to fans, but it doesn’t point out how, if at all, you’re going to get NEW fans via Apple’s shiny new streaming service.
Tidal says it’s Artist owned, and it is – by very rich, top-tier artists that don’t NEED any money from streaming.
Spotify claims it’s paid out millions of dollars to artists since its inception. I’m sure it collectively has, but Daniel Ek, its owner, is still worth over $3 million dollars.
I’ve said this a million times; if ONE of these artists were actually offering a real partnership with independent artists, they would see an influx of traffic, fans, and money, brought in by the microcosm of indie artists, which are millions strong, who would drive traffic to a real, fan and artist owned service. All of these services need to stop pretending. Stop pretending that you’re making a streaming music service for artists. You’re not. You’re trying to get as much market share as you can in a new industry built on the backs of artists that put their creations on your service hoping for some attention.
I’m not bringing all this out to sound like a petulant child asking for more money. I never figured I’d make a lot of money as a musician, nor do I have any ill-conceived notions about being a musician, but I’ve done it a long time, I’ve been good at the business aspect of it, and I’ve worked hard at it – but at this time, unless you’ve managed to somehow be a top-tier artist, or know the right people, or pull some kind of magical string, you’re crazy if you expect to even make a few cents off your music at all.
I’ve been EXTREMELY lucky to have fans that choose to buy high-ticket merchandise from me. I am so thankful for these fans, that really care about music. They understand that in order to get more art that you love from an artist, you have to SUPPORT the artist. You cannot simply expect that the Artist will just cough up material for you until they die, simply because they “Do it for the love”, or have to do it because they don’t know how not to. That argument just doesn’t work anymore.
Where do we go from here? I don’t totally know. I realize that if every artist were paid $.50/stream, that would easily become unruly. But, I do know that, if Apple thinks they can get 100 million (their estimate) people to pay $9.99 a month for a music streaming service, they damn well should offer a lot more than some goofy artist backend dashboard bullshit that lets you “Post updates to your fans!”. Seriously – is this the year 2005 on Myspace? At least there, I could tell people that they should consider buying my music after listening to it for free on Myspace, and drive traffic directly to me. I can’t even do that, now. So no, Apple, you’re not convincing me.
The model of the top-tier musician is kind of a joke, anyway – it’s one that has really only existed since the late 50s. Before then, before mass consumption of music via radio and other services, musicians were typically supported by patrons – people who chose to support them locally, because they knew them and wanted more of their works. That, or they hustled, in the way artists have hustled forever. The whole making lots of money off your music or art thing was a bubble, a huge one, that many artists were lucky to ride inside of, until the end of the 90s. That was when technology, and the way that people consumed art, changed, and in some ways, it was for the better — but overall, the system of being able to make any consistent money off music is very simply dead, now.
The way to empower artists is to actually empower ALL of them, and to stop this expectation that everything should be free, all the time, always. It should not, and doesn’t have to be. A streaming service with a $9.99/mo. subscription fee that also made artists “part owners” would generate traffic and attention in both directions – to and from fans and artists. Bandcamp offers something much like this, and many artists have found strong footing there.
The other way? Choose to seek out new music, choose to go to a show, choose to listen to a DJ who wants to play you NEW music and not the garbage that is considered mainstream. Choose to buy works directly from the artist, choose to support something with the same fervor that you pay your Netflix, Hulu, Verizon, HBO GO, or whatever else fee per month.
To those that do, we thank you.
Now, back to raking in that awesome $0.005 per play.