2018-12-26 Breaking Even

I recently saw a post by @emsenn, talking about the music business. What caught my eye was the note that less piracy does not mean better pay for musicians.

I used to run a music label and here’s some numbers from 2012 to 2016:

Within my county, pay for 1h of live music dropped from ~$30/h to ~$6/h.

Average pay per streamed song dropped $0.03 cents to $0.007

Cost to belong to proper songwriting and such unions went up from $160/yr to $780/yr


Note that over this period, online piracy plummeted and subscriptions to streaming services rose dramatically.

Don’t assume not pirating has improved things for musicians.

So, gotta pay ~$780 a year to be able to (with good protection) submit your songs to spotify and such. That’s more than 111k Spotify plays to break even on membership fees ... assuming you get all the money yourself, but in practice usually 25% is eaten by other intersts, so we’re up to 138k plays.

Again, that’s assuming you didn’t pay anything for your instruments, training, recording, or production, and that you aren’t paying yourself: 138,000 listens to not lose money sharing your music.

So, it’s real cool that folk can stream music at such low cost to themselves. But I don’t want anyone to ignore the effect that’ll have on folks’ incomes. And also, think about the effect this might have on musicians and the art they produce, when they’ve got to hit such high goals in order to break-even. They’ll be more inclined to make music that ends up on playlists, since that’s an easy way to boost listens.

This isn’t just a fear: it’s already happening.

It’s a weird place to be in: thanks to technology, anyone can record, produce, and distribute music cheaper than at all point in history.

But... thanks to technology, you need to do all that to produce music, if you don’t wanna get slapped by a record label, and because of the tie-in with labels and the law, it’s not actually as cheap as it could be.

So in reality, it’s very cheap to make music, very cheap to receive music, but very expensive to distribute it, and that’s... weird.

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Zoe Keating’s tweet:

In 2018 my music was listened to on Spotify for 190k hours by 241,631 people. Those 2,252,293 streams netted me $12,231, which is 39.2% of my annual rent. If you love the music please consider going to a show or supporting my work directly at zoekeating.com. Thank you!

What Spotify Paid One Artist in 2018:

So, how can independent artists, including Keating, survive the streaming music giant’s terrible payouts?

Keating gives two solutions – attend artists’ shows and support their work directly.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-03-12 06:33 UTC


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