You used to buy CDs, and then a decade later you bought all your music on iTunes, but now you only listen to music on Spotify, right? Well, just so you know, you are making a bunch of musicians eat Ramen noodles right this second. Like, they are hungry for arugula and you are personally putting dry processed pasta in their mouths.
Why? You may not want to know this, but Spotify is financially disastrous for musicians. Of course, any musician worth her salt has her stuff on Spotify, because if she’s not on Spotify, she’ll drift off into oblivion. Because about half the population accesses new music on streaming music services. So, every struggling musician pretty much HAS to get on her knees before the Online Streaming Gods. And don’t get me wrong – if you can’t afford to buy music at 99 cents a song, I (and probably a lot of other musicians) would MUCH prefer that you listen to my music on Spotify than not listen to it at all. More than anything, musicians just want to get their sounds out into the world.
But here’s the problem: Spotify and the other services pay musicians as low as ONE TENTH OF ONE PENNY. I am not joking. When you listen to my song on a streaming service, I often get paid about one tenth of one penny (that number varies depending on a number of factors that are still a mystery to me – it seems to vary between 1/10th of a penny and 1 penny, and it’s more often on the lower side of that range). At 1/10th of a penny, you’d have to listen to a song over 600 times to equal the amount of money that I get paid when you buy one of my songs on iTunes (they give me about 60 cents for every purchased song). And nobody listens to a song 600 times. The “most played” songs in my personal iTunes library have about 50 listens. So let’s say that 50 is an average “most played” number, and my songs are the ones you play the most. That means that after you listen to my songs so many times you could sing it in your sleep, you will have paid me a total of less than one penny for all that listening. LESS THAN ONE PENNY.
For my most recent album, my costs were about $4,500 and I raised $4,000. So I only have to make up $500 to break even. In the old days, that would be easy. In today’s world, I may never make up that $500, even though my fans so far have been loving the album.
Here’s a scenario: Since the payment scheme on Spotify is variable (which must depend upon who’s advertising at the moment when a song is played), let’s assume that my average payment on Spotify for one listen is 3/10 of one penny, or $.003. I’d have to get about 170,000 listens to make up the $500 in album costs. And that’s before I’ve made a penny of profit. If I want to make just $1,000 profit on my album, I need to get HALF A MILLION LISTENS. I basically need to be famous like Katy Perry. To make a total of $1,000 on my album.
So you’re thinking, well, at least musicians still make money from live music. Nuh-uh. For my last show, which was a packed house, after I paid the musicians, and paid for my gas to get to the gig, I made zero dollars. The gig was a “pass-the-bucket” situation, and people were quite GENEROUS for that kind of situation, giving on average $4 per person. At many “pass-the-bucket” gigs, fans give an average of $2 (and that’s despite the number of uber-generous fans dropping Twenties in the bucket, so that means most other people are droppin’ in less than two).
Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to be a professional songwriter.
So what can you do? If you can afford it, BUY MUSIC ON iTUNES! Or, even better, BUY REAL LIVE ACTUAL CDs like you did in the 20th century! And another plea - don’t complain about the fact that your favorite musician sold out because he has a “Supercuts” advertisement on the side of his bus. And don’t complain about high concert ticket prices. The musicians you love, the ones who just MADE YOUR NIGHT, are trying VERY hard to make enough money tonight to afford a dinner that’s not Ramen noodles.