I’ve had enough. I’m sick and tired. I’m sick and tired of watching talented, hard working, passionate musicians being tossed by the way side. I’m sick and tired of watching musicians invest their blood, sweat and tears into creating beautiful art, only to eek out a meager living, if they’re fortunate enough to even be able to do that. I’ve had it. I’m done.
I’ve grown disgusted by how music has become less and less “valuable” in the marketplace with each passing year. I’m tired of watching super talented, hard working musicians struggle to make a viable life for themselves.
I’ve always taken a half glass full attitude to life and the music industry. I’ve encouraged artists to hustle and carve out a name for themselves in a marketplace where music has become more and more devalued with each passing year. In life, you have to focus on the things you can control. Sometimes you have to make lemonade out of lemons. We don’t choose the hands we’re dealt in life, but we choose how we play them.
But with all that said, I’m tired of musicians simply resigning themselves to the idea that this is simply how things are and if they want to compete in the music industry they have to accept giving their music away for next to nothing. I’m tired of musicians putting up with sub-par work conditions, no health care, little to no safety net, no job security and so on. I’m tired of musicians lining up to get proverbially screwed.
Have a few musicians figured out how to “succeed” in our modern-day music industry? Sure, there are examples of musicians who are able to support themselves solely from their art. To those of you who have figured this out, more power to you. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to carve out a decent living primarily from my art and endeavors closely related to it and I’ve invested the last 12 years of my life to helping other musicians figure out ways to make money from their music. But having a small percentage of unknown artists able to sustain themselves from the music they create and pay their bills isn’t going to fix the music industry or the declining state of contemporary music in general.
In my assessment, and I’ve given it a lot of thought over the last few years, the music industry is deeply broken and fundamentally flawed. The music industry has become a race to the bottom. I’ve broken down all the depressing stats for you about the state of the music industry in previous blog posts. See this blog post as an example. The problems that ail the music industry are deep seated and widespread. There are no easy solutions or simple fixes. However, the first step is correctly diagnosing the problem. After all, we can’t fix a problem if we don’t know what the problem is.
In my estimation, there are essentially two fundamental problems plaguing the music industry. Here are the two main issues holding most musicians back in terms of making a real living from their craft:
In some cases, musicians are able to generate enough streams to make “decent” money. But in my own experience and according to the research I did for this piece, these musicians are few and far between. In fact, according to a recent article in Rolling Stone, called “Spotify Dreams Of Artists Making A Living. It Probably Won’t Come True”, the average artist on Spotify makes just twelve dollars a month. That’s right, that’s not a typo, just twelve dollars a month. The article is a great read and provides an in depth breakdown of how much money Spotify takes in and how it trickles down to artists using the platform: https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/features/spotify-million-artists-royalties-1038408/
Even when musicians do manage to generate hundreds of thousands or even millions of streams, the money that is generated, after it’s split with fellow musicians, recording and production costs are deducted and expenses are paid, it’s usually a pretty modest payday at best. Of course there are a few exceptions. If you’re reading this and you’re doing well on Spotify, or even if you know someone else who is, I’d love to hear about it.
Let’s take a look at some hard stats. The title of the blog post takes aim at Spotify, but to be fair, it’s really the entire streaming industry. All of the platforms pay next to nothing. Some are closer to nothing than others.
Here’s a breakdown of what the major streaming platforms pay per stream.
As you can see, it’s fractions of a penny per stream. It’s literally, next to nothing. But how does this work out in terms of streams and generating money? How many streams does it take to add up to a live-able income? Well, fortunately Youtuber Damian Keyes broke down the math for us. When it comes to Spotify, it takes about 15,000 streams a day, or 450,000 streams per month for one person to make the equivalent of a 40 hour minimum wage work week with their music on Spotify. That's just per person. If you're in a band with other members then multiply that figure per band member. What percentage of musicians do you think generate these kinds of numbers on Spotify? I don’t really know off the top of my head, but I’m guessing a very small percentage.
See the following video for more:
Now you might be thinking, but Aaron Spotify isn’t about making money, it’s a platform to promote your music. It’s the new radio, that we all have access to. I’ve heard this argument a lot. That Spotify has essentially replaced terrestrial radio and has become the new radio and that musicians should be grateful for a platform in which they can get their music out to the masses.
The only problem with this analogy is that when terrestrial radio reigned supreme, we had something called CDs, that music fans would go out and buy. If you heard a song you liked on the radio there was a good chance you would go out and buy the CD to get the full album. Well, consumers don’t really buy CDs anymore. They rarely even download music anymore. Why? Because of services like Spotify! Why would you go pay for an album or a single when you can listen for free on Spotify over and over and over? There’s no incentive to buy music anymore. If video killed the radio star, the internet killed the recording industry.
So if consumers, by and large, aren’t buying the product we create, why are we giving it away in an effort to promote it? Hmmm. You could say that it’s promotion for your live shows, if you actually play live. Ok, after all, this is one part of the music industry that the internet can’t kill. Unfortunately, a pandemic can though. So, for the near future at least, this money-making option is largely off the table. I know in some areas, musicians are finding creative ways around not being able to play live; outdoor shows, implementing social distancing and so on. Again, if you’re able to get gigs right now, that’s great. But these opportunities have been dramatically reduced for the time being, unfortunately.
Ok, so I’ve outlined the problem. Most of you were probably already aware of these issues. What can we do about it? Well, I’d be lying if I said I had all the answers. Like I said, there are no easy solutions this far down the hole we’re in. There are no quick fixes.
However, I firmly believe that musicians and creatives are the most important part of the music business. After all, we’re the ones making the music. We have to start to take our power back. We have to unite together in an effort to drive the industry in a more sustainable direction. We have to start valuing our art again and refusing to sell ourselves and our art short. Easier said than done, but in my mind, it’s imperative that we start having these conversations. I don’t know anyone in my circle of musician friends and colleagues who think the state of the music business is better now than it was in the past. Although the music industry collectively generates billions of dollars each year, most of it isn’t going to musicians. (See https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/news/music-artists-make-12-percent-from-music-sales-706746/) Something has to change.
So what now? The title of this blog post is “Us Vs. Spotify”. How are we going to change things? How can we take our power back as musicians, collectively, and work towards creating a more equitable music industry? Well, obviously we can’t do it alone. We as musicians need to come together, united, to forge a more sustainable path. It’s really the only way we can make any real, significant change in our industry.
To that end, over the next few months, I’ll be exploring this issue and ideas related to it on my podcast. I have lots of ideas. Some of them I’ve had for years. Some ideas I have will be fairly easy to implement and others will require a lot more work and planning to execute.
First and foremost, I’ll be bringing on different guests on my podcast to explore this issue and to get the conversation going. I’ll also be launching a second, new podcast, soon that will be strictly a platform to promote new up and coming artists to help them get their music out there and encourage people to buy it. I have other plans related to this mission that I’m not ready to share yet. I’ll be announcing more efforts in the near future.
The music industry is broken. It’s high time we do something about it.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.