How the Streaming Revolution Impacts Music Creators

When my generation was young, we might live in a shitty apartment, with crappy furniture (or no furniture), and an empty refrigerator (except for beer) with payday still 2 days away. BUT… we had a kickass stereo! Same for our cars– our cars might be a total piece of shit, worth $400 at most, but we’d have a $1000 stereo in it. We had our priorities straight. Rock on!

Today’s generation of young people might live in shitty apartment, with crappy (or no) furniture, and empty refrigerator, and be late on their rent payment. BUT… they have a brand new $650 Android or iPhone, with a $100 a month cellphone service so they can listen to music and movies on their phone. They’ve got their priorities straight. Rock on!

This new way of listening to music is called streaming, because the music is streamed from a company such as Spotify, Apple or Google through a cellphone provider such as Sprint, Verizon or ATT. (Of course, you can also stream music to a desktop or laptop computer, or a tablet.)

Streaming is different from downloading music. With downloading, you pay for the song (or album), and download it to your computer or phone, it stays there, and you own it. With streaming, you don’t buy the song, it doesn’t stay on your computer or phone, and you don’t own it. That’s ok for streaming enthusiasts; they don’t care about owning the song, as long as they can hear it whenever they want.

But I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of streaming from the music consumer point of view. Instead, I want to talk about how the streaming revolution affects the artists who create and perform the music, and those who pay to have the music recorded and promoted (which, for independent artists, is the artists themselves). Do the music creators get the same amount of revenue from streamed music as they get from paid downloads or CD sales?

I’ll use my own streaming revenue as an example. It’s no different than other artists, regardless of how big or small. I use CDBaby to distribute my CDs as well as for my digital distribution. I checked my CDBaby internal sales page recently, and this is what I saw:

streaming_payments

If I click on details in the right column, then I get the precise payment, down to a fraction of a penny. My most recent sales were all by Spotify, but here’s a few examples of recent payments, by various streaming companies:

streaming_company_payments

As you can see, the amounts vary significantly, but most of the payments for streaming one of my songs are a fraction of a penny!

Let’s do the math here: if we take a typical Spotify sale of $ .0020, it would take 24,500 streaming sales just to cover the CDBaby distribution charge of $49. And that’s not counting the recording costs. My most recent CD, the Total Flower Chaos CD, cost about $8000 to make (which is fairly low cost CD.) At .002 a stream, I would need 4 million streams just to break even!

Now, here’s what a download sale looks like on my CDBaby internal page:

download_payment

And here’s what a physical CD sale looks like on my CDBaby page:

phy_cd_payment

As you can see, I get about 300 times as that much for a download sale, and about 3000 times as much for a CD sale, than I get for a streaming sale.

So you can see that we have a problem here. If the trend continues, and everyone were to listen to music purely by streaming, then it will be impossible for music creators to ever cover the costs of recording their music, much less make a living at it. And if we can’t afford to record our music, then it won’t matter how convenient the streaming technology is for music listeners– there won’t be any new music to listen to.

Now of course, some people still buy CDs. I do. I personally don’t like earphones or headphones, and I enjoy the higher fidelity of listening to CDs on my kickass home stereo. But CD sales have declined by half from their peak 10 years ago. The trend is obvious.

So what can be done? I am not in favor of fighting new technology that makes listening to music more convenient for some music lovers. Instead, I say, let’s make it work for those who create the music and pay the recording, distribution and promotion expenses.

Let’s pause here to dispel the myth that music is “free” when you stream it. To stream music on your phone, you’ll need a cellphone plan that has enough “data.” For example, Verizon recommends their 12GB plan for “heavy music streamers.” That costs $80 a month plus taxes and fees. You can also spend more for more data– up to $110 a month not including taxes and fees. If you only used a cellphone for text and phone calls– like I do– you could get by with my plan from Consumer Cellular for $22.50 a month.

So streaming music isn’t really “free”, is it? You’re basically paying about $60 a month to stream music. But that $60 isn’t going to the artists. It’s the middlemen– the streaming companies and cellphone companies– that are getting all the money.

Let’s make the streaming revolution work for both the music listeners AND the music creators.

The problem is that there are laws that specify the minimum amount songwriters and music publishers must be paid for every physical recording sold, such as a vinyl record, cassette or CD. But these laws were written long before streaming– in 1909. To correct the problem, the Songwriter Equity Act has been introduced into Congress, to update the act for the modern age. Read about it here– and please contact your Congresspersonality:

http://www.ascap.com/about/legislation/songwriter-equity-act

The folks at the radio show “Art of the Song” are tackling the issue in a different way– they have started their own streaming service called the Standing O Project, where they pay artists half of all the streaming revenue! They call it “socially responsible streaming” or “fair trade streaming.” I have joined this project and encourage you to do the same. Check out this video to see how it works:

If you want to join, and help support my music, you can go here:

https://www.standingoproject.com/artist/rob-roper

Now, when you plug your $650 Android into your Piece-of-Shit $400 car with the kickass stereo system with a subwoofer, you’ll not only discover new music, but you’ll be helping musical artists cover our expenses. Rock on!

-Rob Roper, October 5, 2016

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Lower the Drinking Age to 18!

Some of my fondest memories of my college-age years was going to small clubs to hear live music. This was in Dallas, Texas in the 70’s. I remember being blown away by David Bromberg’s guitar playing, and laughing my ass off at Ray Wylie Hubbard’s between song banter. I saw Jimmy Buffett and his lead guitar player in a small club, and laughing til it hurt when he debuted songs that would be released a year later on his legendary album “A1A.”

But if I was going to college now, I wouldn’t be able to do that. That’s because I wasn’t 21 years old. Back then, the legal drinking age was 18.

Soon after that, the religious right, neo-prohibitionist lobby succeeded in getting the US Congress to raise the legal drinking age to 21. That created a new industry– the fake ID industry. College students in the 80’s all had fake IDs. So nothing really changed.

The holy rollers, seeing their plan foiled, then focused on pressuring police to enforce the Age-21 law. Clubs were threatened with being put out of business if they didn’t check IDs closely. So now we have the absurdity of everyone being carded at a live music venue, even if you’re 60 years old.

This has hurt live music. Not the big venues, where the bands who have made it big play. The big venues play the wrist band game, so that under-21 adults can still see the show. It’s the small venues, where up-and-coming acts and local bands play, that are hurt, where under-21 adults are simply not admitted.

What age group is most likely to go out and see new music? What age group is most likely to go see a new local band on a weeknight in a small club? We all know, don’t we? It’s that age between high school graduation and the time people get married and start having kids. By removing age 18-21, we cut that time period roughly in half– and we cut the first 3 years of it– in some ways, the most important years; the years where young people are most keen on discovering new music.

Age 18 is the legal age to be considered an adult in the United States. At age 18, you can vote. You can serve on a jury. You can get married. You can buy guns. You’ve already been driving a car for 2 years. If you are accused of a crime, you’ll be tried as an adult. You can join the military, kill and be killed. You can buy cigarettes, which are far more harmful than alcohol.

But you can’t go to a nightclub, have a beer, and listen to music. You’re not “mature” enough. Think about the adsurdity of that: if someone is so immature that they can’t be trusted with a beer or a glass of wine, do we really want such immature people driving cars, buying guns, joining the military, serving on juries, and voting?

We should be consistent about the age that defines an adult. Make it the same for everything– voting, drinking, serving on juries and the military. Make it 18, 21, whatever– but be consistent.

I think 18 is the right age. It’s basically correlates with graduation from high school. Now you’re either going to college, joining the military, or entering the work force. Those seem like adult occupations to me.

And let’s not pretend that 18-to-21-year-olds don’t drink anyway. But the fact that it’s illegal causes problems, such as binge drinking. Please read these two articles:

Huffington Post Is it Time to Lower the Drinking Age?

Return the Drinking Age to 18 and Enforce it

The drinking age in most countries is 18. In many countries, you can drink beer and wine at 16. The United States stands virtually alone in having such a high drinking age. (See Wikipedia Legal Drinking Age) And the United States has the worst problems with youth binge drinking.

That correlates with my personal experience when I was 18-20. I would sip on a beer or drink while listening to music. There was none of the crazy, “let’s do shots and get wasted!” that is prevalent in American youth culture today. (The fanatics of MADD and other neo-prohibitionist groups don’t mention this.)

Lower the drinking age to 18. It should never have been changed in the first place. Fix the problem. Do it now.

I look forward to the day when I will be able to play my songs in a small venue filled with 18-to-20-year-olds, sipping on beers.

-Rob Roper August 1, 2016

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My Slow Methodical Ways (Poem)

My Slow Methodical Ways
by Rob Roper July 29, 2016

Like a soldier awaiting orders
He stood ten feet away
and answered my attempts at conversation
with four-word sentences.

It was clear he didn’t want to be friends.

He was impatient.
He wanted to go home.
My methodical concern for doing things right
drove him crazy.

Like all people of this type
he cut corners
he did things without verifying
which, of course, cost him
and resulted in taking longer to fix the problem
than it would have
if he had just left it to me
and my slow methodical ways.

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Shooting Star (Poem)

I said:
I never saw a shooting star.
She said:
That’s because you never
look up.

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Salmon (Poem)

Salmon
by Rob Roper 1st draft 7/26/16

Salmon swim upstream
just to lay their eggs
giving birth to a new generation
then die
their job done.

Like the salmon
the poet and the songwriter
swim upstream
against the current
dodging obstacles
and predators.

Like the salmon
some don’t make it.

But the rest of us
persevere
because we know
it is our duty
our historic obligation
necessary
for the survival of the species.

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