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