Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Streaming Model for Music Doesn’t Work for Artists When They Do Not Earn Live Performance Income

Mark Mulligan is a music industry analyst:

Streaming has been the change agent that turned around 15 years of decline. But it also completely reframed artist income from recorded music. In the old sales model artists would get a large sum of money in a relatively short period of time. Streaming income is more like an annuity, a longer-term return where the music keeps paying long after release. In the old model artists had smaller but high-spending audiences. With streaming they have larger but lower-value audiences.


This model worked fine when live and merch were booming because more than three times as many monetised fans meant three times more opportunity for selling tickets and t-shirts. This of course is the ‘exposure’ argument streaming services are fond of, which works until it does not. Now that live and merch have collapsed, as the trope goes ‘exposure does not pay the rent’. The previously interconnected, interdependent model has become decoupled.

It is somewhat quaint to consider now that a record or CD that you played a hundred times cost more-or-less the same as one that you listened to once or twice. Both likely paid the artists approximately similar amounts, too.

Even in a streaming music economy, it’s not like your individual payment to your platform of choice is getting split along the ratio of the artists you listen to each month. That would be far too much effort. Instead, as I understand it, the subscription fees all go into one big pot which is divvied up amongst all rights holders relative to the total distribution of streams. Did you listen to nothing but your friend’s album last month? Unless your friend is Megan Thee Stallion or Travis Scott, they probably aren’t getting your $10 subscription fee.

There has never been a better time to support musicians directly. The next Bandcamp fee waiver day is June 5, and many artists sell merch and records on the web. You can still buy albums on iTunes, too, in the way your great aunt told you stories about.