The Streaming Music Paradox

Ben Sisario of the New York Times, in conversation with Shira Ovide:

There’s a complicated and opaque formula that determines how the $10 monthly subscription for Spotify or Apple Music makes its way to artists. After those services take their cut, about $7 goes into a pot of money that gets split a bunch of ways — for the record labels, songwriters, music publishers, artists and others.

The more people listen to music, the less each song is worth because it cuts the pie into smaller and smaller slices. I’ve seen financial statements from some fairly popular independent musicians that suggest they’re making a pretty good living from streaming. But often, unless musicians have blockbuster numbers, they aren’t making a great deal.

This is one hell of a paradox. The more each of us are listening to music through streaming platforms, the less many artists are getting paid unless we’re only listening to the Billboard charts. Sisario links to a study that indicates switching to a payout model based on individual users’ listening habits would help, but only by “a few euros per year” for indie musicians.

If streaming music is the future, it must be advantageous for the artists, not just the labels. A more equitable payment model begins with contracts that do not exploit artists.