It pays a pittance.
This means that an artist’s music must be streamed hundreds of thousands of times a month to even make a decent living wage. How much so? Let’s take Spotify, for example. In US dollars, according to Daniel Sanchez at Digital Music News, Spotify reportedly pays $0.00437 per stream, which means an artist needs 228,833 streams in order to break USD$1,000. To compare, what if you bought just the song on iTunes? Well, according to Song Cast Music, the return to artists is between 60–70 cents a song. If that same song was bought 228,833 times, they would make $137,299.80. It is understandable that of the 228,833 streams, many would be from the same people, but even then it will still pay more. Let’s say that all the streamers listened to the same song four times, which means they would only buy the song on iTunes once. That rounds off to about 50,000 people if we divide the 228,833 single streams by four. That means the artist will make USD$30,000 for making that one song, compared to $1,000 bucks if it was streamed 228,833 times.
It cannibalizes an artist’s album sales.
Having a music streaming subscription means you can listen whatever you want, however many times you want, so why bother owning the song or album? It’s exactly like a franchise building a new outlet two suburbs over. Or releasing another type of product that is slightly different to your existing ones. All those people who went to the existing store or bought the existing product, are now faced with a new choice as well as the rest of the market. It is expected that some existing customers will change their product or store location, meaning a loss from the existing store or product. How do you explain Apple saying goodbye to the iTunes store? Probably because Apple music pays better profit to the company, and pays pittance to the artists. Not only that, album sales are dying according to Rolling Stone.
It kills the esoteric artist.
It’s nice to have artists come out with a very unique song and get fame from it. But who wants to risk being different when the compensation you get back for your work as an artist is less than pennies? All we’re gonna get is much of the same; good beaty tunes and clear vocals.
I’m so happy that some of my favourite unique artists have broken through the first floor ceiling and landed in that comfortable place called a decent living wage. Australian artists like Kate Miller-Heidke or Sneaky Sound System or even Melbourne Ska Orchestra have passed that barrier.
In America, my favourite unique artist is Lana Del Rey, who made it big time with her unique high pitched vocals and depressive emotional output. But there are many up-and-coming artists who are struggling to break the first floor ceiling, and eventually they are going to give up, and we the people of this world are going to miss out on something that could potentially be amazing, all because the gatekeepers of the music industry have a stranglehold on the market and are not willing to pay their employees a decent living wage.
It weeds out potentially great artists.
Not only are we gonna have artists who are in the industry give up, but we’re gonna have artists who are looking at it, sizing it up, and deciding not to even bother in the first place. They hear the stories, they see the cheap returns on investment, they see a world of music listeners who expect to get their art for free, as if they think free art is good for the world, not realising that the artist behind that song (or painting, or story, or online article) has bills to pay and a mouth to feed, and the only way they can achieve that is by being paid for their work which they have invested their whole lives into. Why bother getting invested into that industry? Might as well play safe and become an accountant.
It cheapens the music industry as a whole.
Finally, there’s the image that the music industry is displaying to the world. Spotify costs USD$10 per month to subscribe, giving you access to unlimited songs. Same with Apple music. In Australia, that cost is $11.99. Think of all the money that is not being spent. A newly released album has an average cost of about $15, and yet you can play that album, and many other albums for $4-5 less by subscribing (who would even bother buying an album?). Now think of the image that this represents to the common customer. They’re now thinking that music is cheap. They can spend less than the cost of a large McValue meal at McDonalds and get all the best songs on their phone. Little do they know that the artist behind that song is contemplating against wasting several months of writing, singing and polishing up new songs for their fans. What a bother that is!
Image is everything. That’s why Gucci can charge you ridiculous amounts of money to buy their stuff. That’s why Beyonce can charge $2,000 for VIP package tickets to her concert. But now the everyday customer is looking at a song and thinking, “damn, that’s cheap. Making music must be easy work.” Trust me, it’s not — especially if you’re a singer and a songwriter. Taking the cost of producing a song away, which includes the cost of professional music-making equipment and having a space to hold and use said equipment, making a really good song is as hard as making a really good short story. Or as songwriter and author Michael Anderson says: “the more common process of writing a good song is a variation of the old screenwriter adage: a good song isn’t written, it is rewritten.”
In fact, Michael believes a good song should take 3–4 days of writing and rewriting. Not only that, he says that becoming a successful artist (or successful anything) requires dedication and persistency. So not only is that song hard work, it is almost always done off the back of years of hard work.
I would rather pay $1 to an artist for one song, knowing that thousands of others will do the same, rather than stream a song a dozen times for 99% less than that amount.
Because, as I heartily believe, if you love something so much, you should tip the author behind it so he will keep doing it. Or else we’ll be left with less.
Make a pact to yourself that you’ll buy an artist’s album if you really love it. And please, share this important message to others.
One cannot change the world, but many can.