…[W]e have a chronic abundance problem — one that dovetails into a much broader societal issue. Silicon Valley recognised that in a digital realm, you can have everything of everything. This is why we are all glued to our phones, because with infinite content — however facile — to hoover up, we gorge away; a fairly literal representation of Huxley’s “amusing ourselves to death”. This end result is not a positive step; we are burning ourselves out and mental health issues are constantly on the rise. Quite simply, we as humans were not made for an “always on” lifestyle.
With music, the same thing has happened. By giving us everything of everything, we overload and take nothing of anything, overwhelmed in the face of it all.
The majority of people who champion streaming are not your average artist, they are not even the top 10 per cent of artists. The advocators of the commentary we hear day to day are music industry press, mainstream press, the streaming networks themselves, aggregators and Digital Service Providers (DSPs) and of course users, who get an amazing experience of all the music in the world for 9.99.
[Sara Hickman is one of Austin’s most beloved songwriters. She has allowed us to republish her viral Facebook post on how streaming is hollowing out the “middle class musician”. (If you want data on this phenomenon, see the Austin Music Census, the most comprehensive work of its kind that actually connects with working musicians as opposed to the usual hoorah Chamber of Commerce bunk.) Trust me–it’s not just Austin. As Maria Schneider has written, low streaming royalty rates and increased consumption are essentially destroying the music infrastructure from the ground up. And the recurring theme from the World Trade Center offices of Spotify is that royalties are too high. We’re honored to republish Sara’s important post. And a 44% increase in streaming rates is still $0.00144.]
There were many reasons why I retired from music last year. I’ve never explained them or felt the need to, so I’m not going to start today.
But I do want to point out something that made a chilling difference in my decision. And that is streaming and downloading music versus selling physical cds/vinyl/cassettes, what have you. You’ve all heard how it affects us: the songwriters, the musicians, the bands. I want to share a living example of what streaming does. Because streaming is killing the opportunities of musicians to make a living off of their creations.
My song “I Couldn’t Help Myself” was my biggest success, in consideration of what the industry expects, it wasn’t much. But when it came out in 1990, there was a lovely video, lots of airplay, touring, promotion teams and I was flown to radio stations all over the country to perform live and chat with the DJs. All this to say hard work helped move the song to #3. I was blessed to appear on “The Tonight Show” while it was the single.
All this to lead up to the fact that it is 2018 (28 years later)
and I just received my quarterly royalty statement from Warner Music Group for all the songs from “Shortstop”. Believe it or not, my songs still get airplay around the globe, which blows my mind and, of course, makes my heart smile.
I hope you’ve read this far.
Because the pay off is you’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.
I recognize the numbers I’m about to share don’t amount to beans when compared with musicians who have made it to the big, BIG time. But I’ve always considered myself a working middle class musician; I worked my ass off to make a decent living and I was cool with that. I had a niche. I learned how to diversify my talents, read contracts, distribute, create and publish content (music) to support my dream. I enjoyed understanding what I was making and releasing into the world, knowing there would be end results of, hopefully, satisfied listeners and a financial reward parallel to the work, time, effort and costs associated on my end.
Having said that, I’ve watched how income numbers on royalties have dropped since streaming/downloads started.
This new earnings notice (Oct-Dec 2017) shows “I Couldn’t Help Myself” played 14,789 times (U.S., Italy, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, United Arab Em., Belgium, etc) and here’s what that provided:
FIFTEEN DOLLARS AND NINETY EIGHT CENTS for 14,789 captured results of people listening to my song.
That equals .0010 per download or stream. It’s not even
a PENNY per play. And it’s not because it’s me. That’s the level playing field of payment for all of us in music on Spotify, YouTube, Amazon download, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Tidal, Rhapsody, Slacker…even something called Neurotic Media.
Let me hip you to how many of those were downloads (as in paid for content):
Here’s how much streaming this one song of mine received:
As today is the International Day of Women, I thought it was important to remind you of not only how women musicians are treated, but how ALL musicians are compensated and WHY it is IMPORTANT to remember to pay for music.
Video may have killed the radio star, but streaming is ending wages and opportunities for your creators.
[Editor Charlie sez: Just in time for the Spotify IPO…or debt rollover…Billboard is poised to visit agita on streaming boosters when it corrects the absurd equal weighting of free streams and subscription streams in its sales/airplay/streaming chart, which should also change the way some people…ahem…average the revenue value of the ad/paid streams.]
One of the biggest stories of 2017 is playing out right now, as Billboard works on a revamp of its Top 200 album chart that will give greater weight to paid streams, while ad-supported streams will be devalued. Most majors have been lobbying for just such a revenue-based revamp.
Presently, all streams are weighted equally, with 1,500 streams counted as one album. Those in the know believe the formula for paid streams will be adjusted to 1,250:1, while ad-supported streams will be devalued to 5,000:1. In other words, premium streams would have four times the weight of ad-supported. Under the existing metric, 100m streams of any kind would count as 66,667 albums, while under the new proposal, 100m ad-supported streams would count as just 20k albums, and 100m paid streams would count as 80k albums. On the other hand, albums that rely heavily on ad-supported streams for long periods of time could lose thousands of chart units.
YouTube streams will supposedly continue to be excluded from the Top 200, following vehement protests by rights holders over their possible inclusion.
The last time we did this was back in 2014, so we thought it was time for an update. Not a lot of surprises but as we predicted when streaming numbers grow, the per stream rate will drop. This data set is isolated to the calendar year 2016 and represents an indie label with an approximately 150 album catalog generating over 115m streams. That’s a pretty good sample size. All rates are gross before distribution fees.
Spotify was paying .00521 back in 2014, two years later the aggregate net average per play has dropped to .00437 a reduction of 16%.
YouTube now has their licensed, subscription service (formerly YouTube Red?) represented in these numbers as opposed to the Artist Channel and Content ID numbers we used last time. Just looking at the new YouTube subscription service numbers isolated here, they generate over 21% of all licensed audio streams, but less than 4% of revenue! By comparison Apple Music generates 7% of all streams and 13% of revenue.
Speaking of Apple, they sit in the sweet spot generating the second largest amount of streaming revenue with a per stream rate .00735, nearly double what Spotify is paying. But, Spotify has a near monopoly on streaming market share dominating 63% of all streams and 69% of all streaming revenue. The top 10 streamers account for 99% of all streaming revenue.
For the last few years, Barclays’ annual research reports about the music industry reflected the challenges of a business in transition — or, more specifically, one that had slowed a rapid decline but had not returned to growth. In 2014, as track sales fell, the bank’s report declared that “Streaming Killed the Download Star”; the 2015 edition was titled “Swimming Upstream.” But the bank’s latest research report, published in October and titled “Dancing Days Are Here Again,” starts with much better news: “2016 is the year recorded music appears to be turning a corner.”
However, it’s not time to pop the bubbly just yet. As streaming grows, sales of downloads and CDs are plunging — by 22.1 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively, in the first nine months of 2016, according to Nielsen Music — and it still remains to be seen just how many casual fans will pony up for subscriptions when music is available for free on YouTube and Spotify’s ad-supported tier. While streaming has been great for the major labels, its economics are rarely as rewarding for songwriters, publishers and even some labels and artists. And so far, none of the companies in the streaming business are making money.
In other words, if this is a turnaround, then it’s a fragile one. “We’re in recovery,” says Michael Nash, Universal Music Group executive vp digital strategy. “It’s one day at a time.”