What the Music Streaming Revolution Means for Artists

Photo Credits: Yingchou Han

First radio, then records, then CDs, then MP3s, and now streaming. The way we listen to music has been constantly evolving, and with it, so has the way musicians make rent. There’s a wealth of pros and cons for artists who choose streaming to reach their fans, but not quite the same wealth you might expect. For artists trying to make their break, fans’ new reliance on streaming can cripple their cash flow.

Historically, artists have always made more money touring and selling merchandise than they have on the radio or from people purchasing their albums. Record labels usually take the lion’s share of the price of an album, so it should come as no surprise that artists come up short by having their music on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

The real kicker is how little musicians actually make per stream. According to a recent article from Digital Music News, artists make only $0.00783 per song streamed on Apple Music, and just $0.00397 per play on Spotify.

Let’s do some quick math. For one musician to earn the equivalent of working a minimum wage job 40 hours a week for a year, their music would have to be played on Spotify just under 4 million times.

In theory, the extra listens received on the platform should outweigh the loss of revenue they previously received for people purchasing their songs, right? Close.

For bigger artists this might hold true. Drake has already earned $78 million from people streaming his recently released Scorpion album, and there isn’t an end in sight. But how can smaller artists compete against behemoths in the industry? Lesser-known artists have a much narrower shot at making Spotify’s front page, but it’s more pervasive than that. 

Streaming services have created a vacuum, and the whole music industry is feeling the pain. Revenue has plummeted by billions. The resurgence of vinyl — which only a few years ago was considered a hipster fad — is currently generating more revenue than all of the music on YouTube, the second most-trafficked site in the U.S.

Money aside, it’s hard to argue that the advent of streaming hasn’t had a positive impact on listeners. For a low, flat fee consumers have the entire world’s discography in their pocket. It’s both easier to discover and listen to new artists; you’re not limited to you and your friends’ CD collections or sharing mixtapes. 

Overall, streaming opens doors for listeners… but not for the musicians themselves. There’s no argument that streaming is a godsend for music fans, but do the consumer pros outweigh the damages felt by artists? So far the market says yes, but maybe we should be listening more closely.

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