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Has Music Become Too Cheap?

If you listen to music of any genre, in any form, via any medium, please consider the following…


We are 6 months into 2014 so these 2013 statistics hardly constitute breaking news, but they do convey a trend that is literally “breaking” the working musician and will have a profound impact on the future of music (or lack thereof).  According to Rolling Stone, Music Streaming rose 32% and Digital Sales declined 6% in 2013. That’s pretty startling since iTunes and the digital download made it easy for people to do the right thing and buy music. Overall album sales declined 8%.  How’s 2014 looking so far?


Clearly streaming services like Spotify and YouTube are the way we want to consume music, so lets look at what it would take for a solo musician or ensemble of 4 (i.e. band) to make minimum wage.

A solo musician would need 15,751,488 streams per year to make $7.25/hour or $1,260/mo. For an ensemble of four they would need 63,005,952. And that’s assuming that their album costs them $0 to make (at least there’s crowd-funding). Check out all of the data here.

Consider this article in the NYTimes 2 weeks ago or this quote from Van Dyke Parks in the Daily Beast. The media is not ignoring the problem. The responsibility lies with us, the consumer.

Forty years ago, co-writing a song with Ringo Starr would have provided me a house and a pool. Now, estimating 100,000 plays on Spotify, we guessed we’d split about $80. When I got home, on closer study, I found out we were way too optimistic. Spotify (on par with other streamers) pays only .00065 cents per play. – Van Dyke Parks

selling_out_550

via Information is Beautiful, 2010

I love Information is Beautiful. The graphic below is from 2010, but perhaps we missed it, since the problem has gotten exponentially worse.

So, yes I agree with Cynical Musician: “all the problems of the industry can easily be boiled down to one: music has become way too cheap.”

Should everyone raise their prices? What would happen if they did?

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2 Responses to Has Music Become Too Cheap?

  1. Dave June 26, 2014 at 2:08 am #

    I agree that things as tough as they’ve ever been for artists. I agree that there needs to be a sea change in the way royalties are collected and distributed. That said, those big and bold numbers deserve a little perspective and path.

    Your example is missing the record labels cut. On 15,751,488 streams Spotify would pay a performance royalty of $94,509 to the record label. Under a typical contract, the label would then pay the artist $15,121 (min. wage) and keep $79,387.

    If the artist rolls his own show and owns all rights to the songs…then they get:

    $94,509 in performance royalties
    $20,477 in songwriter royalties

    $114,968 total income from Spotify.

    We can debate if 15 million streams is realistic or not for the “average” artist –just wanted to bring to light who is paying who minimum wage.

    • Chris McMurtry June 26, 2014 at 2:45 am #

      Great point Dave. Thank you. Is 15 million streams realistic for the average musician?

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