I received a text today from a friend wondering how much I made per play from each play on Spotify. My answer: about 1 cent, an extremely pithy amount by anyone's standards. Now, while that isn't much, consider that Bruno Mars' latest single "That's What I Like" currently has 514,155,880 plays, which means that, at the 1 cent/play rate, that song has generated about $5.1 million of revenue.
(A quick digression: depending on a musician's contract with their label and licensing agent, musician's will not see 100% of the revenue. Much depends on whether they are the principle writer, the size of their label, and several other factors. Most Pop stars receive a shockingly small amount of actual money from the sale of each song. Usually less than 10%! However, this is a discussion for another day.)
Anyways, independent (unsigned) musicians such as myself, are lucky enough to receive the full penny for each play. Hooray!
However, any musician, famous or not, will tell you that getting your music on Spotify is not how you make your money. Real money comes from touring. Touring creates revenue through ticket and merch sales. This is why you see these artists, who seem to have endless amounts of money, going on months-long and sometimes years-long tours. Similarly, this is why you see bands touring in buses and cheap cars - every dollar counts on the road.
But back to Spotify and the question at hand. I personally, as a musician, do not like Spotify. Why? Because it gives consumers the opportunity to listen to music for practically free ($10 per month? I've spent more on a sandwich). For perspective, my music is also on itunes. If you were to buy a song of mine on itunes for $0.99, I receive about $0.90 of revenue. So think about that: I would have to have one of my songs played 90 times on Spotify to see the same amount of revenue.
But, like all things economical, these things are driven by the consumer. Call me a hypocrite, but as a consumer and listener, I love Spotify. How could I not. My measly $10 monthly gets me unlimited access to all the music I could want. Especially now that T-Swift has joined the fold. I mean, c'mon, even the Beatles are on there now. The freaking Beatles. And this is what makes it so damn enticing. If, say, half of the artists out there were not on Spotify, would you still pay the money each month? Maybe, but you'd also still be spending a lot buying music through itunes or what have you, so, as a musician, you could have a choice as to how to market and sell your music. Now? Not having your music on Spotify is basically condemning it to only be listened to generous aunts and uncles (not that I don't value said relatives - thank you for your support!). Having your music on this platform is the new price of entry to be a musician in today's world.
Another issue is how you get new fans can listen to your music. The best way to people to market yourself and to get people to hear your music is to play live shows. With all the music online nowadays, someone finding and liking your music is literally a needle in a haystack. So, you play a live show, and someone in the audience likes your music and wants to listen to it online. Where are they going to go? Itunes? They're going to buy your music? When is the last time you or anyone you know heard an artist for the first time and then went home and bought their music. Unlikely. So, once again, Spotify is a must.
Now, I have to be fair. Spotify does have it's benefits. Ultimately, the reason it has become what it has is because it gives anyone, at anytime, access to your music. Recently, a friend of mine pulled up my music in an uber. That was pretty cool. It also gives fans the ability to share music with one another. Maybe a fan of mine puts my music on a playlist and then someone else on the site finds the playlist and listens to it. That was free marketing. Maybe I'm lucky enough to end up on a Discover Weekly playlist. That would be pretty cool too. It would be dishonest to say there are no downsides.
So, the question becomes, what do we do, if anything? Can we do anything? As a musician, truthfully, there is not much I can do. Granted, I could boycott, but I'm not sure that would really do much, and before you judge me for that, when is the last time you gave up a convenience for a cause? Let he who has not been an immoral consumer cast the first Made-In-China stone. I think all I can do is implore you to appreciate that every time you play a song on Spotify, it decreases the potential revenue that a musician can make, and, as revenue for musicians decrease (and expenses in today's society increase ((another topic for another day))), it becomes harder and harder for artists to survive, and many who could be otherwise creating art, who could be adding creative value to our society, will otherwise succumb to the ubiquitous financial pressures of the modern world.
Thank you for reading and until next time!