“Hey, Can You Spotify Me Some Cash?” – An Indie Artist’s Perspective

I feel the need as an artist who’s songs are on Spotify to clear some things up to the general music listening public. With technology advancing so rapidly I don’t think consumers have had the opportunity to educate themselves on how the whole “free music” thing is putting artist’s careers in danger. While free music is great for the consumer who is so over the whole “buying music” concept and the web traffic is great for the sites providing the content (who generally make their money off advertising) it’s not great for the livelihood of your favorite bands and songwriters. The truth is a Spotify royalty pays out about .004 cents per play to the average indie artist who releases and album through a site like Tunecore. There’s been a lot of debate over whether or not that royalty rate percentage is true so I thought I would share a screenshot of my Five Times August  Spotify royalties from December 2011…

You’ll see that for 4,498 streams I earned $20.76. Type that in your calculator and you’ll get 0.0046153846…

Perspective: What that means is if I relied solely on Spotify royalties to make a minimum wage income ($1,160 a month at $7.25/hr) it would take 251,333 plays a month! Obviously if December accurately depicts an average of monthly listens I am nowhere close to that, most artists aren’t.

So you might be wondering… if I’m not happy about it why even put my music up on Spotify in the first place? Well, as an independent artist I’ve often found myself caught between a rock and a hard place amongst all these technological advances. You see, the basic goal for most of us self funded lil’ bands and songwriters is to make the best music we can and make a living doing just that. At the same time we also want as many people to hear our music as possible but normally don’t have any kind of big budget to promote it to the masses. That puts us in a situation where we really have no other choice than to distribute our music through as many outlets as possible, even if it sometimes results in little to zero financial income. The gleam of hope in giving a song away is that if somebody hears it and likes it they will buy it and eventually become a dedicated fan. It’s a mutual appreciation for one another, that’s how it’s supposed to work. If you appreciate a song or an album buy it so the artist can appreciate your support. Otherwise, and I hate to say it, don’t consider yourself a real fan.

You might also be thinking “Well, I just don’t buy music anymore, and you’re not REALLY relying on just Spotify for income.. so someone else can buy your album on iTunes and you’ll be fine.” Not so… I’ve noticed in my overall royalty statement that lately subscription and streaming service plays are rising while actual Mp3 and CD sales are steadily declining. I can only assume the same trend is happening for other bands and artists. So the truth is I am starting to rely on sites like Spotify and Pandora to pay for my career. That’s pretty scary. Imagine working for .06 cents an hour! (4 minute song played 15 times an hour)

Honestly, I’m just trying to give you some perspective as a listener. Spotify is fine in moderation or for discovering new artists, consider it a way to sample music – not have it. The fact is, if the free services become “the new thing” for music there are a lot of humble and hardworking songwriters, bands, and artists who’s careers hang in the balance. That’s a lot of music that could potentially change your life that you’ll never know about. It’s important for people to know about this because everyone has the power to control the situation – and I’m not speaking just for my own sake, but for all musician’s sake.

Now that you know, please pass this page and message along, inform your friends and get this conversation going. Start supporting your favorite music again and make the difference.

Thanks for reading,

Bradley

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12 thoughts on ““Hey, Can You Spotify Me Some Cash?” – An Indie Artist’s Perspective

  1. JP says:

    Step 2: What’s the best service to buy said music? From what I understand, iTunes can be just as stingy with their payout. Hopefully more musicians begin offering direct downloads from their sites!

    • Thanks for the comment. Most bands that sell their own records make about 64 cents per song from iTunes, which is obviously a significantly higher payout than .004 cents per Spotify play. In the digital scheme, most of the time you’ll find bands directing you to iTunes or AmazonMP3 because they’re the largest digital music retailers and most accessible to the public. At other times you’ll find bands who have a more dedicated following selling through a smaller site like Bandcamp.com where their income goes straight from the fan into the band’s Paypal account, which is just about as direct as you can get.

      In my opinion there’s no more solid purchase than just ordering the band’s CD straight off their website. Most of the time that’s the most fulfilling for both parties because 1. it usually comes straight from the band’s garage to you (if they are unsigned) and 2. a fan can have it to enjoy forever, whether their hard drive crashes or not! But, speaking strictly in the digital realm, the band’s website will link to their preferred service. Otherwise, iTunes & Amazon are actually pretty safe bets and are okay in my book.

  2. Richard James says:

    Chances are that I’ll never randomly buy your music. The days of being a band, sitting at home are over. Spotify has given me the opportunity to discover so many new bands/artists that I never would have discovered if I had to pay to hear their music. Now, when they come through town I know who they are and will pay to go see them live and buy merchandise. Before internet: you get no money from me. Internet days: You will get some money when I listen to your songs (even at a rate I feel should be higher) and then I will be in attendance at your show ($$$ from the door) and buying your merchandise ($$$$ again). Without Spotify, downloading, etc. you’d probably get nothing from me. A good friend of mine is in a very large indie band. He said they haven’t seen a single cent from record sales but they make at least $3,000 a night in t-shirt sales alone, so touring is how they make their money.

    • Hey Richard, you are correct, touring is more important than ever and definitely taking over as the money maker for artists and bands. It’s become quite common for people to opt out on buying the music, concluding they’ll just support the band at a live show. The problem with this public mindset (in my experience) is it automatically doubles the financially responsibility for that act. Playing a show pays for being on tour as selling a record IDEALLY should pay back making the record. Your friends band might make $3,000 a night but depending how many guys are in the band, how far they’re traveling, where they lodge and eat, how much their management takes, the promoter, the venue, not to mention the cost of making/ordering all the merchandise (CDs, posters, stickers, shirts, etc)… it all dissolves so quickly. Not to say $3K a night isn’t great, it is… but imagine how much better off they’d be if everyone at the show bought the album too because the kicker is if any profit is gained on tour I wouldn’t be surprised to find it actually goes back into a money pot to make another album nobody will buy. Unfortunately consumers make their own rules and moral obligation to the arts. There’s little sympathy for the livelihood of musicians. It’s become a dark “Hey, just shut up and be grateful I listen to you at all.”

  3. A very good analysis of situation was given there:
    http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online/

    Happily vinyl records are back, and sell more & more, streaming is only a specimen or sample, not an end in itself.

    • Thanks for commenting and sharing. I remember that article, yes. It’s an awesome graph, the numbers are a little bit off/outdated now but I do think it very well illustrates the magnitude of how hard it is to make a living in music these days though.

      And yes, I love vinyl and I’m glad it’s back!

      Thanks again.

  4. Jonathan says:

    It’s actually .4 cents or .004 dollars per play. If you released a 12 track CD and I purchased it for $12 (cheap by today’s standards), that means I’d have to listen to that whole CD 250 times on spotify to break even. In the long run, it’s probably better for you, too. As a consumer who purchases said CD, I would feel a little ripped off because I don’t listen to that much music, not to mention the plastic waste and packaging. Now, after a few months of use, I decide to take it to Hastings and recover maybe $1. Next person comes along and buys your used CD and gets more plays in, but you’d gain nothing.

    I’m more than willing to drop $30+ to go see a concert and buy tangibles like tee’s and stickers. Tangibles work better for me than a CD or MP3, having a T-shirt would not only give me a trigger to the memory of a bad ass show, but it also provides you with advertising. I don’t think someone should be entitled to just sit and collect royalties based on easily reproducible work. I feel the same way towards book publishers and software designers. I realize recording sessions/lessons/equipment cost a lot of money, but music ought to be considered a hobby first, and if you make money with it, great. I wish I could produce something en mass that people would want, but I haven’t found that niche. Maybe it’s not your niche either if that’s how you expect to make a living.

    There are non-financial benefits to spotify, btw. Apps that let users know when you’ll be touring and give exposure are the best for bands. How much would it cost you to pay for that kind of promotion?

    • Hey Jonathan, thanks for commenting. I think you are a bit confused. This entry wasn’t about CD sales vs. streams, it’s simply the fact that if consumers rely on free music services as their one and only main source for listening it will inevitably put many musicians out of work based on the royalties that are being paid. That’s just a fact based on current trends. I disagree with just about everything you said though, but, I’m not trying to get in a debate about those topics here. It seems your mind is made up anyway so I won’t waste your time.

  5. Andrew Hime says:

    *whose

    But yeah, people apparently expect you to tour to make money now, which is silly, since the touring used to be to sell the CD. Now people expect you to play live. Trouble is, I listen to a fair bit of obscure music and music that doesn’t necessarily translate to a live setting (IDM). How arrogant of the fan to expect the musicians to work harder. Setting up a profitable tour is NOT an easy thing… first you have to get booked, then people have to show up.

  6. rynev says:

    I stumbled upon your post after it was linked by another site I read, and I’m really glad I did. I’m unfamiliar with your music (though I plan to check it out now). As an avid Spotify user, I always knew artists didn’t make much, but this is actually pretty startling. If I find myself repeatedly listening to an album, I usually make a point to buy it because I like owning it and supporting the artists, but I know others who solely use Spotify for their music. I really thought LaLa (which allowed users one free stream before purchasing an album) was a great idea before Apple bought it and shut it down. Hopefully some happy medium can be reached that allows artists to make money AND fans to hear new music before deciding to buy it.

  7. mcdisease says:

    I think you make a great point that people should know to buy physical copies of their favorite band’s material. Some people don’t know this and should read your blog post.

    But also I think that musicians like you need to know that there’s a reason you’re only making $20 a month. It’s because you’re not that popular and not that famous. That’s why all these people are saying things like, “At least you’re getting some money, exposure, etc. I wouldn’t even know who you are on the old model.”

    I would suggest that at $0.0046153846 a play, the person who is really into your band and listens to a record of yours every day for a year will net you about $20 which is twice what you would make selling a CD and 20x the amount you would get selling a CD if you were on a label. I would guess that a lot of kids 14-22 are making big bands a lot of money this way. I’m sure that any major label artist would rather someone to listen to their track a million times on Spotify than even buy a CD to rip to their iPod.

    I’m also in a band as well and we get very few plays on Spotify and Rdio, like zero plus we paid like $50 to get our music there. We did it because we want the exposure and would like to be on the same playing field as much larger bands. I think if small bands don’t want to make low money on Spotify, they should not offer their music there. Also if they’re not making enough money through sales, etc, don’t quit your day job.

  8. […] music, which last year at every digital music summit, still seemed like a big deal. However, as some artist’s have stated, it takes thousands of listens to make a couple of […]

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