In a recent New York Times Op-Ed musician, Marc Ribot, proclaims that streaming services such as Spotify and MOG are the future and that the success of these services means that independent artists can no longer make a sustainable living selling their music. He explains,
Spotify likes to say that they are already paying 70 percent to rights holders. However, this does not mean that their model is sustainable for artists. If the type of music I make is no longer sustainable, you can kiss most jazz, classical, folk, experimental, and a whole lot of indie bands goodbye.
It is true. The technological revolution has not been kind to most musician’s financial bottom line. The advent of broadband internet service and file sharing sites such as Napster and Limewire lead to record rates of file sharing. Then Apple disrupted the music business apple cart by creating the iPod and iTunes. That lethal combination of software and hardware, plus Apple’s shrewd decision to sell digital download singles for 99 cents (instead of albums for $15) ushered in a return to single over the album format.
Now we live in a world where Google-owned site, Youtube, is the largest music streaming site in the world and “freemium” music subscription services such as Spotify, MOG, and Beats Music, are adding new listeners everyday.
The very real problem is that streaming doesn’t generate anywhere near the artist royalties the music sales (even digital downloads) did for artists and labels. This debate reached a fever pitch when Taylor Swift announced that she was pulling her new album, 1989, and her entire back catalog from Spotify. To put this in context, she’s one of the most streamed listeners on the service with over 16 million streams.
This is a big deal and everyone is weighing in.
Adele’s manager, Johnathan Dickens, weighed in and insisted that streaming is inevitable and music executive Jeff Jambol says that artists should rethink how they make their money. Jambol explains,
Here’s the way an income pie should look for a successful or current artist: 60-65% of their income is going to come from tickets, 15-25% from tour merch [merchandise], 10-15% from publishing, 2-4% from ancillary and 2-4% from record sales.
Streaming is here to stay. Revenues will only go up. The goal is to get as many people to pay as possible, to increase the pot. Tech is all about scale. There are billions of people in the world, tech reaches almost all of them, a few shekels from all trumps a lot of shekels from a few. Yes, getting everybody to pay for streaming trumps getting a few to overpay for ownership.
The larger the subscriber base for music streaming services, the larger the pie is for artists. Perhaps the days of owning a huge record and CD collection are gone forever. The real question for all of us is how do we create a sustainable world for artists in this brave new (digital) music world?