Streaming services limit artists’ profits

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Adelaide Kaiser

Musicians aren’t making money from music anymore. Sounds backward, right? But think about it. When was the last time you bought a song? Back in the day, I would beg my parents for iTunes gift cards so I could buy my favorite songs. Before that, I would go to Best Buy or Target to get that new CD that I wanted. Even before that, people would go out and buy cassette tapes and vinyl records. The shifts between these different music consumption mediums didn’t have a large economic effect because there was one common thread: people BOUGHT music. Listeners made an investment in art, and songwriters, producers, and record labels made money from the purchase of music.

The music industry, however, has experienced a rapid change in the past few years. Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music make music easier to access than ever before. On the one hand, this is a positive change for new artists who can now gain exposure with much less effort. The same goes for consumers—it is much easier for fans to find and casually listen to new music. I’m never going to be one to argue that exposure to more art is a bad thing. But this does come at a steep cost for many up-and-coming artists, making music an impossible career.

When an artist sells a song for $0.99 on iTunes, they make $0.70 from that song. However, one stream on Apple Music comes out to a whopping $0.01. That means that someone has to stream a song 70 times for the artist to make what they would have made from a purchase. Spotify is even worse. It pays artists approximately $0.006 per stream. That money has to be split between everyone that contributes to making a record, including songwriters, producers, instrumentalists, record labels, sound engineers, and more. This makes music a very hard industry to make a living in unless you are a famous popstar raking in millions of streams.

The other medium where streaming causes harm is radio. Radio stations used to be the go-to place to listen to music in the car. It was how artists got their start, how songs became popular, and was a major source of income for artists. However, traditional radio stations have taken hits due to decreased listenership. Why would someone listen to the radio when they have any song on their phone?

This issue is divisive because it makes music more accessible while also devaluing creativity. Music has value, and by lowering the price of it, we are essentially saying that we think it does not. We would never ask a painter to give us a painting for free. We know they put in hours of work, and work deserves payment. Although the internet has made a lot of things easier, it has made being a musician harder.