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Small Band Struggles with Jay: Streaming Revenue

So hi, welcome to the first instalment of the lovely series me and Jay are going to be doing. The first issue we've decided to talk about is streaming revenue because this is something that needs to be understood and people need to open their eyes to. So please sit back, and educate yourself on this topic... well, allow us to educate you.

One of the many points I desperately want to raise is a point that a lot of high profile musicians have raised before, and people don't seem to be very informed on this, and I know people love hearing statistics, so here we go. If you want to support your favourite local bands, BUY THEIR MUSIC! That's such a vital part in supporting these bands. I know it's hard being broke and music prices soon start adding up and streaming services are still a cheap way out, and I do use streaming platforms I won't lie, I do because it's convenient and cost-effective, but I will still buy music. I support bands in as many ways as possible because it's important but I've had people tell me how they think that artists get paid like 10p a stream and I'm like... how wrong could you be. I will always advocate for buying music when you can, and especially for small bands. They're the ones who feel it the most.

So if you are able to please, buy the music that your small bands put out, please go to their shows whenever you can, please buy their merch and just do what you can to support them the best you can because especially in the current climate they desperately need it.
 However, I'm not an insider so I'm leaving this main bit of education down to Jay. So please enjoy what Jay has to say...

In 1999 Napster revolutionised the idea of file sharing songs into an easily accessible format to which the consumer’s listening possibilities were virtually endless; not to mention it came at little to no cost. This was obviously a far more convenient and accessible service than forking out the money for a mobile device the size of a deck of playing cards, to fill with 1000 tracks, if you were lucky. It’s no surprise that the music industry was not the least bit happy. Simultaneously, they were trying to create ‘fairer’ or more ‘compliant’ alternatives for the artist when Napster took the causal music consumer by storm, years later we saw the emergence of iTunes, Deezer and on the 23rd of April 2006 Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon formed a Swedish audio streaming platform that would, years later become the titan of music streaming, Spotify. These sites serve an emphatic purpose and it’s hard to imagine ever returning to the days of the Walkman, Ipod or CD player (Though Vinyl seems to have made an incredible and sustainable comeback since 2007). We could look at all the pros and cons of these services extensively, but that would make for a long write up. It’s no secret that a fair amount of the music industry and artists condemn these sites for their unfair compensation toward the creator or artist and speaking first-hand the revenue gained from streams is strikingly low unless you are hitting large, multi-figure numbers. For example, in 2018 these were the figures of streams required to make 1 US dollar by streaming site.

Napster – 53, Tidal – 80, Apple Music – 136, Google Play – 147, Deezer – 156, Spotify – 229.

As Apple Music is currently the most used music streaming service by monthly listeners (data taken from 2019), let’s use that for an example with some hope of getting a broader view of this. 136 plays (A play warrants a listen of more than 30%, relative to the songs duration) = 1 US Dollar. 1360 plays = 10 US dollars. 13,600 plays = 100 US dollars and finally 136,000 plays = 1000 US dollars. So now let’s assume (extremely generously) that your music is receiving 136,000 monthly plays and you are receiving $1000 a month from streaming revenue. Let us also assume you are a group, and there are 4 of you in the group, all splitting 25% of any income, so individually you receive $250, right? Wrong. Before you even receive your $1000 a few hands will likely be dipped in first. Publishers, managers, record companies, distributors, licensers and more could all be due a cut of your potential earnings depending on your situation and deals you have in place. Again, let’s suppose (generously) that all these different entities take only 5% each (worth noting the industry standard is 15-20%). Your manager takes 5% ($50), your distributor takes $50, your record company takes $50 and your publisher takes $50, that leaves the artist $800, assuming they also are not subject to tax. So now you split your earnings between the 4 of you and you all receive $200 for the month… Hardly a living wage. All the above is a vast oversimplification of the process that occurs when generating income from streams. If we go further and take into account the money that band or artist spent on recording and creating the product, the marketing assets that accompany it, artwork, photography, music videos and so on, the actual marketing itself once the product is released, radio stations or pluggers, social media adverts, playlists. All these things, though they may not require money to fund directly (most do), require copious amounts of time and attention to get correct, and even then there will likely be invisible hurdles that reveal themselves last minute. Time itself is a form of currency and as we know, it is not refundable.

We can even go further still, and take into account the time the artist or group put into their craft, years of singing to pop records perfecting pitch and tuning, endless nights twiddling away with guitars or bass to improve dexterity and rhythm and exhausting bouts of concentrated physical energy poured into the practice of mastering timing, tempo and timbre on the drums, bongos or electronic sample pads. If you are in a group of more than 2 or 3, it’s likely you will have to find a space to practice, this for many is also an extra ongoing cost. How about the cost of equipment itself? Guitars, amplifiers, pedal boards, flight cases, drums, mixing desk (for backing tracks), microphones, stands, pedals, DI box, jack leads, XLR leads, drumsticks, guitar picks, spares of most of the above, or at least a viable alternative.

 When we would arrive at shows in busy city centres in places like Manchester, London, Bristol or Nottingham even, the drivers of the vehicles would find the venue, often situated tightly between bustling stores on a main road that we had queued down already for 20 minutes, they would brake, pull over, pop the hazards on, and turn the engine off, we all knew what that meant. We would all jump out the cars / vans and start manically ripping equipment from the seats or boots, lobbing it onto our backs, shoulders or heads and throwing it down onto the pavement, all to the sound of furious pipping drivers trying desperately to get past our inconvenient operation. Afterwards, somebody, or a few individuals were selected to stay with the equipment whilst everyone else parked the vehicles up and returned on foot. Sometimes, if we arrived at the venue at different times, I recall being chosen and being left to ‘guard’ our equipment whilst everyone returned. I was standing there, in the middle of a semi-busy street in London with approx. £7,500 worth of equipment slumped at my feet beside a small wall. I had lit a cigarette and was looking at all our stuff and came to that stark realisation… There was a lot of time and money placed between my feet against that small wall, on that semi-busy street in that big city. London, a place I was, in truth, a little bit intimidated by, but certainly not alien to.

In summary, as consumers we should be thankful for the great utility, accessibility and endless possibility of streaming websites, for allowing us to hear from, enjoy and even feel connected to the artists we so greatly love and support. But we also can help artists, particularly smaller/local ones immeasurably in a few ways to remedy some of the problem of low revenue from streaming websites. A competent and wise artist will realise the great boon presented through streaming sites, even though it clearly has its pitfalls. With the help of fans and new technologies integrated into social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter it has never been easier to have your music’s reach bolstered by fans. For an artist it is important to see the value in individuals who support your music, not nearly just for the fact that there are THOUSANDS of artists and bands, and you can be sure that a fair percentage of them are more competent, experienced and entertaining than you, so be thankful for your damn fans for god’s sake! Not only this, but fans have the power (metaphorically and physically) to take your music across the globe if they think you are worth doing it for, so show them that you are, and be courteous of their interest. For consumers, the greatest boon you can bestow is buying tickets to live shows, considering merchandise purchases or some more cash friendly alternatives… Add local artists to your playlists, share new (and old) music on social media, recommend friends, comment and tag on artists or bands posts (this really helps with algorithms). For the artist, communicate with fans, don’t be too proud to ask for help, if you know somebody who supports you who has a great skill ask them to get involved, outsourcing is vastly underrated and can sometimes come at no cost! Give back to the community that gives to you, be proud of your local scene and support it, that includes other artists, we all know that band or artist who is only there for themselves and leaves early after they perform (this is sometimes justified by the way, but that’s a separate topic entirely). All in all, music streaming is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, so we might as well learn best how to master it, work with the users who so desperately rely on the platform to gain access to the vast expanse of immeasurably creative material, and find a way to fill the gap left from music streaming revenue for the artist.*

* I’m no utopian or perversely stoic optimist, perhaps the gap can never fully be filled for smaller/local artists, but we have a duty to do our best to achieve a potential, or succumb to the nihilistic viewpoint that it just isn’t worth creating the art anymore, and that it simply has to be manufactured or require an ‘angel investor’ to take off.**

** I’ll also point out that there is a strong argument for the ‘angel investor’ being a crucial part of almost any business venture, which art essentially has to become in order for the creator to make a living off at some point in their venture (assuming that is their intention in the first place). I’ll not support, nor dispute this argument here and will look at tackling this subject in a later topic, I merely wish to point out there is an individual and collective claim that this is an almost unmissable step in the pursuit of a successful entrepreneurial career. 


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