It’s no secret that someone presented with both a sweater on sale and the same sweater at full price will pounce on the cheaper sweater. No one likes to pay a lot for something they can get for less, especially if it’s not against the law. This seems to be a major contributor to why so many people love streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and Netflix.
The recent release of Apple Music on June 30 adds to the discussion about music streaming services and how streaming services add to the deterioration of the artist’s position. These services have become widely used because they’re cheaper than buying individual episodes or songs on iTunes or DVDs from Barnes & Noble. Yet, more recently, we’re learning just how low the royalties artists receive are.
If we have annual award shows to honor our favorite singers and actors, don’t they deserve to be paid fairly? Performers spend years of their lives making albums and movies, and streaming services, such as Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora are known for often underpaying their artists, sometimes only paying them less than one cent per play. They deserve more.
Before the release of Apple Music, Apple was set on withholding royalties to artists during the three-month free trial period for customers.
On Pandora, for example, a song with one million plays means that the songwriter (or writers), make only $90. “Wake Me Up!” by Avicii, despite the fact that people streamed it more than 168 million times, only yielded $12,359 in domestic royalties from Pandora. That money was then divided amongst three songwriters and Avicii’s publishers. Less popular artists (in terms of number of listeners, stand to make much less).
Pandora isn’t the only problematic streaming service. Spotify pays artists less than one cent for each time their song is played. To be more precise, they pay their artists between $0.006 and $0.0084 per play.
According to its website, Spotify says that its purpose is to allow people to listen to content legally, without having to pay as much as they normally would when one purchases individual songs. It purports that streaming services reduce piracy.
As of July 14, its website claims there are 20 million paid subscribers with over 75 million active (free) users on Spotify. So there’s no doubt that more and more people — who might otherwise use pirated copies of songs — are using these services. Yet, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that these sites are cheap and free because they don’t pay their artists enough. In fact, a change in the way that these services operate would not only benefit artists, but also the streaming sites themselves.
There’s always the argument that these artists — Taylor Swift included — make so much money in sales every year that they shouldn’t need to worry about streaming sites profits. After all, Swift made $80 million in 2015.
But that’s just the paradox. She is making that much money because she has fans who are willing to pay for her music, go to her concerts, read magazines that put her on the cover and buy clothing because she endorsed the brand. People idolize her, and as a result, companies hire her to do ads and cover their magazines because she’ll bring in sales and draw in readers. If we, as fans and consumers, idolize artists for their music, movies and TV shows, buy magazines where our favorites landed the covers, watch them on Jimmy Kimmel, put them under a microscope in the tabloids, they have a certain level of fame and deserve the reward that comes with it. We shouldn’t expect them to be okay with giving us their work for almost nothing.
That being said, to provide artists with what they deserve from the public and from streaming sites, we must work collectively. Every party involved can help in various ways. Until it’s a collective effort, we cannot expect much change. Artists can take a page from Swift’s book and pull their music off of Spotify, which will increase pressure on streaming sites to give artists what they deserve.
But not every artist has the ability to do so, and not every artist has the popularity behind their movement to make a similar impact. Services, such as Spotify and Pandora, should rework their models so that they’re no longer free, but still allow for a free-trial period. This would bring in money to pay the artists on those sites better royalties.
In fact, Premium subscribers bring in even higher royalties to Spotify artists, so introducing users as paying subscribers is a start to changing the culture around the entertainment industry that is gravitating away from adequately compensating its artists. This would benefit both these streaming services and artists. If these streaming services paid their artists more, these services’ revenues would also increase from new subscribers.
Fortunately, there has been a good deal of research done that shows that these streaming sites business models are not profitable in the long run, so a change would help both parties.
Finally, it’s up to the users of these services to force them to pay artists more, whether it’s not using Spotify, or agreeing to pay for a premium subscription. It’s time something changed. Although it would mean paying a little extra a month for a subscription, or paying for songs on iTunes, it’s important to think about the value of the content. Do you go into a coffee shop and expect free coffee? When it comes down to it, artists and actors are no different from the store owners that you buy merchandise from. Artists, as anyone else, deserve to be paid fairly.
Anna Polumbo-Levy can be reached at email@example.com.