• Louis Parker

Do streaming services pay artists enough for their music?

Updated: May 4, 2021

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Senior bosses from music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music are to appear before MP’s this week to conclude the inquiry into the economics of music streaming.

By Louis Parker

With no live music performances since the summer of 2020, many musicians are struggling with their main source of income cut. With the realisation that streaming royalties just aren’t a feasible income source, what can artists do to make ends meet?

An inquiry by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) has been looking into the financial implications of streams for artists since November with the final hearing set to be this Tuesday. Thus far the inquiry has seen musicians such as Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien tell MPs that the small payments to artists by streaming services were “threatening the future

of music”.

Jack Shield, Blackpool electronic music producer and Foreign Language record label owner who goes by Koldar, talks about his experience with streaming service revenues.

“From my own experience, you make no money from streaming but have to be available on all streaming sites to be accessible. You can’t really win at the moment," Shield said.

“It isn’t enough to live on and artists should get a larger cut. The way major labels are prioritised needs to change, I don’t think it should reflect the same price as digital downloads though. There are partnerships being made between tech companies and major labels leaving artists out of pocket,” he added.

"You can’t really win at the moment."

Many fear that if streaming services do not pay artists a fair cut, emerging artists won’t be able to sustain themselves and even established artists appear to be struggling. Music producer Mall Grab who many regard as an electronic music ‘legend’ (with almost 26 million streams on his top 5 tracks alone) is regularly pushing his Depop link where he is selling his old clothing to sustain himself.

Music Gateway is a website that calculates the money earned by streaming services per stream. It calculates that if an artist achieves 100,000 streams, which is equivalent to around 208 days of streaming (for a song of 3 minutes) on Spotify they would make £344 and on Apple music £430.

Spotify did set up a feature for artists which gives listeners the option to donate money to their favourite artists via PayPal, but is this really enough when the streaming rate is so low?

“Sites like Bandcamp (which have been around for a while) are great at allowing artists to get as much as possible from digital sales,” says Shields, “I also think that consumers of music need to realise that if artists continue to be underfunded/paid then eventually the music will stop.

“Fans can easily support artists by buying their music, not only in hard copies but digitally via these sites. £4 doesn’t seem like a lot, but for musicians, at the moment this could make or break whether they can eat this month.”

Simon Chapman was a record producer and DJ from the 1980s-2000s who had a number of hard releases with some major UK record labels:

“The benefit for listeners with streaming services is they can access an incredible amount of music for a small monthly fee and can download to listen offline, delete it and then re- download if they like!

“But what many people don’t realise is that they are not fully supporting their favourite artists, as streaming revenues are not fairly distributed to artists. Streaming can make music feel disposable and seems to add less value to the music, plus without the backing of the labels, their music is likely to get lost amongst the noise of the sheer amount of music available.”

He says that especially now with no option for live performances there is a huge knock-on

effect for the whole industry.

“You hear of artists getting thousands, even millions of streams and ending up with a few hundred pounds. How can that be sustainable for five band members and their families?”

Two artists from two different eras in music consumption, but both agree - the way forward is

to support up and coming artists by buying music and merchandise from services such as Bandcamp.

Chapman says: “Back when I was releasing music people would happily spend £10 on CD’s a month, if they spent that buying albums direct from artists via Bandcamp, it could make a real difference. Yes, you don’t get the variety for the money we spend on streaming services, but you’re keeping the music alive by buying direct and giving musicians the ability to physically sustain themselves.”