Making Cents In The Music Industry

Making Cents In The Music Industry
Nick Brothers - The Free Weekly Managing Editor

Nick Brothers – The Free Weekly Managing Editor

So earlier last week, U2 released their newest album, “Songs of Innocence,” to every iTunes user for free. Yes, if you haven’t checked your “purchased” tab on iTunes you’ll find their album waiting to be downloaded.

This act really struck me. For one, that’s pretty cool on our — the consumers — end. Free music? Hell yeah. Love or hate U2, that’s pretty cool.

You can probably guess where I’m headed. Even though this was a PR stunt by U2 and iTunes’ marketing teams, it sort of hints at a larger growing trend.

Who wants to pay for music (for that matter, art) anymore?

As an avid music fan, this concerns me. Is giving your music away for free going to become a standard/encouraged option for artists? I bought into Spotify, the increasingly popular Internet music streaming service. I gladly pay $9.99 for premium streams of 95 percent of the world’s music for my computer and phone. That service is incredible for someone like me, but for a band with only 1,000 fans, its only real benefit is exposure.

The thing is, Spotify is largely used for free by a majority of its users, which are subject to lower quality streams and ad breaks. Once you break down the Spotify royalty formula, most artists see roughly $0.006 per stream, but the company says they consider this to be a “highly flawed indication” of how they pay artists because of a number of variables, including a country’s currency exchange rate, artist royalty rate and how premium streams pay out more, according to their info page.

Premium Spotify users pay twice the revenue into the music industry (read:industry, not necessarily artists) than the average music consumer does, and Spotify has paid out $1 billion (70 percent of their revenue) in royalties to artists, according to their artist info page. Spotify says a “niche indie album” makes about $3,300 in royalty payments in a month during a popularity boost for the album. That sounds sweet, but their net profit is likely to be much lower. It’s better than getting your stuff pirated at $0, I suppose.

At Wakarusa, I had the opportunity to interview J Roddy Walston and talk with him about the current state of rock n’ roll. We got on the topic of Spotify, too. He said something during our interview that stuck with me whenever I think about all of this.

I recall he essentially said, “Thanks to the Internet and services like Spotify, we’ve lost an entire source of revenue. We have 500,000 YouTube views for ‘Heavy Bells,’ and we don’t see a penny from that. On the other hand, we’ve been playing the biggest shows we’ve ever played.”

This is the current state for musicians it seems, a double-edged sword. Yes, lesser-known artists will likely have to share their music they worked on for hours on end and then put down thousands for a nice recording for free more often than not. Most of the sales artists will get are likely to only be from dedicated fans (goes to shows, buys entire album), and those are probably only about 40 percent — maybe less — of the fan base.

But, at that cost of sharing for free, more people than ever before can access your music and share it with their friends, thus increasing the odds for getting big shows, which undoubtedly has become the most lucrative thing a band can do. Now we’re seeing 300 plus dates on tours. Could you imagine being on a business trip for the larger part of a year? Yeah, you’re playing music, living a dream, but never being home in a constant state of traveling sounds exhausting.

In my experience, I actually discovered J Roddy on Spotify, streamed their stuff a whole bunch, and then when they announced their new album, “Essential Tremors,” I pre-ordered that shit because I was sold on what they were doing. I am likely a minority consumer.

I think the Onion did a fine job wrapping up the current state of artistic endeavors pretty well in a recent headline, which I admit, inspired this article’s headline. The headline read “Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.”

I mean, is it harder for people these days to “make it?” It’s always been hard, but one thing is for sure — and it may ultimately be a good thing — this trend in music forces the artists to come up with more creative ways of getting their art out there. So until all this gets figured out, support your local artists and buy their stuff sometimes if you like what they’re doing. That’s the most direct way you can support them versus a Facebook “like.” But do that, too.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you around.

Categories: Commentary