Should you pay to play?

Streaming sites like Spotify may limit the existence of smaller bands

The Spectrum

The year is 2014 and everything we listen to has been cut, re-cut, looped, flipped and remixed, however, nothing has been more re-mastered than the way we listen to music.

Sites that allow for unlimited streaming like Spotify and Pandora have changed the way that we interact with music on a daily basis.

In 2000, a chart-topping album would have millions of copies sold – in the first week. Today, the most successful albums are lucky to sell a quarter of a million in the same amount of time.

It is no surprise the drop of album sales have correlated with the rise of sites such as YouTube, Pandora and Spotify.

The word, “CD” has become a relic and the Walkman has become a symbol of the technological Stone Age. This advancement isn’t a bad thing, merely the result of changing times.

The question is: where has the money gone?

In 2013, Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead, hurled accusations at Spotify via Twitter, saying the streaming service is “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.”

He said that Spotify, rather than serve the musicians it hosts, instead serves the interests of its shareholders.

The average royalty payment for a single play on Spotify is between $.006 and $.0084. It’s not hard to see where Yorke is coming from, especially when Spotify is considered one of the highest paying streaming sites (Pandora: Avg. $0.00127 per stream).

This margin of profit is fine for artists that can rack up millions of streams – but for artists just emerging in the music industry, this figure cuts profit essentially to zero.

One U.K. indie artist, Sam Duckworth, made a post on The Guardian in 2013 claiming that 4,685 Spotify plays earned him £19.22, or $24.91 by current exchange rates.

On its website, Spotify states that an unnamed “niche indie album” averaged about $3,300 in profit in July 2013.

To put this in perspective, the typical indie band, averaging half-a-million songs per month will make $3,300.

A band signed to a label, typically, must payout labels, managers, publishers, songwriters and producers before they claim any profit for themselves.

What this means is that the smaller bands that rely on the entirety of their profits to fund their touring and musical careers will slowly cease to exist.

The money has transferred into the hands of the industry itself – the ones profiting are not the ones making the music, but the ones who give it out.

Spotify, however, arguably has still afforded fringe artists a degree of commercialization they wouldn’t have received without Spotify’s existence.

It’s probably true the insignificant margin of profit hurts under-the-radar artists more than it helps – but the answer to this problem is not painted in black and white.

No matter where you stand, whether on the Spotify’s side or not, the music industry is undergoing an immense change as evidenced in the continual drop of monthly album sales.

In 2011, The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney made a statement during an interview with VH1. He states streaming sites do not offer royalties allowing “a band that makes a living selling music.”

But as streaming sites continue to grow, the question of where this is all going casts a shadow on the future of the music industry.

It is now 2014 and streaming services still do not offer a feasible living except for the most wildly popular artists.

David Bryne asserts in his op-ed piece on The Guardian that the Internet will soon make the rate of survival among emerging artists basically zero.

But perhaps this is just a response to the blending of Internet and culture – a natural selection of the smaller artists flooding the new Internet market – a way of distinguishing between the good and truly great.

Personally, I take comfort in the fact that no matter whether the “industry” sinks or swims – the music will always remain a constant.