Popular streaming services underpay musicians

Photo courtesy of Apple Music, Wikipedia.

Streaming services have become an ingrained part of our culture, and for good reason. It’s very convenient to have so much content available to you for a low monthly rate. Music is no exception, as you can find most artists that you’re looking for on the two most popular streaming services Spotify and Apple Music.

While it’s beneficial for the consumer, it’s less so for the artist whose music is on there. Artists don’t make much money from streaming, and Spotify in particular pays comparably low. 

“According to figures from last year, in the US Spotify paid $0.00437 per stream on average while Apple Music paid $0.00735 on average,” reporter Rhian Daly wrote for NME. “Apple Music said it now pays one cent per stream on average.”

Spotify’s low pay rate especially hurts smaller artists who are struggling to build an audience. Additionally, with the ongoing pandemic, not as many artists have been able to tour and perform live, which is how they receive most of their income.

Spotify's user base is so high, being on it is often viewed as essential for musicians looking to spread their work. Artists like Phil Elverum of the Microphones and Mount Eerie have been vocal about their issues with Spotify and how little it pays people. 

So far the only pro-streaming argument I've heard is basically ‘Because I want it. It is more convenient for me to not pay you.’” Elverum tweeted in August 2020.  Just because Sp****y's business model is not illegal yet, that doesn't make it right. Pay the people who make what you love. It's very simple.”

Elverum’s most recent album, “The Microphones in 2020,” wasn’t put on any streaming services. When asked by a fan on Twitter why the album wasn’t on streaming services Elverum responded, “I decided I deserve to be compensated.”

But even in the current culture that favors streaming, there are websites that cater more towards artists. Bandcamp is a website where artists can post their music to be streamed, and the site gives musicians an outlet to sell their music and merchandise. This gives people a way to support their favorite artists financially. Also, Bandcamp only takes 10-15% of sales revenue, which allows artists to make significantly more money than they would on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. 

Bandcamp has also taken into account the struggles many artists are going through due to the pandemic. Every first Friday of the month, Bandcamp allows musicians all of the revenue they earn from sales that day without taking the usual 10-15% of their revenue. 

Additionally, Bandcamp serves as a great way to find smaller artists you may not have heard of before, allowing many to break into the mainstream. Will Toledo, under the name Car Seat Headrest, released 10 albums on Bandcamp in a span of four years before being signed by indie label Matador Records. Since then, he’s formed a full band and has become one of the most popular indie bands performing today.

“It was sort of a slow-growing thing. I didn’t really have any industry connection at all until Matador came along,” Toledo said in an interview with Larry Crane for Tape Op. “I was putting out stuff on Bandcamp, and it got sort of a grassroots fanbase. Just people online picking it up, circulating it, talking to their friends about it. It just grew and grew very slowly.”

Spotify is a convenient service for listening to music. But as a result of this convenience, artists aren’t getting paid nearly as much as they should be, whereas Bandcamp offers a way to support artists by paying for their music. In this current age of streaming, it’s important to not lose sight of the cost this convenience has on artists.