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More Music Streaming Means Less Royalties For Musicians

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zoe keating

Zoe Keating

The music industry is expected to lose a lot of money, and it isn’t because of piracy. In fact, anti-piracy might have even lead to the struggle that the music industry will be facing. Streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora allow customers to stream music for free, or they can pay for a membership, leading to the creation of multibillion dollar streaming sites. But where does the music industry fit in to the future of music? Well, it doesn’t really seem to fit at all.

 “Late last year, Zoe Keating, an independent musician from Northern California, provided an unusually detailed case in point. In voluminous spreadsheets posted to her Tumblr blog, she revealed the royalties she gets from various services, down to the ten-thousandth of a cent.

Even for an under-the-radar artist like Ms. Keating, who describes her style as “avant cello,” the numbers painted a stark picture of what it is like to be a working musician these days. After her songs had been played more than 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays last year netted just $547.71, or an average of 0.42 cent a play.

“In certain types of music, like classical or jazz, we are condemning them to poverty if this is going to be the only way people consume music,” Ms. Keating said.

The way streaming services pay royalties represents a major shift in the economic gears that have been underlying the industry for decades.

From 78 r.p.m. records to the age of iTunes, artists’ record royalties have been counted as a percentage of a sale price. On a 99-cent download, a typical artist may earn 7 to 10 cents after deductions for the retailer, the record company and the songwriter, music executives say. One industry joke calls the flow of these royalties a “river of nickels.””

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