Tweaking the streaming model / photo courtesy Kat Burns

How streaming could become good for artists

With a few tweaks, we can keep the music flowing for listeners, while paying the creators fairly.

Streaming music services introduce people to new music, and that is a great thing. Music is being heard, enjoyed and shared. You can now pay $10 to listen to all the songs you want, even offline. What a deal! But wait — this is where things have to change. The idea that you can get as much as you want for a single charge is very short sighted and does not feed into a long term sustainable model of operation.

I’m a musician/songwriter who has released five albums over the last seven years (KASHKA, Forest City Lovers). I’m very familiar with the music industry, and the way things are rapidly changing. There have been many discussions amongst my peers and contemporaries about the state of the industry now. It’s a whole new beast and the old rules, even from three years ago, are gone. The masses aren’t buying CDs, they’re streaming. This means less direct revenue is being earned from the same amount of time and money invested to create the music. There’s been movement from some individuals to remove all their content from streaming sites such as Rdio and Spotify, while many more others feel trapped in the current system by the perpetual dangling carrot of “exposure”.

Here’s a very brief rundown of the system, before I start to propose how it could easily change to benefit everyone involved:

  • Users pay a fee directly to streaming services to listen to all the music they want, on all their devices, even when offline. The running cost of this hovers around $10 USD.
  • Streaming services pay artists per streamed song, an average of $0.005 (it varies slightly by country). This is a fraction of a penny. An example: Arcade Fire, arguably one of the hottest bands at the moment, has around 400 000 plays on Rdio. This translates to about $2000— presumably split between six band members, management, and publishing. If even 10% of streamed songs were purchased at $0.99, they would have earned closer to $40 000. For lesser known artists, the numbers are much, much lower.
  • Some services have been fighting to pay even less per stream as they think it is hurting their bottom line.

So I propose some minor changes be implemented that would have a drastic and positive effect on the way music is consumed and how artists are paid through streaming sites.

  • Reasonable use. Stream all the music you want, but I propose that if you listen to a song in your ‘collection’ more than three times, you buy it for $0.99. The money would go directly to the artist, you’d be supporting the music you love, and you’d have the song permanently in your collection. Win win.
  • The site would have an option when you sign up to either automatically charge your credit card for the songs you listen to more than three times ($0.99 one time charge to own that song) or have an option to be prompted after you’ve listened to the song twice that would remind you that, “John, you seem to love this song! You’ll have to purchase it to listen to it more. Thank you for supporting the artists you love!”

A second hand effect would be that it would encourage the listener to discover more music based on the artists they like, in order to maximize their subscription. This model could change the game. The artists would be earning a much better wage for their work and the services would not lose any money from their monthly subscriptions.

People will argue that having to pay more would dissuade many from using these streaming services. This may be true, but I believe strongly that if a value is placed on something, people will eventually accept, and, hopefully, understand it. There is an inherent value in the music you listen to; someone spent their time and money to create and distribute it. If you enjoy your music, it’s time to rethink unlimited consumption.