Rich Artists Aren’t Going Broke.

Despite what they may say.

Music streaming gives power to the listeners. In the pre-streaming days of CDs, artists had all the power, and now the tables have turned. I remember back in the day, I’d hear a song on the radio that I really liked, I would go to the store to find the artist’s CD, I would buy it for $15, and come to find that besides the single song I heard on the radio, the rest of the album was lackluster.

With the advent of single-song purchases through iTunes, listeners could avoid paying the costly $15 for the entire album to hear the one track they liked, instead buying only the music they want.

I’m not a musician, but I do understand that a tremendous amount of labor and capital goes into producing an album. Today’s popular artists say that music streaming services like Spotify are robbing them of their lifestyle, hinder creative freedom, and make it tough for people to make music into a career. Despite what they say, rich artists aren’t going broke. Here’s a few points.

#1 — The bulk of earnings don’t come from album sales.

The most-sold album of all time is Thriller by Michael Jackson (about 49 million copies sold since it’s release in 1982). If you take $15 per album sold, you end up with about $735 million. This is over an entire lifetime, and you’d have to be a superstar like M.J. was in order to get there. Now, of course he didn’t get to keep all the money. In fact, a report suggest that for every $1,000 worth of albums sold, the artist gets about $23.40 (You can read the article here)

Rolling Stone lays out 9 ways artists make money:

  • Merchandise (t-shirts, hats, etc)
  • Movie and TV Licensing
  • Fashion Lines
  • Perfume
  • Start-up Investing
  • YouTube
  • Kickstarter
  • Instant Concert Recordings
  • Talk Show Band

You’ve all heard of merch, fashion, perfume, and other ways that artists make the majority of their money. It should be no surprise that they don’t make their money from album sales, as that has long not been the case (even before music streaming). In fact, private shows bring in anywhere from $30k (artists like Chance the Rapper) to $100k (Rick Ross) to $500k (Kanye West). Think about it: a single private event show can make more money for the artist than a month’s worth of CD sales.

#2 — Music streaming actually helps people discover new artists.

Far too often have I stumbled upon a new artist from a playlist that a music streaming service, and have gone on to purchase a single track. Beyond that, your music as an artist will get played over and over, and assuming you get paid per listen, even if it’s a small amount, your music will live forever in the service.

#3 — Spotify isn’t making much anyways.

In fact, the labels are hoarding all of the money, and how it gets down to the artists is not really know. Check out this article for an explanation.

Artists just want attention.

And it’s natural for them to do so. Taylor Swift keeping her music off of Spotify has nothing to do with falling album sales, as she likely won’t earn much of it anyways, and the hardcore fans will buy her album even if it’s available to stream on services like Spotify. Kanye West’s refusal to make his track available anywhere but his website and Tidal, the music streaming service he has invested in, has nothing to do with the need to make more money. Heck, it makes more sense if he made TLOP available at least on iTunes to get the album sale, but it’s more beneficial for him to get the attention from the headline “Kanye West says his newest album will never be available on iTunes”.

Beyonce broke a record by surprise-releasing her album on iTunes, selling over 617,000 in 3 days. That’s a lesson that Kanye could learn.

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