Are music streaming services bad for artists?


Kernel Opinions Sig

Hayden Donaldson

Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music have taken over the music industry and drastically altered how musicians profit from their work, for better or for worse.

Streaming services grant listeners access to a seemingly infinite catalog of music that can be listened to at any time or place, all without ever having to buy a single song or album. Ten dollars a month is now all it takes for every song there is to be available to you instantaneously. Never before has it been possible to have such unbridled access to the boundless wealth of music that the world has to offer.

From the consumer perspective, streaming services are one of the best things to ever happen to music, but is it all at the expense of the artist?

Artists earn just fractions of a cent when one of their songs is played, and the overwhelming dominance of streaming services leaves them with no real alternative platforms that command a mainstream appeal.

It wasn’t long ago that an artist could expect to sell an entire album millions of times over off the back of just one song that was worth listening to. Record sales were once a musician’s bread and butter and are now on life support, which, in turn, has left the music industry and its overall profitability clouded in uncertainty.

It’s tempting to see how little Spotify pays artists per stream and how few people buy music now and conclude that streaming services are the enemy of artists and music everywhere. It is only when examining the holistic impact that streaming has had on the music industry, however, that it becomes clear that streaming has overwhelmingly had a positive impact on musicians in a multitude of ways.

On average, an artist can expect to make around $0.00437 per stream and $3,500 for 1 million streams. Earning just a percentage of a cent for every stream may initially sound like far too little for artists to be getting for their work, but in practice, these meager earnings add up very quickly and can generate a sizable profit for musicians. This is because at any given time, millions of people are streaming music and every single time a song is getting played, an artist is earning a profit from it.

Critics of streaming services who feel they take advantage of artists and need to pay them far more fail to consider the greater impact that music streaming has had on musicians and their compensation.

An artist’s compensation from streaming is a direct result of how many people actually want to listen to their music and how often those people are listening to it. Earnings from music streaming reflect the quality of the artist’s work, which ensures that artist compensation is fair and based on the merit of their work. Therefore, more musicians than ever before can make money from their music. Even very niche musicians can gain far more exposure and reap far more profit than they ever would be able to do without streaming.

Services like Spotify do not just provide artists with streaming revenue, but they also allow those artists to interact directly with their audience from selling merchandise and promoting concerts on their artist profile.

Prior to streaming services, live performances and merchandise sales did not generate nearly as much revenue for artists because merchandise was usually just sold from the artists website or during concerts, and getting the word out about concerts to the right people was far more difficult.

The mass exposure and seamless integration into the platform their audience already is using to listen to their music has transformed live performances and merchandise sales into extremely lucrative sources of revenue for artists.