Streaming services like Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify have revolutionized the way many people listen to music. Where we once had libraries of records and CDs, now we can access music of any genre and any artist in our cars, homes, and on the go.
Any way you look at it, this is a leap forward for listeners. And in some ways, you can argue that anything that makes connecting music and listeners easier is a good thing. This was the transformative power behind portable music players like Discmans and iPods and other mp3s, which put music in our pockets decades ago.
But the streaming model for listening has its downsides, especially for recording artists. Once the label or recording company made most of the investment in producing an album. Now, streaming services have changed the model. Streaming services start by taking 30-34% of revenues from a stream, while the recording label takes between 40-55%, and this is based on the number of times a piece is streamed. The remaining—and much smaller—portion is shared out between the recording artist, publisher, and composer.
While bringing musicians and fans closer together is ultimately a positive, this is the downside: the rapid transformation of technology and business model has created challenges for artists. Our end goals are to touch listeners while also ensuring that our recorded work can advance our careers. And walking this line isn’t easy, especially because any DIY self-produced release doesn’t help with the “advance” part. Artists (including us classical musicians) must release on a commercial label to be nominated for (or win) a Grammy Award for their work.
Streaming service payouts to artists
Let’s take a closer look at the revenue share in the streaming services model. This system results in payouts as small as $0.003 and $0.008 per stream for artists, with many landing in the $0.003 to $0.004 range (in case fraction conversion is not second nature to you, that’s 3/10ths of one penny). Streaming services keep these sums under wraps, and payouts can vary greatly by country, label, and contract.
While the exact sums are hidden, the math is clear: if recording artists earn 3/10ths to 4/10ths of a penny on streams, and our work is streamed 100,000 times, we’re earning…wait for it…$400 or less on our investment in the recording.
Recordings require investment
These are heartbreakingly small returns, especially on an endeavor that costs $25,000 or more. While that sounds like a lot, this is a budget stretched carefully over what it takes to record high-quality performances. Duo Sequenza’s investment in a recording includes fees to rent an ideal acoustic performance space for recording; the cost of inclusive packaging for a sound producer and engineer; our very small artist fees, if we can pay ourselves at all; travel costs including meals, hotel, and mileage; and fees paid to the label for release, distribution, and promotion.
Damaging the creative ecosystem
These low streaming fees damage the creative ecosystem that performers and composers belong to. Even successful, high-profile artists see small returns from what has become the dominant mode of consuming music. This diminishes artists’ earnings and damages the talent pipeline for non-featured artists, emerging performers, and more.
Prominent artists are starting to speak out, calling for reforms in favor of artists and composers as well as limits to ownership of copyright that would revert to artists after a period of years.
Changing the equation
Awareness is the first step to true change, and we’re hopeful that a shift to benefit recording artists will come. Artists should have the ability to earn a fair return on their work, to have a viable career. This said, as artists, we believe that even though the required investment and small returns make the business of recordings a challenge, it is worthwhile and important to create them. For us, it comes down to creating a legacy of our work—and that of the composers—together expanding the repertoire for our ensemble. The works on our album “Yes…It’s a Thing!” as well as our forthcoming album “Yes…It’s STILL a Thing!” and our crystal flute album project “Yes…It’s a FRAGILE Thing!” are 100% world premiere recordings. We strongly believe in our mission as ambassadors for bringing these beautiful pieces to listeners and developing new audiences for today’s classical music.
What can listeners do? First, we want you to listen and enjoy music, especially ours. Consider, if you are able and so moved, a contribution to support our 2021 album fundraiser and our 2022 crystal flute album. This can help us raise the funds necessary for investment in these worthwhile projects. If you are inclined, share with others the reality artists face when it comes to streaming services. Lastly, subscribe to our listening platforms and buy our physical albums…for yourself and your friends! At the end of the day, our music-making needs you as listeners!