Musicians getting short end of the streaming stick

In 1999, Napster became the target of lawsuits after enabling users to bypass artists and record companies and freely share music files with each other at no charge. In the aftermath, Napster was shut down. This led to other file sharing protocols being created, sued, shut down and replaced in an ongoing battle.

Though the illegal swapping continues, a number of services popped up to enable consumers to stream music including, YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora.  In the case of Spotify and Pandora, if you do not subscribe, you hear advertising sprinkled throughout the music you hear.  To listen commercial free, you pay a small monthly fee.  After all, the artists and composers should be receiving their fair share, right?

The problem is, unless you are selling millions of recordings, playing in packed arenas, and putting your name on various products, (in other words, unless you’re Taylor Swift), you’re probably not going to be able to quit your day job.

Take Zoe Keating, an independent musician from Northern California, for example. She describes her style as “avant cello.”  She decided to go public with what it takes for a musician to make any money through their recordings online. She posted a detailed accounting of her plays and her income on her Tumblr account. The figures are quite revealing.

After 1.5 million plays on Pandora, she received $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays netted her an average of less than a half-cent per play. To earn $20,000, Keating would have to have nearly 5 million listens on Spotify and nearly 18.2 million on Pandora. Figures that are easily attainable for the likes of Lady Gaga, but not so easy for the vast majority of artists.

 “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,” Keating said.

Napster creator Sean Parker is on the board of Spotify. He contends that Spotify is “the right model if you want to build the pot of money back up to where it was in the late ’90s, when the industry was at its peak.”  That it is “the only model that’s going to get you there.”  

The problem is, that peak in the 1990s came at the same time Parker’s his first venture, Napster, was created. Now, it is simply too easy for music consumers to get their hands on recordings for little or, often, no charge.

At the other end of the spectrum, the video Gangnam Style by Korean artist Psy has generated some $8 million dollars from YouTube alone for 1.2 billion views.  Still, that is only .06 cents per view.

How long can these companies continue to squeeze golden eggs out of the goose before it quits laying them remains to be seen.

Read more: As music streaming grows, royalties slow to a trickle (NY Times)

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