In the great streaming royalty debate, the focus has been on tiny royalty rates per stream. Artists are up in arms, many are opting out of streaming services, and the noise and debate has been growing louder. Lost in that noise is a voice that is seldom heard: that of the record companies. There’s good reason for that: they’re making more money from streaming and the future looks extremely bright for them.
Buried in the Christmas Eve edition of the Wall Street Journal (which is itself a day to bury news) is a short column by esteemed writer Ethan Smith. And buried in HIS column (not the lead paragraph, but 8th paragraph) is the vital important nugget that shapes the future music business:
Data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal showed that one major record company makes more per year, on average, from paying customers of streaming services like Spotify or Rdio than it does from the average customer who buys downloads, CDs or both.
OK…let’s quickly digest this. On a per-consumer basis, a major record label makes more money from streaming services than any other format. This might be a figure to look at skeptically if these services barely reached a million people, but worldwide streaming services generated $1.25 billion dollars this year and Spotify alone has over 24 million active users (which jumped massively in the last week with app installs up 4x over the previous week). But how much more is being earned?
The average “premium” subscription customer in the U.S. was worth about $16 a year to this company, while the average buyer of digital downloads or physical music was worth about $14.
Let’s take a look at that. Year over year, the premium subscriber was worth nearly 15% more than the person who bought music either digitally or physically. So, if there’s more money to be made in the streaming hills, why are so many artists unhappy? Because the artist has to rethink the business on multiple levels.
IT TAKES LONGER TO MAKE MORE MONEY
As Ethan points out, it took an “indie pop/rock group” 34 months to make more money from streaming than they did from sales. Some artists will do it in less time, and others in more time. Either way, the artist has to take the long view. It’s certainly easier and much better to run a music business with the money coming in quickly with an up-front sale. However, if you believe in your music and have patience, the long run pays off. In this way, the recorded music business will quickly resemble its partners in publishing. In another way, with many artists being financially irresponsible, is it so bad for them to get their money slowly over a prolonged period?
THE MONEY GOES TO MORE ARTISTS THAN EVER BEFORE
A person buying $14 worth of CDs a year has the money going to 3 artists at the most (3 CDs x under $5). A person buying $14 worth of downloads a year has the money going to maybe 18 artists at the most (18 downloads x $.79). However, $16 worth of streaming revenue conceivably goes to as many as 3,200 tracks (3,200 streams x $.005). Even if you take an assumption that a person does 100 listens of one artist in a year, that’s still spread out over 32 artists in a year, or nearly double the max average for download sales. As I’ve reiterated before, the real issue facing artists with streaming is that the very access that allows them to make money means the pie gets sliced thinner. There’s more money, but it just goes to more artists.
THE SONG HAS TO LAST A LONG TIME
Disposability of a song only works if you work it extra hard while it’s hot. If an artist/song takes 34 months to make more money, then the song needs to be relevant for those 34 months. No longer can you stiff a consumer who buys something and only listens to it a couple of times. Now, those listens need to reoccur and do so over a prolonged period. This also means continually marketing content to ensure it stays relevant.
Longtime readers of my book Futurehit.DNA have already been making music that plays into these trends. I’ve been predicting for years that music revenues will be based more on repeatability, and that is now taking firm root. Those who embrace these new realities are more likely than others to rise above the mass volume of music released and are poised to thrive in this new age of the music business.