I’m an audiophile. I collect bands that I like, I collect their music, throw them in playlists, and use them as background noise and inspiration while I write, while I code, hell, while I walk. Music is something I’ve always loved and always stokes my spirit. Unless it’s Country and Western or Polka. In those cases, I’ll stick with the tinnitus constantly ringing in my ears.
At one time, I probably had over a thousand CDs, hundreds of audio cassettes, had nearly 500GB of music back when the best mp3s you could get and efficiently store were 128kb. Friends and I traded cds, we burned them, we exchanged music, introduced one another to new bands, and, in turn, we’d go purchase the CD of the band if we enjoyed the music enough.
Back in ’99, a coworker of mine and I decided that once a month we’d just wander into a music store, pick a CD or two at random, listen to ’em, and then exchange them with one another. It’s how I discovered Disturbed, Papa Roach, Incubus, and many many others. I stopped listening to radio in the 90s because it all became shit, so these disc exchanges were the only way I found new music. Keep in mind this was way back in 1999, so the world has definitely changed since then.
I never got into Napster because I didn’t trust it, I knew the artists weren’t getting paid, and, most importantly, it was somewhat dangerous to use at work. Corporate IT kind of frowned on it. Be that as it may, the part about artists not getting paid was obnoxious.
When Metallica freaked out about Napster, they killed their fan base and potential new listeners by not understanding the market, and by coming off as super rich douchebags who only wanted to get wealthier. Incidentally, their music has absolutely sucked since then, but that’s another conversation that involves an old man shaking his fist at time.
When Spotify came onto the scene, I knew I had to have it. I paid for the premium version, discovered new bands on a daily basis, and fell in love with the fact I could find damned near anything I wanted on the service. I think back in those days it was $9 a month or so.
Due to the fact I was let go from my last perm job, and the fact my wife works for Apple, we ended up with Apple Music as a replacement. It works just as well as Spotify (except I can’t use it on Linux easily), and in some instances, I actually like it better.
No matter what music streaming service you use, it’s an all you can eat buffet. You pay at the door, walk inside, and the food trays are steaming with glorious dishes, rotten dishes, dishes that have putrefied and will make me sick, and others that are merely unappetizing simply by existing (C&W and polka? I’m looking at you).
All this music, all this amazing art, good or bad, is there for the taking. The chefs are in the back, millions of them, preparing their dishes, cooking them, and placing them in the steam trays for the hungry to peruse. Some of these chefs are covered in the grime and soot of their work while others are dainty and clean, either barely breaking a sweat with their efforts because of their skill or lack thereof.
The chefs, however, are responsible for their own ingredients, their cooking utensils, their space at the kitchen, and even for cleanup. In fact, the only thing this imaginary restaurant actually pays for is the building, the tables, chairs, and the endless collection of steam trays. Apart from that, they have no costs because in truth, they do next to nothing but make money at the door.
I think I mentioned the fact these imaginary chefs are on the hook for their expenses. It’s free for a chef to join the restaurant and the restaurant does promise to pay, but they only pay at the end of the month and you’re paid by how many people eat your food. The only problem is it takes thousands upon thousands of patrons eating your dishes for you to make a few bucks.
As you might imagine, this is a problem for the chefs. While they only have to make their dish once for it to remain on the buffet in perpetuity, they may never see more than a single penny a month. If that. The sainted few, on the other hand, make good money on the buffet and easily translate that into sales at other restaurants where the patrons actually pay for their food a la carte.
Spotify, Audible, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and any others you can think of, all require a substantial amount of “listens” for their creators to make money. Spotify, as it turns out, is particularly scummy when it comes to paying artists on their platform. Considering they’re the most popular, this shouldn’t surprise you at all. It’s the same at Audible, trust me. Monopolies never pay shit.
Want a comparison? How’s this per “stream”:
- Napster: $.019
- Tidal: $.01284
- Apple Music: $.00783
- Deezer: $.0064
- Spotify: $.00437
- Amazon Music: $.00402
- Pandora: $.0013
- YouTube: $.00069
Based on these royalty numbers, it’s easy to see why the chefs are starving.
The benefits of streaming for the consumer are obvious. Consumers have the opportunity to discover new bands without any risk, look up old songs by one-hit-wonders (the rest of the album is shit, but it has this one damned song you just have to have), create playlists of eclectic crazy, and even see the lyrics to most of the songs as they play. Fantastic features I would have killed for as a kid and, even now, I can’t really imagine doing without.
Streaming has made junkies of us all. From music to audiobooks to movies, we’ve become a society that wants its content, wants it now, and as much as you can shovel into our greedy eyes and ears. We don’t spare a second thought as to how the artists make ends meet, how they pay for equipment, upgrading their computers, studio spaces, replacing instruments, and the like. Those details are hidden from us. On purpose.
In case you didn’t know, I’ve been podcasting my fiction weekly for free since 2009. I’ve been giving away my content all that time to establish a listener/reader base and give them a reason to throw money at me via other channels. I’m often asked by readers/listeners where they should purchase my works to make sure I get the most money. I love them for that.
As a content creator, I have a “fixed” set of costs per year:
- Cloud storage
- Podcast service (libsyn)
Other items of expense, the unfixed costs, include:
- Hard drives
- Audio upgrades (mics die)
- Computer upgrades and peripherals (these die too)
Luckily, I don’t need a studio to record my audiobooks or to write, so my expense domain is radically different from folks that DO need studios to record, producers, audio engineers, and etc. I’m also tech savvy enough to handle all the aspects of my content production without assistance from others. I’m not everybody, except I’m a unicorn like everyone else.
I’m not starving so to speak, but am always hungry. The bank account is never full and it can be a real struggle some months to make ends meet much less justify my business model. Some months I lose money. It’s just the way it is.
If I had to rely upon a single distribution channel (my podcast) to make money, I’d be living in a cheap cardboard box in the seedier side of no-income town. In truth, I make less money right now on audio book royalties from Audible, royalties from books sales for both my indie and Severed Press releases, and all other distribution channels combined than I do via Patreon, Buymeacoffee, and Ko-Fi. What are those?
Patreon, Buymeacoffee, and Ko-Fi provide content creators a way to receive money directly from their readers/listeners/viewers to help assuage the dissolution of our incomes that result from the endless buffet. Those membership services provide content creators with a relatively predictable monthly income. Buymeacoffee even lets you send one time tips to your favorite creator whenever you have the urge to put some cash in their pockets.
When possible, buy directly from the artist. Period. End of story, world without end, amen. Most of the artists who are with labels, or authors whose work is published by a large publishing company, do not have the option to sell anything directly. So called “independent” artists, on the other hand, can and do sell their wares on more favorable platforms.
Bandcamp, for instance, has done a fantastic job of making sure artists get the vast majority of cash paid for their albums. Bandcamp even has special Fridays where they waive their cut of the sales. Neat, eh?
Bandcamp has its own player, provides a community for their artists to interact with fans, and has a number of fantastic features. I believe the platform is only going to get better over time and if it keeps to its indie roots, it will remain a great money maker for those who control their own content.
For non-tech savvy folks, or those who don’t want the hassle of running their own store, Bandcamp is a no-brainer for audio of all kinds.
But you can’t buy all the albums. You can’t buy all the music you want a song at a time and not go broke. I get that all too well. It’s one of the reasons that if I find a band I like via streaming, I immediately check to see if they have a membership program (like Patreon, Ko-Fi, Buymeacoffee, etc) or if I can purchase one of their albums via bandcamp every once in a while.
Sending them tips is sometimes all I can do, but it’s better than nothing. A $2 tip every couple of months is far more equitable to the artist and enables you to spread the economic love to as many as you can afford.
As I said, the majority of the bands I’m talking about are independent. There’s no label paying them for production, no one paying for their audio engineering, and no one is helping with their marketing. They are truly independent in every way imaginable, for better or worse, and are quite often at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Bandcamp is how I support artists like Yen Pox, Troum, Ministry, and several others because it offers the most bang for the buck. I support Velvet Acid Christ via Patreon on a monthly basis, and when I can, I spend a few bucks on other artists that have a tip mechanism set up.
When I first started watching YouTubers and Twitch Streamers, I was absolutely agog that some viewers assumed that everyone on those platforms are millionaires from advertising and therefore didn’t deserve any coin or additional money. For the vast majority of creators, this is about as far from the truth as you can get.
As the graphic shows, if I monetized my YouTube channel via advertising, this is my estimated revenue over the course of the last 28 days–$12.02 for 2,800 hours of watch time.
Advertising revenue is absolute bollocks except for those at the top. Considering how often YouTube/Google change the rules on what can be monetized, what can be distributed, and etc, most folks are never going to break $20 a month. Just not going to happen.
I have personal ethical issues with allowing advertising in my content, so I don’t do it. However, it’s something to keep in mind when you watch someone’s content while using an ad-blocker–unfortunately, you’re stealing what little money these folks make per ad.
Be that as it may, ad revenue is not a panacea. It’s the same on every platform unless you make direct deals with the the advertiser via profit sharing on syndicated links or sponsored content. It can be a serious conundrum for creators looking to balance annoying their audience while making a tiny bit of coin.
I love the buffet. I really do. I can belly up to the steam trays with twenty plates, fill ’em up, and gorge myself for a low price. I don’t even bother using a napkin or silverware when I go on a massive new music binge. I feel guilty, yes, but what am I going to do? If stop using the services, then the artists truly do get paid nothing, because I can’t afford to purchase their music even song by song.
There are multiple artists I’ve sent messages begging them to get on Patreon or one of the similar services. I want to support them. I want to give them tips. If they don’t participate, I send them annoying emails. Why? Because I want to pay them in a manner that gives them, not the gatekeepers, the majority of the money. If they’re paid, they’ll keep adding to the buffet and not starve in the process.
Other ways to pay? Social media. Find a band you like that no one has ever heard of? Pimp it. A book you loved? Pimp it. Tell everyone you know. This is not for “exposure” (we definitely starve from that bullshit reasoning), but to interest someone who has the money and can spend it with your favorite chefs. If you don’t have the cash, try and entice other like minded folks who might be able to contribute.
There’s no one answer and I imagine there are folks out there who don’t give a damn. They want their content and don’t care whether the artists actually make money. In some cases, maybe in most of those situations, it’s sheer ignorance. If you care, get educated about how these things work. Ask your favorite artist how to best support them (especially indie artists).
As always, don’t take my word as gospel. Look around, ask around, do your own search for articles on the subject and inform yourself. It doesn’t matter what streaming platform you use, or your politics for using said streaming service. The problem is the same regardless, and anything you can personally do to help underpaid creators will help generate more art that you love and simply have to have.