The Haves And The Have-Nots

“1% of artists account for 90% of streams says Alpha Data”

It’s a racket I tell you. Streaming has ruined the music business. I’m sitting here busting my ass recording and releasing and I’m not making any money. The system is broken. I’ve been screwed. Spotify is the devil.

But the devil is in the details. That 1%? It represents 16,000 artists!


Last I checked, people could only listen to one track at one time. And sure, they’ve made more people since the seventies, but not that many.

In the seventies there was a glut of product, it was the talk of the business, how there were now FIVE THOUSAND ALBUMS A YEAR! Up from 2500-3000. How was anybody supposed to get noticed?

In other words, sixteen thousand artists making money every year sounds pretty good. The cycle in the seventies was one album per year…there weren’t even 16,000 artists making music every year, at least not recorded and distributed to record outlets.

As for the rest of the acts…

The top 160,000 artists got 99.4% of the streams.

TERRIBLE! Only 160,000 artists a year are making money via streaming. We’ve got to get the government involved, this is a travesty!

If 160,000 artists are making money via streams, that’s a MIRACLE! As for the other 99.4% putting music on the site, the vast majority, each one is a person with a voice and social media access and they can’t stop bitching, obfuscating the reality.

Furthermore, the RIAA just released their mid-year statistics:


Despite the pandemic, despite the devastation of business in America, recorded music revenues WENT UP! By 5.6%. And, AND, streaming now represents 85% of the market as opposed to 80% a year earlier. In other words, STREAMING IS SAVING THE MUSIC BUSINESS!

But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

As for the vaunted vinyl revival? Of the $5.7 billion in sales at the retail level, $376 million was attributable to vinyl. Sure, there was a negative impact from the pandemic, but do you get the relative proportions? Sell that vinyl as a souvenir, it’s a de minimis part of overall revenue, especially when you consider streaming is all net and vinyl has fixed costs in shipping and manufacturing, never mind discounts at retail.

In other words, the future’s so bright you’ve gotta wear shades. More people are making more money from recorded music than ever before and revenues are going up. LET’S PARTY!

But it’s all doom and gloom in the press. Artists are starving. Daniel Ek ruined the business, and by telling the truth, that some acts are making beaucoup bucks on streaming, and that that number is growing, he ended up excoriated by everybody not rich or rich in the past to the point where I doubt he’ll be making any pronouncements in the future.

I know, I know, it doesn’t FEEL right!

But feel has got nothing to do with facts. Hell, look at politics.

So, you can make music and distribute it cheaply as a result of new tools. You can record on your laptop and distribute via streaming services at almost no cost, whereas in the past recording was expensive and without a deep pocket, i.e. a record company, you were shut out. BUT WHY IS THERE AN EXPECTATION YOU SHOULD MAKE A LIVING!

This drives me crazy. All the ink about starving artists. They never factor in demand. If you start a restaurant and no one comes it’s not the public’s fault, IT’S YOUR OWN DAMN FAULT! You tweak, you do everything you can to stay in business but chances are you fail. Kind of like the record store owners of yore. The internet ruined their businesses. They were so good at it, recommending records, people loved their shops, but the future came and they ended up on the wrong side, in the past. I thought art was about piercing the barriers of the future, not holding people back.

So, the big get bigger, as the pie increases, as more people subscribe, as revenues go up. And, the business is no longer hit dependent, people want full access to all music all the time, they just don’t subscribe and sign off when there’s a hot new album.

However, mindshare of hit artists is decreasing. The landscape is broadening. This is a story that is not told because the media and the business itself are focused on a hit mentality. There is no longer just a top forty. Turns out there are a ton of music niches and successful acts in each one of them. Everybody lauded as a star? The Spotify Top 50? The ridiculous, manipulated “Billboard” chart? They’re reaching a smaller percentage of the public than ever before. You can ignore Cardi B no problem. You may have never heard the Weeknd. As for “Billboard”‘s supposed song of the summer, DaBaby’s “Rockstar,” most people have never even heard it, never mind like or dislike it. You won’t get that sense if you pay attention to media, then again, media is an insulated self-hyping universe.

So, there’s money to be made. By a greater number of artists in a greater number of genres, especially when you factor in touring.

But somehow there’s a problem.


Comments are closed