Back in January, news reports surfaced that Gary Numan, one of the pioneers of electronic music, received a whopping £37 for the equivalent of one million streams for one of his songs. While Gary Newman hasn’t been at the forefront of audience attention in recent years, his respectable cult following and continuous presence in music make this figure a little worrying for what it hints at in the state of streaming music across the world. In an industry already left precarious after the impact of Covid-19, you can wonder how the music industry can survive and continue its support of smaller artists when they’re left with so little of the money-pot. Is it viable, and is it fair that those who receive the smallest cut of the profits are the one’s making the actual music?
Speaking to Sky News, Numan exclaimed, “I had a statement a while back and one of my songs had had over a million plays, million streams, and it was £37. I got £37 from a million streams.” Yet, as Numan pointed out, “If you’re really at the top, then you can earn pretty well from streaming,” but that doesn’t lessen the unstable state of streaming. In a breakdown of how much money streaming generates as well as revealing the breakdown of profits that an artist is entitled to, the Broken Road Campaign revealed that each stream generates roughly 0.28p per stream, with only 16% of the income going to the artist. The streaming service itself (services like Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music), would usually take almost double what the artist makes at 29% of the income, leaving the record label at 2.5 times the amount of the artist’s sum at 41%. Despite the artist often being the creator of their music, in a breakdown of the income they’re largely the ones left with the smallest cut. Granted record labels often use their larger cuts to pay staff, to help with publicising and many other factors but it seems highly unfair that streaming services are taking such a larger proportion of the income over the artist, who are putting in a lot more work for their cut.
Circling back to Numan’s statement, he is right that bigger artists can make a larger amount of money if they’re more popular. Streaming services are sometimes forced to pay a higher percentage of the income generated by the likes of artists like Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran, the latter even owning his own record label, Gingerbread Man Records. However, for smaller or even independent artists, streaming rarely generates enough money to support them financially – relying more on the income created through album sales rather than streaming sales. But it’s a catch-22. Artists are finding it harder to be discovered without a presence on streaming services as well as album sales declining. As mn2s reported in their 2017 report: UK physical music sales had dropped 3.2%, while since 2010, it had more than halved in sales. Physical releases are dying out as streaming services grow in popularity (worth £577 million in the UK in 2017 alone), but these are worrying figures that are starving hardworking smaller artists in the industry.
All is not bad though. Some streaming services are working hard to give artists a fairer cut of the profits, including Napster and Jay-Z’s Tidal, but even as bigger services like Spotify and Apple Music continue to dominate the market, there seems little hope for smaller artists. Change needs to happen, streaming services need to pay out more to their artists and use their platform to help smaller artists, but whether that will happen any time soon remains to be seen.