“A decade after Apple revolutionized the music world with its iTunes store, the music industry is undergoing another, even more radical, digital transformation as listeners begin to move from CDs and downloads to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube.
As purveyors of legally licensed music, they have been largely welcomed by an industry still buffeted by piracy. But as the companies behind these digital services swell into multibillion-dollar enterprises, the relative trickle of money that has made its way to artists is causing anxiety at every level of the business.
Late last year, Zoe Keating, an independent musician from Northern California, provided an unusually detailed case in point. In voluminous spreadsheets posted to her Tumblr blog, she revealed the royalties she gets from various services, down to the ten-thousandth of a cent.
Even for an under-the-radar artist like Ms. Keating, who describes her style as “avant cello,” the numbers painted a stark picture of what it is like to be a working musician these days. After her songs had been played more than 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays last year netted just $547.71, or an average of 0.42 cent a play. […]
Spotify, Pandora and others like them pay fractions of a cent to record companies and publishers each time a song is played, some portion of which goes to performers and songwriters as royalties. Unlike the royalties from a sale, these payments accrue every time a listener clicks on a song, year after year.
The question dogging the music industry is whether these micropayments can add up to anything substantial. […]
In a recent interview, Sean Parker, a board member, said he believed Spotify would eventually attract enough subscribers to help return the music industry to its former glory — that is, to the days before Mr. Parker’s first major enterprise, Napster, came along.
“I believe that Spotify is the company that will make it succeed,” said Mr. Parker, who is also a former president of Facebook. “It’s 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. This is the only model that’s going to get you there.””
Streaming Shakes Up Music Industry’s Model for Royalties