The Musical Working Poor...

Should musicians just hang it up?

Should musicians just hang it up?

Much has been written on the joys & heartbreak of Internet Streaming Players. But this post just caught my eye:

Cracker's "Low" was played over a million times on Pandora, and the band was only paid $42.25.

Actually, that was this successful band's cash take on Pandora, Spotify & YouTube, combined.


$42. And 25¢.

Even thousands of spins generated artist checks of under a dollar.

Internet streaming sites are today's version of the 1950s/1960s free Green Stamps, which, if you're old enough, you'll remember were the great customer come-ons used by scores of supermarkets. You collected enough stamps when buying groceries & you could claim wonderful prizes. They didn't tell you that each book took hundreds of stamps and it took scores of books to redeem for anything of real value. The betrayal lay in finding that even the cheapest, non-worthwhile item took dozens of books to get. That's much like Pandora et al. today. You give them the use of thousands and millions of spins of your record, and they give you... nothing. Or nearly so.

Someone asked me why I hadn't placed A Job of Work (Tales of the Great Recession) on any streaming sites. There's your answer. It doesn't pay. If there were accurate, verifiable data linking stream spins with increased income from an enlarged fan base, it certainly would be worthwhile & I'd be right on it. But no one has that data. Because there is no link.

Of course, Pandora's venture capitalist is getting paid. Handsomely. As are all the site's attorneys. And the recent college grad with the original algorithm for the song player is certainly getting paid, and is looking for millions when it's time to sell it off & walk away. Musicians, however, are left yearning for that elusive $100 bill.

Years ago, record labels died when suits took over. Their greed eventually created the customer backlash that crippled the industry and sent it spinning into irrelevance.


DIY music making emerged, and around these music makers there grew independent crafts people who performed the various recording / technical / marketing / manufacturing / promotions functions that record label staff formerly provided. These are talented, committed, hard-working people who charge fees for providing an array of needed services to the independent artist. Today, these fees reflect the bulk of the cost of making any album.

Still, these sometimes hefty fees offer real value returned through the excellent work of these artisans. You have a tangible hard copy CD in your hand; you see the fair & competent handling of your sales by fulfillment firms; you see the number of radio station plays the album gets; you see the reviews you've garnered & the interviews arranged. The value received from these efforts on the artist's behalf is clear for all to see.

Are living rooms our only hope?

This new streaming model uses a different approach to music in order to succeed. They flip the process upside down, and service the consumer, rather than the artist, offering consumers unlimited access to music for that subscription fee. To supply this beast, they draw upon the efforts of thousands of hungry musicians. They promise artists a huge new fan pool, and yes—those 1,000,000 listens Cracker received for their tune, "Low," is not shabby.

However, while Pandora and Spotify happily and willingly pay full fare to their programmers & designers; to H-P for their desktops & servers; the web hosts for access to the Web; their promotions people for the never-ending ads & publicity campaigns; and their cadre of attorneys for writing up air-tight Terms of Service and Privacy Policy documents, they explain away their paltry payments to artists with the "exposure" argument. Musicians provide a service to these Streamers, as much as H-P or the attorneys; they supply the Streamer's raw materials. There is no stream and no stream player without the artists. They should be paid accordingly. We safely assume tomatoes occupy a rather large portion of the expenditures in Prego's or Ragu's bookkeeping.

But Spotify and the rest have yet to show how those millions of plays have ever translated into the promised additional income from increased bookings, CD sales, live show attendance or merchandise sales that would offset their paltry music outlay. That's because that data simply does not exist in any meaningful form.


This is merely pure-profit unpaid Internet radio. It's not free to the consumer who continues to pay a healthy fee for what they could get for free elsewhere on traditional radio. Plus, the consumer / fan is robbed of any future music from their new favorite musicians as these artists went broke on Pandora & Spotify and no longer make music.

Musicians and all artists must be valued.

To that end, I would sincerely hope you enjoy the clips from A Job of Work or While the City Sleeps... provided on their respective Music pages here; enough so that you might like to actually own a CD of either album, or a download of these albums or one of more of their tracks.

We, all of us who play music, need your backing because, frankly, fan support of recorded music and live shows is the only way music will exist today and into tomorrow.

Have thoughts on Internet streams and their payments? Leave a comment! Thanks for reading!