Making a living from music in 2017

Long gone are the days when a record company could demand an artist gets paid £250,000 for their music to be played on a Levi’s commercial. Nowadays, the ad agency is more likely to say “Think yourself lucky. Your song will get loads of exposure and be heard by potentially millions of people, who will then go on to buy a copy.”

In this day and age however, not many people buy single copies of music anymore. In the year 2000, the arrival of Napster and the explosion of file sharing meant people could share their music collections for free, almost destroying the music industry business model overnight. This all changed when Apple came to the industry’s rescue with their iPod and iTunes service making it legitimately easier to pay 99p for a digital download. This worked well for both the record companies and artists for a while. The record company and artist would share the profits 50/50 (after Apple had taken a small cut of course). The artist could still make a living.

Fast forward to 2017 and most people don’t buy music - they stream it via services like Spotify or Amazon Music Unlimited. The record companies love streaming. They get a much bigger slice of the advertising and subscriptions from these sites. Leaving the artist to only get something like 0.01 pence for every time their track is streamed. In 2013 the most streamed track was Get Lucky by Daft Punk. By August that year it had had over 100 million plays on Spotify worldwide but they only got paid £13,000. Now I’m sure Daft Punk have many other revenue streams but for a normal musician you’d need that many plays to earn just over the minimum wage.

There’s still room for the global superstars like Adele, Ed Sheeran or Coldplay to make their millions, but these are the exceptions. They make the bulk of their income selling out arenas with an audience of over 50,000, all paying £70 plus for a ticket (Get well soon Adele).

So where do the fledgling new artists play to cut their teeth? A lot of the smaller music venues have closed, likely to be turned into luxury flats in prime locations across the country. Maybe I’m being cynical; maybe modern day musicians should be more creative about how they make a living from music and where their music is played. You can’t just sell singles and albums - whether digital or physical. There are more outlets for carrying music content than ever before: Websites, cable TV channels, digital radio stations, computer games and movies. If you can get your music played here then the royalties along with the initial fee should be rewarding, but with so many channels and so much competition expect the fee to be more like £250 instead of £250,000.

Nostalgia is not what it used to be…

by Jon. July 2017.