Musicians: Want Money? Do Work.
Musicians everywhere want more - and they want it yesterday. But the answer has been here for two decades.
Musicians are complaining about the raw deals they are getting from streaming. That’s no surprise to anybody who has dealt with “DSPs” such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer. Anyone who’s dealt with these services knows what little actual revenue they can expect to receive. However, isn’t it curious that all three of these companies also operate in the podcasting realm, where these kinds of complaints are rarely ever heard?
Spotify is known to pay an average of $0.004 per stream. That’s four-tenths of one cent per listen.
Using the Spotify Royalty Calculator at tunemunk, it’s easy to visualize how tough it is for a musician to make a decent living wage with their art when dealing with DSPs as their primary revenue source.
There are very few musicians in the entire universe that can afford to create content for streaming services alone. Despite this, musicians work hard to ensure their releases are well-mixed, mastered artfully, and come paired with beautiful cover art.
The same cannot be said for podcasters, yet they’re cleaning up!
Podcasts: Terrible Quality & Terrific Earnings
Audio engineers, back me up here: most podcasts sound awful. COVID has done little to help this problem, now that even fewer studios are in-use today than before. Today, Zoom and Facetime calls have become the norm, extending past podcasting and into the realm of other ad-supported media formats like broadcast television and local AM/FM radio.
So, what are podcasters earning as they are literally phoning it in? Musicians, prepare to be envious.
A podcaster whose work performs just as well as our example streaming musician from above, earns more than ten thousand dollars per episode. That, on its own, is more than double the monthly income of the musician.
This works out to a yearly take-home of $128,000 for our podcaster. And we’re not even done.
Let’s now turn our attention to the expenses of today’s musicians and podcasters.
Podcasts are typically made with a couple of mid-to-high quality microphones, equating to a one-time cost of between $1000-$3000. Then there’s the need for a decent audio interface and headphones for editing - another $500 or so. Frequently, free and open source software is good enough for podcast editing. Overall, many peoples’ video game budgets are higher than what it costs to produce an above-average quality podcast.
Musicians know there is a very different set of circumstances surrounding their chosen art. Maintaining a musician’s instrument, for example, is a labor of love, and can be quite expensive. Violinists routinely spend tens of thousands of dollars on their instruments over the years, oboists and bassoonists sit at home carving their own reeds regularly, and singers forgo air conditioning and hot coffee so as to protect their instrument. Don’t even get me started on the costs associated with becoming an analog synth nerd, or with entering the world of guitar amplifiers and effects pedals.
Then there’s the actual product itself - the music. Music is often written and conceived of well in advance of when it gets recorded and tracked - unlike almost all podcasts. After tracking sessions are over, the resulting music tracks get passed around to several other stakeholders, who all leave their own mark on the musician’s original work. Audio is mixed, then mastered, in order to produce an enjoyable listening experience from beginning to end. Recordings with artifacts such as chair/foot sounds, microphone drop-outs, plosives, etc., are called out and those sections are re-recorded to ensure high audio fidelity. Musicians strive to get their tracks “just right.”
All this effort is a natural extension of the musical lifestyle. Music is not simply a profession one takes on after graduating college - it’s often something one pursues instead of college. Musicians had to begin playing their instrument well before this point in their lives, though, often studying prodigiously as children and forgoing many other kinds of activities during their youths as a result. Fidelity and technical accuracy are of tantamount importance to the musician, to the benefit of all listeners. That stuff takes time, which musicians have all paid for up-front before even beginning their musical careers.
We’ve thus established that musicians start out their careers with considerably more time invested into their art than podcasters. They spend far more money and reach a far higher degree of starting competence before venturing into their profession than podcasters. So, how come podcasters take home far more revenue for audio content than musicians?
Musicians need to hear some tough love. The reason podcasting has far surpassed music earnings is because podcasters began doing all the hard work after beginning their podcast. They never gave up their IP rights to “podcast labels” in weird contracts full of exclusivity and exit clauses. They learned how to edit, mix, and master their own recordings. They advocated for their own sponsorship deals, their own content policies, and even their own music assets - because the musicians’ ancient labels are too disorganized and contract-encumbered to integrate their products within the podcast world.
Music is an ancient artform, just as ancient and important as oration. Both the human voice and the musical spirit have the means and the need to live on in the 21st century - and while podcasting has succeeded in attaining this goal for our voices, music seriously lags behind. Complacency is the cause, and the solution is to use modern, open standards, and free software, to reboot what it means to practice music, just like podcasting rebooted the art of oration.
The Solution Is Self-Ownership & Courage
Every musician who wants to monetize their art needs to begin by learning the skills they lack to be their own advocate.
They must build their own web presence, learn how to produce their own music from beginning to end, and figure out how to organize and archive their artistic efforts in order to ensure their works live on with the changing times, no matter what new tech, challenges, and opportunities present themselves. They have to understand what they throw away by signing their rights away with a label, a representation group, or a publicist/agent.
Though it is perfectly fine to use such services in genearl, the musician’s primary source of new music releases must be their own web infrastructure - not a SoundCloud page, a Bandcamp URL, or a Twitter account. How? May I suggest…
MUSICIANS: START YOUR OWN PODCAST FEED
Get some of that podcast monetization revenue. Seriously!
I am beginning a new musical initiative that I have dubbed HyperMusic to research and promote this new music distribution idea.
You can follow me on the HyperMusic journey at its associated GitHub page.