I spend most of my workday at my desk, so streaming music is not just convenient, it’s essential.  I have a turntable at home and a small collection of records inherited from my parents that I augment through buying resale vinyl and the occasional brand new album.  The recent and much-maligned relaunch of TIDAL (a streaming music service for musicians by musicians) made me curious about how artists are compensated when I consume their product.

Enter Information is Beautiful, a site “dedicated to distilling the world’s data, information and knowledge into beautiful, interesting and, above all, useful visualizations, infographics and diagrams.”  As is made clear in this infographic, the best way to compensate artists is by purchasing physical recordings directly from them, followed by digital purchases through bandcamp, iTunes, and so on.  For a signed solo artist to earn a monthly minimum wage streaming their music, it would take 180,000 plays on TIDAL and an unbelievable 4,200,000 plays on YouTube. The infographic only addresses first sale of recordings, so I’ll mention that artists receive no compensation when I buy their albums used.

To get the perspective of a musician distributing his music online, I contacted Ryan Taylor, Libraries staff member and  frontman of DFW’s Oil Boom.  Ryan kindly agreed to answer a few questions for our edification.

S: Which online services do you use to distribute your music, and how does it get there?
R: We try and use every available resource we can, which seems to be growing by the hour. The most prominent of these are iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and Bandcamp. There is a service called Tunecore (http://www.tunecore.com/), which automatically loads your music into a number of streaming sites, once you’ve paid a fee and submitted your music digitally to them.

S: What effect does streaming music have on independent and local artists/bands?
R: My opinions are constantly evolving along with the technology, but by and large it impacts us in a number of positive ways. For our band, it’s been a great tool to reach more people than we ever could just through doing live shows or being played on terrestrial radio. It’s amazing to think that someone in Spain can listen to our music anytime, anywhere if they want and through the links provided, immediately share their opinions. And sometimes that actually happens! Not every band has a label obviously, or a distributor, so it helps bridge the gap between the band and potential listeners just through the sheer act of making our music available. I think that is an invaluable service in many ways. And yes, you could share the music just through your own band website, but it won’t have the same reach that these streaming services have.

It does have a downside in terms of financial benefit. For instance, a song that is played on Spotify 2,700 times nets only $.60. Considering the money put into the recording of said song, not to mention the time spent writing it, this seems lopsided. But I use Spotify all the time and have no plans of stopping, so it would be hypocritical to say I’m against it. For me, the pros outweigh the cons. But there are a lot of compelling arguments made on both sides and it’s an interesting conversation worth having. Tidal is definitely making strides to help improve the money gap and hopefully other streaming sites will follow suit.

Let’s thank Ryan for his participation by playing this video on YouTube a few thousand times each.

Currently, I have the $10 subscription to TIDAL because: a) I hate ads, b) I stream many hours of music a month, so it’s worth it to me, and c) TIDAL purports to compensate artists better than most of its competitors. What about you?  Are you concerned about artist compensation?  If so, how does it affect your consumer behavior?  I’d love to hear from you at southier@smu.edu.

Sara Outhier, Digital Media Librarian and Film & Media Arts Librarian, Hamon Arts Library.

Infographic: how much do music artists earn online?