Thanks to streaming, recording industry revenues are back up to pre-internet levels, but musicians are poorer than ever

Thanks. If you hadn’t posted that I would have. It was an eye opener when I first read it and it’s still relevant now – a must-read. The American recording industry has long been notorious as one where thugs, swindlers and hacks end up rising to the top while the artists are screwed over.

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Zoe Keating is a bamf, love her. Saw her live a few years ago <3


Chuck Berry did not trust record companies. He made his money touring; and he always got paid in cash, before he put his hands on his guitar. Long live rock and roll!


That’s likely because he was aware of how African American artists were treated by white label owners in the Jim Crow era.


Global recorded music revenues reached $17.4 billion in 2017, putting it just a hair below 2008’s $17.7 billion in revenues. That means that most of the decline in recorded music revenues over the past 10 years has now been reversed.

The last 10 years isn’t when the biggest decline occurred. Revenues are nowhere near their pre-mp3 peak, which was around $40 billion when adjusted for inflation.

Same as it ever was.


Yeah I think the music industry was heavily reliant on local shops selling tapes, LPs and CDs. Then those shops became uneconomic when online distribution started. The presence of those outlets pushed a lot of demand for music because people bought music in physical packages for social reasons. They don’t have the same reasons to download, so music labels have lost their business.

David Lowery, the musician originally from Camper Van Beethoven and now with Cracker, has some very solid math skills. His blog, The Trichordist

… has provided me much illumination on this matter.

For instance his post on

includes this analysis, written clearly and as one who is in the music industry can truly describe:

How badly do the Consent Decrees Distort Income?
Your average workaday songwriter is usually unaware that these
consent decrees negatively impact the rates for public performance
royalties (BMI and ASCAP royalties). The royalty rates imposed by the
consent decrees push down royalties across the board. The ultimate
absurdity is the resultant performance rates we songwriters receive from

As an example, second quarter June 2017 my 40% ownership in the song
“Low” earned me performance royalties of $30.78 cents for 589,553
YouTube streams. For a 4:36 second song that is over 5 years of music.
So if you listened to music for 5 years straight 24 hours a day on
YouTube the performance royalty to all songwriters would be $76.95.
Since no one listens to music 24 hours a day this is clearly decades of
music. YouTube is able to exact this usurious royalty rate, because
they can simply threaten to not pay it and tie songwriters up (no pay)
for years in the DOJ “consent decree” regulatory process. This is
essentially what Pandora did a number of years ago. Surprise surprise,
this tends to depress the market value of songs.
What happens without the Consent Decrees?
It is not entirely predictable. But if you look at the current rates
imposed by BMI/ASCAP antitrust rate courts for digital services it is
hard to imagine that they would stay this low. The current system
effectively acts as a cap on songwriter pay. More importantly without
the consent decrees BMI and ASCAP would be allowed to offer additional
services. For instance they could offer not just performance licenses
but also “streaming mechanical” licenses. Right now they can not. While
independent songwriters and publishers have had no problem getting paid
their performance royalties from streaming services via BMI and ASCAP
virtually every independent has had problems collecting the streaming
mechanical. (Hence the class action lawsuits.)

Was reading this yesterday. Ouch, that graph:

I have appreciated Lowery’s time and attention to detail. He’s really working the problem and has been doing this for years. Check out his testimony before U.S. Congress:

If we don’t pay these musicians who make our days on earth richer and more worthwhile, it’ll be our own dang fault they starve. In Austin, I have met musicians (good ones!) who basically are doing just that. There’s a lot I am willing to give up, but music is where I draw the line.

I am still buying CDs whenever possible because having a hard backup copy obviates catastrophic data losses.

And it’s one way to make sure artists–musicians–get paid.

Y’all, if you can, please buy the band’s CDs at their shows. It’s a no-brainer and you can actually make sure your money is definitely going directly to the makers [musicians]! No middle man (usually)!


I don’t buy music often but i definitely do try to buy merch at a show. when i can. Last album i bought was from a great latin fusion band here in Austin called Cilantro Boombox.


This is the future of all jobs as automation takes over those that make and deliver products, and we switch to entertainment and crafts.

I understand the point that this post is making, and certainly don’t defend the greedy practices of record labels (which have always been greedy) but I don’t see much discussion about the other aspect of the supply/demand equation: since the barrier to entry is lower than it’s ever been in history, there are many, many more artists selling their works than ever before. Digital marketplaces like iTunes stock a vastly larger library of songs than brick-and-mortar stores ever did, and the many platforms available to listen to music ensures that consumers are exposed to a wider variety of artists than they would have been in the days when the radio stations mostly played popular music from a relatively small group of already-popular artists and you needed to have a publicist who could shell out in “payola” schemes in order for your song to ever get heard on the air.

I’m not suggesting this is any kind of golden era for artists- far from it. But the basic math suggests that if you’ve got a whole lot of artists entering the market, and a finite amount of money being spent by consumers on music, the median (and average) incomes of those artists is going to go down pretty much by definition, with or without nefarious acts by the record labels.


Yet the biggest growth sector in the industry is vinyl records right now.

That’s very true, but part of the problem is that the artist gets even less from streaming/downloads than from physical copies over all.

But is that because of the nature of the internet or is it because of music being an undervalued commodity, and the labor going into the work being even more hidden than it used to be.

Well, it’s pretty easy to show a high growth rate starting from near-zero.

Plus, those crazy millenials needed something flat to put their Tide Pods on before they snort them

You do realize that there are plenty of people who love to collect physical music media that aren’t millenials, right? Music fandom didn’t begin with millenial hipsters and it won’t end with them either.

Snark at whatever the youngest generation is doing never stops. Beatniks, hippies, fops, Roman/Greek youths, etc. Chastising them for reading paperbacks, newspapers, drinking coffee, listening to the radio, watching TV, dancing, fashion choices, what have you.

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Then how do you explain away the near-perfect correlation between Tide Pod sales and turntable adoption?

You know what, you’re right. How dare I challenge the common wisdom that millenials aren’t really human beings, but inhuman monsters who will destroy the world. My bad, dude. My bad. /s