Taylor Swift and Streaming Music

I’m just going to put it out there, but I can’t stand Taylor Swift. (Was it just me who cringed at Beats 1 Radio’s latest ad featuring T Swizzle herself?) I remember one day when I was going through my daily Buzzfeed read and saw  “Taylor Swift Just Removed Her Albums From Spotify.” Being the curious cat that I am, I read the article. There were mixed emotions from people praising her decision to others being utterly heartbroken. It was later noted that she decided to not stream her latest album 1989 on Apple Music (not to worry you loyal Swifties, the beef has been cleared). This got me thinking: how much do artists actually get paid over streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music?

I came across a rather interesting article from Dredge (2015) about how much musicians actually make on streaming services like Spotify, iTunes, and Tidal. All of the statistics apply only to performing musicians, but don’t cover publishing royalties. Another factor that plays into these statistics is how much an “artist signed to a label earns.” Finally, the per-play figures depend on many users the service has. Here are some facts and figures I found interesting. There’s a lot of information, so bare with me:

  • iTunes purchase
    • signed artist album download
      • average retail price: $9.99
      • for a solo artist to earn the U.S. monthly minimum wage ($1,260) he/she must sell 547 units
      • % cut
        • distributor: 30
        • label: 47
        • artist: 23
      • artist revenue: $2.30
  • Spotify stream
    • Signed artist
      • # of plays needed to reach U.S. monthly min. wage: 1,117,021
      • % of users to hit min. wage: 2%
      • artist revenue: $0.0011

For an unsigned artist, the numbers are pretty different in all categories. Here’s the link to the article and wonderful infograph that precedes it if you’re curious to see the figures. So was Taylor right on pulling her music from Spotify? Some say that she was, others say that it was a pointless decision.

I’m hoping to address this topic and others like it in my research report. My idea is to break down my report by categories. Like my previous blog posts, I will talk about the album, CD, and mixtape/playlist. But I will also touch on topics such as the significance of the vinyl record, how the iPod changed the game for music listeners, and digital downloads/streaming. Within each topic, I will bring up questions and points about how new technology and the Internet has shaped/changed it.



Dredge, S 2015, How much do musicians really make from Spotify, iTunes, and Youtube?, The Guardian, viewed 17 April 2016,<https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/03/how-much-musicians-make-spotify-itunes-youtube&gt;

9 thoughts on “Taylor Swift and Streaming Music”

  1. That’s a really interesting article. I didn’t realise there were so many differing factors determining how much an artist is paid by a streaming service. I know Tidal, Jay-Z’s streaming service has recently gained a lot of attention because of its exclusivity. This articlehttp://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2016/02/29/468558863/is-tidal-changing-how-fans-talk-about-music makes some interesting observations on the impact tidal is having on the success of artists, which is actually less than they make it seem. This could possibly be another case you look at in your research? I look forward to seeing the final result.


  2. I’m possibly not exactly the best person to be commenting on this subject as someone who gave up on iTunes years ago and never got Spotify because various elements of their user agreement just stressed me out too much, but I do find the topic super interesting. I vaguely remember there being an element to the T Swizzle discussion surrounding new artists who are less well established, and it being partially in protest of that treatment — which makes some sense. Sure, she gets enough hits through digital sales and streaming to make a mint, but the little guys are getting next to nothing, and maybe Spotify losing one of their white whales because of it would have enough of an impact to change something. BUUUUT, I’m not sure that impact is really doing much with only one big player leaving the table. There’s also the question of how Swift’s own copyright policies interplay with the issue (I’m sure we’ve all heard the controversies – though there are some alternate sides to those stories worth looking at as well. Really, the whole thing is a mess because copyright law.)

    Totally looking forward to this project if it takes a more in depth look at the ethics of digital commercialism in the arts.

    P.S. Taylor Swift just came on with my music on shuffle as I was finishing this comment up. How about that for a crazy random happenstance..


  3. I think what she did was a massive ‘fuck you’ to not only the streaming corporations who ripping off music by either selling it short, giving it away for free or using advertisements as leverage, but to listeners who have never paid for a song in their life. ‘Music should not be free’ was the slogan she was going off, if i remember correctly – and she couldn’t be more right. I’m guilty of it, as most of us are since the time we were burning CD’s. I don’t think she was in a position of demanding a better pay since she’s one of the highest paid musicians in the world, however in doing this she made a point of highlighting the inequalities for unsigned or up and coming artists.
    I think it be worth looking at the dynamic between platforms that offer that ‘unlimited’ entity. In this article they talk about how an artist with 1 million views on an audio youtube clip will be stoked and see it as an accomplishment despite people getting the MP3 from it, whereas on something like Spotify, if they rack up that many listens, they should be getting paid.
    Cool insight, i like it.


  4. Hey, really interesting to see the revenue breakdown. I think it would also be worth investigating Soundcloud as it has recently launched Soundcloud Go, which is a subscription service which charges the same monthly rate as Spotify. Soundcloud also has millions of user-uploaded (unsigned artists) songs that free to listen to. This article does a great job at investigating what Soundcloud Go involves, what it’s limitations are and how it compares to rival music streaming companies: http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/29/11321978/soundcloud-go-subscription-music-service-announced

    And on to TIDAL. Ah TIDAL. I feel like it got sooo much hate from the get go, and I would argue that was largely due to a terrible campaign that made it seem like super wealthy musicians wanted the average income earner to basically pay double for the same service they could get elsewhere (here’s their cost breakdown: https://support.tidal.com/hc/en-us/articles/201745891-How-much-does-TIDAL-cost-). That said, when I looked more into it, I found it’s model is actually about trying give artists more revenue/cut out the middle man, which actually seems like a great idea considering how streaming services tend to rip off musicians (as T Swift pointed out). This article provides views from artists on TIDAL and their marketing campaign, which I found interesting (there’s also a video attached to the article with young artists discussing spotify): http://www.nme.com/news/grimes/84970.

    So from looking at different streaming services, their origins and their brand, it would be interesting to look at why audiences choose certain services and maybe why artists are joining these streaming services?


  5. I was aware that an artists income was low from streaming, but I didn’t realize how low that was exactly. However, there are other ways which artists earn their money and there is a reason why touring has been around for years – their bulk income comes from travelling and playing their music at concerts. I found an article which illustrates some of the ways in which artists earn money: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/9-ways-musicians-actually-make-money-today-20120828/talk-show-band-19691231
    I also think there has been a large shift in the way we listen to the music – I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD and I usually jam out to my tunes on YouTube when I’m on the computer or Pandora on my phone. I used to have iTunes, but it doesn’t make sense for me to buy music when the chances are I won’t feel like listening to that track after a couple of weeks, if not a couple of days. With YouTube, I can keep up with new music, old music, pop songs or rock songs – whatever suits my mood without paying a cent (apart from the internet connection). I feel that money is a big factor in how we listen to our music and I think that physical copies will slowly slip out of existence over time. Great topic, I’m interested to see what else you’ll research!


  6. The majority of an artists income comes from their concerts. Which is fine for big selling artists like Taylor, but for up and coming artists, not so much. As much as I love T-Swizzle (soz), I was annoyed when 1989 came out and wasn’t as accessible online as her other music has been. At the end of the day as many contracts she has to sign, she is the one writing her music so she should have the option as to what happens to it.


  7. This is an interesting topic, I always wondered how musicians actually earn money these days when there is such a decline in buying music. When Taylor Swift removed her album from Spotify i thought, how selfish she earns millions anyway why would she do this?? But seeing how little artists actually earn from streaming services it got me thinking about new musicians and how hard it must be for them these days where we can get most music for free. Taylor Swift’s stand against streaming services now seems like a really important thing to do and maybe more successful artists should be doing this so that a change can be made that will benefit everyone in the music industry. After all, we should not be entitled to free music, it is someone’s career and they deserve to be paid well for it!


  8. Another really interesting topic! I actually find myself talking about this with people all the time! I thought it was really interesting when Taylor Swift became “the face” of Apple Music with the treadmill video promotion that went viral this year, when it was less than a year ago that the was threatening to not put her 1989 music on Apple Music. It proved her pop star power when Apple Music responded http://www.people.com/article/taylor-swift-apple-music-open-letter-response – I’m interested to see how your digital artefact turns out!


  9. I was shocked when I first heard how little money artists make from services like this. It was first brought to my attention by the documentary Artifact directed by Jared Leto. It wasn’t specifically about streaming services but it outlined how little artists made compared to the corporations they’re signed with. Who would have thought streaming services would have caused so much drama between artists and fans? Taylor Swift threatened to remove everything from them and people freaked out. Now Kayne West and streaming service Tidal are being sued after allegedly deceiving fans into signing up to the service. Kanye announced that his new album would only be available on there but a month later, it was available almost everywhere else.


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