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Music is everywhere. However, when we listen to it, we rarely stop to think about the financial side of our favorite artists’ lives. Music is a highly unequal business — with the streaming services on top, and artists on the bottom.
In theory, musicians have many different sources of income. They can go on tour, sign with a record label or sell merchandise, according to Rolling Stone. Yet, these options are only realistic for already established musicians, who have both cultural influence and name recognition.
Unfortunately, if you’re someone who independently creates music, and relies on streams for income, you’re out of luck. Spotify, the most popular streaming service in America, pays artists about 0.004 cents per song streamed — you would need 250 streams to make just $1, according to Business Insider.
An artist would need hundreds of thousands of streams to make enough money to live on. And while that target might be easy to hit for Drake or Taylor Swift, the reality is that the vast majority of musicians will never get near their level of fame.
Because of these factors, the median musician in the United States makes less than $25000 a year, which often is not enough to live on, according to Rolling Stone.
It is not as if there’s no money to be found in the music industry — it’s just not going to musicians. The difference between the money made by artists and money made by streaming platforms is outrageous. Spotify received $2.9 billion in revenue last year, according to Barrons.
Unfortunately, this inequality will drive talented people away from careers in music, as the risk of failing to gain recognition and living in poverty is high for them. We will lose fresh perspectives that push for change in our music at a time when our country desperately needs them.
Although this exploitation of artists is shocking, what’s even more surprising is that many people seem to be unaware that it exists. We should not forget how musicians are treated the next time we listen to them, in addition to holding those in power accountable.
If companies like Spotify are unwilling to increase what they pay to artists, then someone else, like the government, must step in and force them to. If we want the artists we love to continue making music, then making sure action is taken is our responsibility.