Streaming, Downloading and Buying CD's! Oh my!

I was asked this question below recently and since it comes up a fair amount I thought it would be good to address it in a blog so more people can read it and maybe learn and decide how they want to support the artists and musicians they appreciate. 

"What is a good/better way to support you and others' music. Specifically, streaming vs download/cd purchases. I listen to a lot of streaming music through Amazon Music Unlimited (subscription service), so when me or someone listens to your songs/cds through an avenue like that, do you receive compensation? Or is it better to purchase the album (physical or digital?) to make sure the artists are supported? It may not be a simple answer, but any insight you can give me would be helpful." 

If you don’t want to read a lot here’s my simple answer; support musicians and artists however you can. That can mean different things depending on what your personal budget is for entertainment. Also, you also have more options than you think. 

With anything you do, if you purchase the CD’s or downloads directly from the artists website that’s likely the way the largest portion of that sale is going into that artists pocket so they can live and make more of the music you love. Besides physical albums, I also sell downloads directly from my website where I receive all of the sales cost minus the credit card processing fee. 

My music is also available for download and physical CD’s are distributed through CDBaby. You can buy them on their website, Amazon and lots of other online retailers they partner with. By the time I receive the profits from a sale through them it is about half of what I receive when I sell it directly. There are quite a few people taking a cut when someone buys my album from Amazon and CDBaby. 

I also loose money shipping them product periodically in small amounts because they don’t want to store more then a few months supply in their warehouse. They then can ship those out as orders come in but I’ve been wondering lately if this is worth it anymore. Not to mention, when someone buys my album through the services they distribute to I don’t know who my customer is and can’t offer them my next release which is something they would likely enjoy since they have bought from me in the past... of course this bothers me. 

Many music fans use free streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora etc) and if you are not paying for one of those services you might decide to take the money you would be spending on the digital streaming service (usually $10) and support the artist’s you listen to the most directly instead. 

You could throw a few bucks in that musicians virtual tip jar every once in a while, buy a t-shirt or other piece of merch or decide to join their Patreon with the funds if that makes more sense. 

Side note, please join my Patreon folks. 

Direct support will always go the furthest. When someone streams my music on any online service they need to listen to it multiple hundreds of times for me to earn any substantial profit from playing it. As a music consumer, I’m an Apple Music subscriber because I personally like them more and they pay artists slightly more per stream than their biggest competitor. But, I sometimes I wonder where my $10 monthly fee is going. 

I decided to Google information on what the current rates are for online streaming and found this online streaming royalty calculator. Now I don’t know how accurate this is but I plugged in numbers and services and had some fun playing with it. Fun as in me thinking; “WTAF?! Seriously” ...I think every time I read these streaming royalty rate stats it’s so frustrating that I just ignore it and reach out for legislation to change these rates and support similar bills when I can. 

Anyway, as someone buying into this system with my $10 a month and if I use the rate from that royalty calculator, I would have to listen to 5000 songs in a month to use up the equivalent of the royalties I’m potentially adding to the pool for artists and songwriters to collect. 5000 songs! 

The math on that comes out to about 166 songs a day. At 3.5 minutes per song that would be 9.6 hours of music a day that I would have to listen to in order to put those potential dollars to work so they go to those artists for their music. 

Oh how I wish my math was wrong but I’ve checked it 3 times -- and rounded down. 

Now I love music but I just don’t listen to that much everyday. Not even marginally that much. 

Am I going to stop using this streaming service? No. But I really hope something changes. And I guess the argument could be made that I’m not actually paying for the music at all but rather paying for the opportunity to NOT be sold to with online ads every few songs. 

And also, as an artist using these to share my music, they offer a decent enough way to share music and offer it up to potentially be discovered by new fans. 

Sorry I almost just choked on the proverbial water in my own half-full glass of BS. 

I have to say that if there is music discovery happening on these platforms I haven’t been a part of it. Is it my fault because I’m not streaming my 9.6 hrs of music daily and finding new artists? Maybe. But I would likely be “discovering” them through a playlist and as an artist who has submitted to those playlists I’ve seen firsthand the payola and flat out payments that curators request to give you this “opportunity” to be on their playlist. 

Okay. It’s not all gross and depressing. I’ll get back to the original question and before I do I want to share a few other links and article I found that paint a fuller picture as far as what the streaming rates are. This site lists another artists recent payout rates in Jan 2020. I thought this article was interesting, especially if you scroll down to where it shows how many streams it would take monthly to earn minimum wage. This link explains how rates vary not only by how many streams you receive but also where that listener is located and if they are using a paid or free membership to stream.

At the end of the day, it really it all comes down to perceived value with music and digital goods. I could sit and tell folks how much it costs me to record -- I’ve had finished masters cost multiple hundreds of dollars to multiple thousands of dollars in case anyone is wondering -- but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is how much value that music has for someone and if they have the means to support it if they want to. People decide their own value for the art they love and the artists they want to encourage to keep creating. 

The fact that this question is coming up is already good. A lot of people don’t think twice about how much helps them throughout their day and through their lives or want to support it. So if you’re here because you searched out something about how to help the musicians you love then I applaud you and hopefully this was insightful and gave you some ideas. 

The arts are often underfunded and underappreciated. For many artists, learning their craft and continually improving their work takes an exorbitant amount of time and money. Yet somehow, there’s a strange mentality people often approach me with and think; that I should feel lucky just to make a living as a full time musician doing something I love. And I DO love music, otherwise I would have giving up long ago. The rejection and vulnerability needed to be a musician is not for the faint of heart.

Those are my thoughts. 

If anyone does want to download, stream, buy albums or fund new ones here are the links below. 

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