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How Musicians Are Surviving the Pandemic — and the Music Industry

Nine US-based musicians discuss surviving and adapting to the changing music industry in our extraordinarily challenging time of pandemic shutdown.

Do Streaming Services Work for Artists?

Where does streaming play into a musician’s life during the pandemic? There’s no sense of the direct positive influence one can see when looking at Bandcamp. It’s challenging to figure out if Spotify has a positive impact because it’s an indirect connection. As a result, it and other streaming services are vilified even more than Bandcamp is praised.

In Krukowski’s article cited above, he delves into Spotify, noting how it requires reverse calculations to analyze royalties. He makes a rough estimate that an artist would have to get streamed 657,895 a month to achieve a monthly income of $15 an hour across a standard 40-hour workweek.

CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek infuriates musicians when he talks about “capturing the share of time listeners spend elsewhere,” which echoes Mark Zuckerberg’s goal with Facebook. Compounding that, Ek talks about audio as opposed to music since podcasts have become a significant part of his strategy.

Independent musicians are rarely chart-topping artists, so it’s not surprising that none of the musicians interviewed felt additional support or saw positive income changes in regards to the pandemic.

“I have had no increase in streaming royalties,” says Louise. “However, I have had a lot more support on Bandcamp. Go figure!”

Louise’s comment represents dissatisfaction with streaming models, which rolls over into venue-artist relations for most artists speaking here. There are varying degrees of complaints about streaming services. Still, Lewis defends the system in an argument that echoed Hesmondhalgh and Meier’s belief that the music industry is a testing ground for technology.

“Arguing that a streaming system stacks up as the best system for the long-term, is faulty simply because there is no long-term if history is any guide to how to predict the future,” Lewis says. “Nothing stays fixed in place, technologically or culturally, for any period longer than a few short years.”

He thinks it’s incorrect to expect a “profitable windfall” in the short-term by releasing an album. Artists should instead look five, ten, or 20 years into the future when albums that matter to people continue to be a part of their playlists. He also suggested streaming has value for statistical information that can be used in booking tours, showing where there are pockets of people listening to an artist’s music and which songs get played the most.

The concept of utilizing statistical analysis is interesting, but taking a long-term approach to income in an industry that changes rapidly may or may not lead to pay-off. Jerry David DeCicca makes a strong case for not trusting the outcome.

“Streaming services have nothing to do with music,” DeCicca counters. “These are tech companies and need to be viewed only as that. Just because a white dude stands up wearing a tee shirt with a guitar on it and has a website that discusses music doesn’t mean it’s a music website.”

He pointed out that musicians rarely own their masters, so they don’t have the power to control what happens to their work. “Sony owns half of the history of popular music. They aren’t thinking about breaking the next Aretha Franklin; they’re trying to sell headphones and data.”

“I would never pay for these services because I view spending the same as voting,” DeCicca concludes. “I value human rights and worker rights, and this makes my monthly purchases more expensive and requires more time to acquire. People that think they deserve every record in the world for $10 a month have a different value system than me.”

img-141Jerry David DeCicca (2020) (Courtesy of the artist)