How To Pay for Music?

David Lowery, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker wrote “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Thing Songs Consider” last week that got a lot of attention on the net.  The post currently has 533 comments, many of which try to justify stealing music with various self-serving excuses, even after Lowry carefully explained why stealing music is hurting musicians.  Emily White had written “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With” at NPR Music, confessing how she has 11,000 songs on her iPod but never bought more than 15 CDs in her life.  Emily loves music and wants to work in the music business, but confesses she doesn’t pay for music.  There are some fascinating comments for this blog post that’s well worth reading, but basically it comes down to telling hundreds of stories about why people don’t pay for music.

If all these people had their weekly paychecks stolen I wonder if they’d be so willing to admit to stealing other people’s pay?

Is there a solution to this problem?

In another post Lowery shows how it’s quicker to find music at iTunes and Amazon than to find copies to steal, disproving that people steal because it’s convenient.  People steal music because they don’t want to pay.  Lowery also showed that more music is available for sale than to steal, but that doesn’t seem to sway people either.  Most folks just flat out just don’t want to buy music anymore.

Is there anything the record companies can do?  Is there such a thing as music that can’t be stolen?  Before the Internet LPs and cassettes could be copied, but not easily.  The net lets people distribute stolen music easily.  Unless we do away with the Internet it’s doubtful the music industry can stop piracy, even with DRM.  So is this the end of the music industry?

I’ve bought 4 CDs this past month, but that’s a fluke, and one CD, Our Version of Events by Emeli Sandé, I bought two copies, one to give as a gift.  But I primarily listen to Emeli via Rdio ($9.99/month).  I could also listen to her by Rhapsody ($9.99/month) which is my backup streaming music service.  So I’ve paid 4 times for the rights to listen to this one album.  I could also listen to Spotify on my free account.  And if I wanted to take the trouble, I’m sure I could track down a stolen copy.  My point is Rdio is the absolute easiest way to listen to music.  The only reason I bought the CD is because sometimes I want to hear the music played very loud on my big stereo at it’s best sonic version.  But it’s a pain to keep up with CD and to play it.  So I just use Rdio 99% of the time.

emili-sandi

People can pay as little as $4.99 a month to legally listen to most music via Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG and other streaming music services on a computer.  So why do people choose to be thieves instead?  I don’t know.  Like Lowery points out, paid for music is far more convenient to use.  They aren’t too cheap to pay $80 a month for a smartphone, but they won’t pay $10 a month to play the music they love on it.

I own two copies of all the Beatles CDs, the old ones and the new re-mastered ones, but I don’t play them because they aren’t on Rdio, and Rdio is too convenient.  People who work so hard to steal music have no idea how easy it is to use legal music.

But there’s a problem with streaming subscription music – some artists don’t feel they pay enough.  And that might be true.  In the comments to Lowery’s post, one person wrote in they were paid $.0091 per stream from Rhapsody and $.0008 from Spotify.  In other words, Rhapsody pays just under a cent per play and Spotify under one tenth of a cent per play.

For Our Version of Events I paid $8.99 for the CD.  That’s just 64.21 cents for my favorite song, “River.”  But that’s the whole cost which includes Amazon’s cut, the record company’s take and Emeli’s royalty.  I don’t know how accurate these streaming play figures are, but it’s enough to give us an idea.

“River” by Emeli Sandé Cost to Buy/Play
Amazon CD 65 cents (whole cost)
Amazon MP3 99 cents (whole cost)
iTunes 129 cents (whole cost)
Rhapsody .91 cents (royalty)
Spotify .08 cents (royalty)

For Emeli to make as much money as whole cost of the CD song, I’d have to play the “River” 71.43 times on Rhapsody or   812.5 times on Spotify.  No wonder artists think Spotify is a rip-off.  If anyone can document the actual payment schemes please post a reply.

I have no idea what Rdio pays per stream, but I’ve been playing the hell out of this song.  I’m sure I’m coming close to the 71.43 figure, meaning for people who love a song it can pay as much or more than buying a CD.

The problem with pay per stream method is songs that don’t get played don’t earn money, whereas CDs buyers do pay for them, even if they don’t listen to them.  Pay per stream is actually more fair, but it’s a big cut in pay to artists used to the CD sales method.  I’ve bought hundreds of CDs I’ve only played once or twice.

I wish all the streaming services would post their stream rates so us music fans could use that knowledge in deciding on which streaming service to use.  I’m about to settle on Rdio and abandon Rhapsody, but if I learned Rdio paid so little as Spotify I’d change my mind.

I don’t know how to make everyone pay for music, but I’m more than willing to pay for subscription streaming music.  $9.99 a month is little enough to be an honest music fan.  I’d be willing to pay more if I knew the artists were getting a better deal.  Even though I still buy CDs, they are very inconvenient to use and I prefer the emerging subscription streaming services.

Other sources about earnings:

JWH – 6/24/12