7 royalty cheques that'll make you lose your faith in the music industry
by Mark Teo
February 11, 2014
You shouldn’t need us to tell you that the music industry—namely, how it chooses to monetize songs—is hopelessly broken. Despite the fact that vinyl sales are increasing, the traditional ways that artists made money (namely, by selling records and touring) are yielding less and less—this, despite Iron Maiden’s new funding model and Beats Music, which aims to pay musicians more for streaming music.
How little does the music industry pay artists? Shockingly little. Spotify, the dominant streaming music source in the U.S., is leaking money. They reportedly dole out 70 per cent of their revenue to royalties, and while that number seems high, consider this: each song stream pays an artist between one-sixth and one-eight of a cent. One source claimed that, on streaming music services, an artist requires nearly 50,000 plays to receive the revenue earned from one album sale. Ouch.
Indeed, things are getting dire. And here are seven examples of how bad things can get.
Darkest Hour guitarist Mike Schleibaum recently posted this photo to Facebook with a cheque for a single penny. It would’ve cost more to print and ship the damn thing. “This is what we call, “BIG TIME!,” he wrote on Facebook. “Don’t worry..big news is coming but for now..we got to spend all this cash!” The American melodic death band, meanwhile, is penning a new album and are planning a re-release of their excellent debut, The Mark of the Judas.
Brian T. Murphy
Surprisingly, Brooklyn-based musician Brian T. Murphy, who runs Quarter Rest Studios, a studio providing music to bands, advertisements, and films, did better than Darkest Hour. Murphy, in fact, earned a full 182 times more—he got a sweet $1.82 in the mail.
How much does it pay to be in an instrumental post-metal band? According to Isis / Palms member Aaron Harris, not much. He posted the photo above, and told Lambgoat that upon receiving a cheque, “I usually laugh, tear it up, and throw it away.” We would, too.
Camper Van Beethoven
Last year, David Byrne and Thom Yorke decried the injustices of services like Spotify and Pandora, claiming that they devalued the work of musicians. And they weren’t wrong: Cracker / Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery shared the above pic, which displayed that “Low” was streamed more than 1.1 million times on Pandora. The payment? $16.89.
Austin-based Bryan Ray works for 5th Street Studios, who’ve recorded excellent independent artists like Zorch and White Denim. For his efforts—presumably as a session player—Ray posted this photo on Twitter of a cheque worth four piddly cents.
Nashville’s Janis Ian has nine Grammy nominations and two songs in the Grammys hall of fame—she’s a songwriter, touring musician, and children’s author. She also received a royalty cheque worth a single penny.
Trivium is a giant name in heavy music, and it shows: Matt Heafy posted a check worth $1.31, which is almost Camper Van Beethoven money.