Music Streaming? The reality and how to make it work for you
As an MC/ Rapper in Virus Syndicate I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life writing, recording, releasing and touring the world. Navigating the ever changing music trends whilst trying to stay at the forefront of relevance, managing the multiple peaks and troughs of my rap career at the same time as having to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the business side of the industry. Just reflecting on this and writing it down is exhausting, but that is the music industry for you…fucking exhausting! It’s a constant never ending battle where you learn to live with taking 3 steps forward and 2 steps back, not getting the outcome you really wanted and every step up the ladder being just another entrance into another labyrinth of blockages and hurdles.
Despite the hell I’ve just described, I’m lucky enough to be one of the few who have managed to carve a decent career out of this chaos and despite the MANY challenges of making it in the music industry, I wouldn’t change any of it. I’ve had many landmark moments in my career so far (I’m not even nearly done yet) that have made it worth every struggle 10 times over.
So what is it that makes it worth it? For me, it’s two very simple things. Performing and money.
Getting paid to travel the world to perform your songs in front of large crowds while the crowd sing your lyrics back to you (lyrics that you wrote in your car or bathroom) is a feeling that is indescribable and very fucking addictive. As much as I have moaned about having to travel so far for shows, I’ve recently learned in light of recent circumstances to never take any of this for granted ever again.
There are very few people who reach this level and quit the music business as the thrill of performing is too addictive. It’s usually the music business that quits them.
At the beginning of March 2020 we had a huge year of releases and tours pencilled in the diary. We had just got our new American performance visas and were excited about getting to bring our live show to the states regularly, we had dates planned for Europe and Asia and were still buzzing off the back of our Australia and New Zealand tour which had just finished in February.
And then… the pandemic hit. As one by one we sat and watched every country we planned to tour close its borders, airlines shutting down flights and the entire world eventually going into a strict lockdown, we knew that at least for the time being the music industry was going to change dramatically and so were our careers. We have always kept a close eye on our streaming performance and the type of revenue it brings in, but it always took a 2nd place to live shows as being our number 1 source of music income. Now that this had come to a grinding halt, streaming rapidly rose up the priority order and we started to look a lot deeper into our streaming revenue, what we were currently making and what the potential of it was.
Fortunately for us, we have a decent sized Spotify audience where most of our releases will reach more than a million streams over time. So even though all our shows had been cancelled due to the pandemic, we still had money coming in.
So how does it work?
There are loads of streaming platforms but for most artists in the western world there are only 3 that matter and 1 of them a lot more (currently than the other two)
Spotify has by far the largest market share of music streamers and is the platform that most artists use to estimate or forecast their streaming income. Not to say Apple and Deezer are irrelevant, but they just don’t currently have as much financial impact on most artists as Spotify does. Plus Spotify has apps such as Spotify for Artists which help artists to understand their audience and where their streams are coming from to help them grow their fan base.
Spotify on average pays 0.004 pence per play. Sounds like some kind of sick joke right? Maybe…however, 1 million times 0.004 pence = £4,000. An underground hit could be considered to be 5 million streams or more = £20,000 plus. A relative commercial hit or success could be considered to be 50 million streams or more = £200,000 plus.
Of course you cannot compare these figures to the days when CDs would sell. Where the volume would be similar but instead of 0.004 pence per sale the artist is getting about a £1. Big difference. However those days are over and we live in a digital age, a digital product has considerably less value than a physical one simply for that very reason. One requires manufacturing and the other requires uploading to a platform once.
So here we are in 2020 where the value of a play of your song is 0.004 pence. The key to making these maths work is down to sheer volume. You need to be streaming in the millions to make a viable career out of streaming alone. Most new artists uploading their first track to spotify will struggle to get 1000 streams and the thought of getting a million seems like an impossible task. But it’s not.
In my experience of Spotify, the more you stream the more you stream. And what I mean by that is the more people discover you and the more personalised playlists you get into, the more the Spotify algorithm sees your music as having demand, the more it is in their interest to show your music to more people, and then more people add you to their personalised playlists and the more money you will earn.
That goes without the additional bonus of your music finding its way onto the editorial playlists or the algorithmic playlists. This can of course accelerate this whole process dramatically.
Through being smart about the data Spotify provides you with, about who and where your audience is, a new artist has a real chance at making this model work for them. IF you’re prepared to slog it out.
The word “viable” has been slung around the music industry a lot of the last few weeks and without delving into Covid 19, (i’m sure we have all heard enough about that) it got me thinking: what does it take for a new artist to make a viable career out of streaming alone? I’m lucky that I am naturally business minded but I know of lot other creatives aren’t, so I thought I would list my top tips for building a revenue stream out of streaming Music
- Do it totally independently. Signing to a label that is unable to guarantee you a very sizable Spotify reach would in most cases be a pointless exercise and for 50% of your income you need to ask yourself, is it really worth it?
- Catalogue. Write, record, market, release. Constantly. Building a large catalogue of music online is key to building a successful streaming income. Like I said before the more you stream the more you stream.
- Think outside the box. In order to make this profitable you need to be clever about how you use a very small marketing budget. Think about how you can produce high quality music videos and ads within this budget. Ask yourself where is the money best spent? If budget is mega tight then it might be worth spending what you do have on social media ads to drive traffic to your Spotify page rather than investing in a music video. Less glamorous but ask yourself what will get you the most return on your investment.
- Submit your music to all the Spotify editorial playlists. Even if it seems like a long shot, you have to remember that Spotify needs you as much as you need them.
- Consistency. In order to build monthly listeners and more importantly followers you need to be releasing at the very least once a month whilst establishing your audience ideally twice a month. Once you have built a strong platform you can reduce the frequency of releases but not in the beginning.
- Length. Keep tracks between 2 and 3 mins. Songs that are over 3 mins have less chance of being playlisted.
- Build your niche. Look at what tracks are performing better than others and try and find a trend within that. Once you spot that trend start incorporating more of that sound into your next set of immediate releases but of course without them sounding too similar.
- Enjoy it! If you’re not enjoying it and not passionate about what you’re doing then the music industry definitely isn’t for you.