In 2018, the debate of whether streaming is here to stay shouldn’t be happening. For better or worse, this is the new music industry and artists need to adapt or get left behind. With that said, this is article is meant to highlight five ways that streaming sites can work to help artists sustain themselves and grow the creative economy.

Allow fans to directly support their favorite artists

One of the most rewarding aspects of a fan/artist relationship is the action of direct support. It’s one of the reasons why merch sales do so well at shows and why Patreon has been able to command a substantial role in the creative community. The ability to say, ‘I appreciate what you create and want to reward the value that it has brought my life’ has been lost in a sense as streaming platforms have continued to dominate the music market. Don’t get me wrong, I believe firmly that streaming has saved the music business by allowing fans to passively support their favorite artists in accordance with what they listen to, but I believe that both streaming services, as well as artists, have something to gain by implementing some sort of direct support option to their platforms. Lyft allows customers to offer tips to drivers, and Patreon has shown viability in direct creative support networks. Why not consolidate this service where artists and consumers are already spending the most time? If Spotify cares about artists being able to support themselves off of music in lieu of non-existent album sales, let our fans help.

Add direct social follow widgets

Streaming has not only revolutionized how we listen and pay for music but also how we discover it. The days of radio and music discovery blogs have been largely replaced by native playlisting and algorithmic suggestion, resulting in a new type of artist platform. This has been a welcome change, allowing more artist discovery – with less effort from the artists themselves – than any system in history. Better yet, unlike the peak of the Myspace discovery era, play counts directly correspond to income. One negative aspect to this has been the creation of ‘Spotify success’, where an artist may have a substantial following on one streaming outlet, but still remain relatively unknown in other corners of the Internet. It is not uncommon to find artists with a consistent monthly listener count over 1,000,000, yet have less than 15,000 Instagram followers. Part of this is because Spotify has become such a successful community, traffic doesn’t always spill over to other platforms. But as social networks such as Facebook Messenger and Twitter add more native Spotify sharing options, it would be of great benefit to artists if Spotify were to return the favor by adding follow widgets to artist profiles. This would help artists nurture their growing audience into a relationship that can sustain a tour or merchandise run.

Expand accessibility for merchandise sales

Speaking of merchandise sales, Spotify has made a great move to supporting alternative income streams for artists by allowing them to sell merch directly from their profiles. But as of right now, this is not accessible to everybody. Currently, in order to sell merchandise to Spotify artists must go through Merchbar. This is all fine and dandy if they actually respond to your emails. Unfortunately, many full-time artists with millions of streams are not able to take advantage of Spotify’s merchandise storefront, and even those that can are limited in the types of products that they can sell. If independent artists (the ones who rely on alternative income streams the most) had the ability to creatively sell merchandise through their most popular platform, it would greatly increase the number of people who could viably create music full time.

Give artists better data

In 2018, big data is one of the most promising industries of the future, and thanks to streaming, artists have more data and insights about their audience than ever before. Spotify for Artists has been a great tool, but there are several ways that it could critically help artists. Until September 2017, Spotify tracked ‘monthly listeners’, ‘fans’ and ‘followers’ as independent metrics. Specifically, the ‘fan’ metric was incredibly useful, as artists could realistically gauge their listener base in cities around the world and plan tours accordingly. However, when Spotify for Artists received its facelift in September 2017, this metric disappeared, leaving artists only with followers and monthly listeners. This is a problem because neither metric tells the artist anything about engagement. A follower may or may not have listened to my music in the last 28 days, and a monthly listener is anybody who has streamed 30 seconds of one song in the last month. Artists would be much better off if we knew how many people were repeatedly seeking out and streaming our music. I would love to see a return of Spotify’s metrics that showed how many people listened to my music the majority of days in the month, how many people streamed me every day this week, and how many people listened to me more than any other artists, so that I had a realistic understanding of how many ‘fans’ I actually had instead of guessing about how engaged my monthly listeners are.

Apple Music is reportedly testing a beta version of their own artist data platform, and while it is nothing short of shameful it has taken them this long, it will be a welcomed addition. Currently, artists receive NO information about their music’s performance on Apple Music until they are paid by their distributor 2-3 months after the fact

Utilize location-based mobile data

Spotify’s top 50 charts have become a new standard for the commercial success of a song. At any time, users can see what the top 50 most popular songs are in the world, as well as the top 50 songs in any country with access to the network (sorry China). But why should we limit these charts to datasets as broad as an entire country, where independent artists are still incredibly unlikely to ever see success? In 2015, 52% of Spotify listening occurred on mobile devices, and that number has surely increased in 2018. Spotify could use the location data from fans, as well as the location data from artists with the Spotify for Artists app to show them a real-time chart of the top 50 songs in a local radius. Imagine what that type of data could do to empower indie music scenes across the country! The timeless debate of ‘who is the most popping in _______city’ could be immediately settled while simultaneously giving lesser-known artists a powerful tool to generate momentum in their local environment. For as much as a failure as ReverbNation ultimately turned out to be, it’s biggest redemptive quality was the local music charts. Even if it doesn’t mean much, being the 3rd most popular artist in Maryville, Tennessee can be a pretty awesome feeling. Giving independent artists the ability to have attainable ownership in their local market would go a long way in boosting the reputation the services have with the artists they depend on.

The tech is here, let’s continue to innovate the industry towards a sustainable future for artists and fans.

You may ask: why this is important?

Why so much focus on the business side of things?

The answer is because it is very expensive to create the music that you consume. Let me break down some details to demonstrate what I mean.

For my example, I’ll assume that the artist owns their own recording setup and has the ability to record themselves. Here are some average expenses that might go into a 5-track EP.

$2,500 for production ($500 a track)
$750 for mixing ($150 per track)
$500 for guest features
$250 for professional mastering
$150 for cover art
$1000 for music video
$500 for marketing promo
= $5,650 for a finished 5-track EP

Although streaming platforms have essentially the same payment structure [(artist streams/total streams) X Subscription or Ad revenue X 0.7], services differ on payout per play based on user behavior. The more active users are, the less money is generated per stream.

Generally, Spotify pays around $.004 per stream and Apple Music pays .007 per stream. Smaller services such as Tidal pay over $.01 per stream, but most artists receive so few streams those figures are totally negligible. (For every 1000 plays I receive on Tidal, I receive 1,500,000 on Spotify)

At these rates, the artist would have to generate 1,412,500 Spotify streams, or 807,142 Apple Music streams just to break even on the expenses. On top of that, an artist would need an additional 625,000 Spotify streams or 357,142 Apple Music streams per MONTH to generate $30,000 a year.

For artists signed to a record label, it can be even harder, as most artists will only receive 12-25% of the revenue that their music creates AFTER the label breaks even on what it invests in the artist.

All this is to say that no career would be possible without support from fans, and in small niche genres like Christian Hip-Hop, artists need all the support that they can get in order to adjust.

So here are some simple ways that as a fan, you can support your favorite artists:

1. Follow your favorite artists on social media, and subscribe to their email lists. Facebook and Instagram make artists pay to reach the people that follow them, so the only way to guarantee you will hear about an album or announcement is through direct email.

2. Consider supporting an artist on Patreon or Kickstarter so that artists can create music without having to empty their personal emergency funds.

3. Give feedback to the Spotify community. Some ideas, like the direct tipping support option, have been thoroughly developed and proposed to streaming services. Let Spotify know what good ideas you want to see implemented by upvoting their proposals.

4. And as always, be vocal with your friends about the music you like. Wearing an awesome Band/Rapper/DJ T-shirt you bought can be a great conversation starter.

I hope this could shed some light. If you have any questions, drop a comment on this article and I’ll do my best to respond. – Mogli