Ek interview raises questions; how do you stack up as an indie musician?

Go to a workshop on making money with your music, and you will hear how valuable streaming is. Spotify is supposed to be one of the magic roads indie artists should take.

For consumers willing to pay for music, Spotify is a deal.

For artists hoping to gain exposure via Spotify, the service can be a frustration. In an interview with Spotify founder Daniel Ek, Stephen J. Dubner (Freakonomics podcast) makes some interesting points. For starters, how much money can a professional musician expect to make in a year?

Dubner cites information in a book by the late economist Alan Krueger, Rockonomics. Krueger’s findings won’t exactly light you up if you’re an indie artist:

“Krueger died recently at age 58 — by suicide. He left behind a book, to be published soon, called Rockonomics. In it, he writes that there are roughly 200,000 professional musicians in the U.S. today, accounting for 0.13 percent of all U.S. workers. That percent has stayed about the same since 1970.And what’s the median annual income for these musicians? $20,000.”

I don’t know if those professional musicians are fulltime or whether they work a day job. I have met many professional musicians in my travels with the band. Most of them do work a day job. Those who don’t basically live their music. Many of these indie artists are just happy to do their shows and enjoy sharing their music.

If you’re a fulltime musician with no outside job, though, you have a different road to travel. For one thing, you will either need a manager who can take care of more minute details than you ever imagined, or you will have to take care of them yourself.

Can Spotify be a meaningful revenue stream for an indie artist who doesn’t have the luxury of resources from corporate music interests? Maybe. The challenge is simple. You have to get heard, and right now, you have to be selected for a popular playlist.

Dubner cites more figures from Krueger—” an industry survey which found that just 28 percent of artists earned money from streaming in 2018, with the median amount just $100.”

Will Ek, whose economic philosophy seems to favor the free market, be able to do anything to assist indies?

An article at MusicLinkUp, based on Dubner’s interview, put forth a question Ek asked, followed by commentary from Dubner:

“[T]he question is: Can we develop tools that enable artists to promote their music more efficiently just by themselves on the platform?”

His comments come shortly after Spotify began personalizing some editorial playlists based on users’ tastes, a move intended to both improve the listening experience for users and make it easier for artists to get their music to the right ears. As part of the update, Spotify will begin sending artists custom hyperlinks when their songs are added to those playlists that will place the artist’s song at the top of the list, further incentivizing artists’ sharing with fans.”

As I put this article together, I also fiddled with the Spotify app on my phone. I started with our band’s pages. I opted for the freebie Spotify so I had to listen to some ads before I could access the music I wanted to hear. One ad drove me nuts—some girl banging on a drum in a Starbucks. Y’all, please. Anyway, I was able to hear one of Queen’s songs in its entirety, but I couldn’t do that with the Daysies’ stuff. I haven’t tried Rebecca’s yet—they have two listings, one for the band’s songs and one for her solo stuff. Maybe you can’t just pick the songs you want on the freebie version? I have no idea.

Will streaming grow to benefit even the indie artists who don’t have tons of money backing their products? I don’t know. I do know that’s where the action is at right now and it’s a good idea to at least have a presence there. Rebecca told me this morning Spotify is rolling out an ad option for artists. We’ll see what costs are involved and where that may go.

Indie artists can hope for more access to Spotify gold. That would be in keeping with Ek’s mission—“To inspire human creativity by enabling a million artists to be able to live off of their art.”

To read Dubner’s full interview with Ek and hear the podcast, see the page at freakonomics—it’s well worth a read if you work in the music industry.

One other take—streaming is a global activity. Spotify just gained access to the music market in India. Bottom line: 1.3 billion potential listeners.

(Kay B. Day/April 15, 2019)







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