How digital music services may be fuelling a ‘superstar artist economy’



Music industry analyst Mark Mulligan’s MIDiA Consulting has published a new report exploring the ‘superstar artist economy’. It suggests that while artists’ share of total recorded-music income has grown from 14% in 2000 to 17% in 2013, the top 1% of musical works are now accounting for 77% of all those artist revenues thanks in part to a “tyranny of choice” on digital services.

“The democratisation of access to music distribution has delivered great benefits for artists but has contributed to even greater confusion for fans, ironically culminating in an intensification of the superstar effect, with the successful artists relative share of the total pot of musical works getting progressively smaller,” as he puts it.

So, while the report suggests that the growth of streaming has boosted global artist revenues since 2010, it suggests that the $400m of streaming and subscription income for artists in 2013 was more weighted to the biggest stars than ever. The report breaks down the typical catalogue of a digital music service to gauge how much of it is meaningful.

“Of a typical 25 million digital catalogue only 6 million is ‘serious’ catalogue and of that only 1.25 million is streamed or purchased with any meaningful degree of frequency. The vast majority of the rest is only ever going to perform miserably in revenue terms,” it claims.

“In the context of 25 million digital tracks 250,000 tracks – i.e. 1% – may not be quite as staggeringly small a number as it might at first appear but it nonetheless remains a clear imbalance and one that is intensifying.”

The report takes pains to point out that “superstar” artists aren’t necessarily just those signed to major labels, noting that a number of independent artists have broken into the 1% tier. It’s also clear that this isn’t just a digital phenomenon – witness the 75% share that the top 1% of artists take in physical sales. But the report is likely to fuel more arguments about whether streaming pays off for smaller artists.

“Superstar streaming and subscription artist revenue totaled $300 million in 2013, compared to $90 million for the remainder,” it suggests. “Crucially the $300 million is a larger amount of income shared among a smaller number of artists making the effect doubly impactful.”

The full report will be published here later this morning.

Written by: Stuart Dredge