The latest musician angry about their streaming income is Sean Kinney, the drummer from grunge veterans Alice in Chains.
In a recent radio interview, he took aim at two of the biggest streaming services, in what’s become a familiar story of musicians reading their royalty cheques and questioning the economics of the sources.
“You have these Spotifys and Pandoras where you get access to almost every piece of recorded music on the planet. And then that’s great for the consumer, but for every person who’s ever recorded music it’s a f***ing ripoff,” said Kinney, as reported by Digital Music News.
“Because, you know, people are starting to post their checks; you get 10 million plays of your song and you get a check for $111. It’s a weird time we live in, it’s a real balancing act. And, so basically, you’d hope that you have an audience and you can tour, and try to break even or maybe make a little bit to make a living on tour.”
Now, we may be falling into the trap of taking his figures at face value – in an off-the-cuff radio interview, Kinney likely didn’t have the exact stats to hand – but his $111 for 10m streams claim does need a bit more scrutiny.
By Spotify’s own estimates, it should have paid out between $60k and $84k to rightsholders for 10m plays of an individual song, including publishing. If that really did result in a $111 payment to Kinney – 0.185% at best of the original payout – you’d have to seriously question the deals he signed in the past, even if he’s only earning as a performer rather than a songwriter.
That’s not to attack Kinney personally: he’s vocalising a genuine concern held by many artists of his era, and often those fears are about basic living costs (not to mention healthcare insurance in the US) rather than greed. The more artists talking about their payouts, the better, for fuelling debate about these issues. But rather than simply repeating these claims, it’s important to dig a little deeper.
Alice in Chains’ 10 most popular songs on Spotify – at least, the ones shown on their profile page – have been played more than 38.5m times on that service alone. Those top 10 tracks alone – the band has more than 80 available on Spotify – should have generated payouts of at least $230k to rightsholders.
Not an income in itself for a single musician from a band over several years, but it should be part of a wider, healthier picture depending on whatever deals they’d signed in the past covering those works.
Like we said, we’re likely overanalysing off-the-cuff remarks from an interview: if Kinney was talking about a Pandora royalty cheque, or even YouTube-related payments, all our numbers count for nothing.
But it’s the sort of analysis that’s more useful in figuring out what kind of an income streaming could and should be providing for musicians, rather than simply repeating (genuine) tiny royalty-cheque complaints as more proof that streaming is bad for artists.
Picture taken from Alice in Chains’ Instagram account