In 2010, Information Is Beautiful published an infographic showing the estimated royalties earned by musicians from sales and streams of their work, from the various digital services.

Now it’s updated the image for 2015, with some new services (hello, Beats Music and Tidal) and some new metrics too. We’ve reproduced it with Information Is Beautiful’s permission on the right: click on the image to see it at full size – you might need to click again in your browser to view it at 100%.

So what does this 2015 “remix” (as they’re dubbing it) tell us? The company has a neat summary on its blog:

“Unsigned “DIY” artists hold on to the majority of income when they sell their stuff online, but signed artists get more marketing, which is a prerequisite to getting more plays on streaming services. Spotify might pay less than Tidal each time your track is played, but Spotify has many more users – making it more likely that someone will play your music in the first place.”

That latter point is important: while the infographic shows that per-stream plays might be higher on some services than others, that’s a reflection of their popularity: as they add more users and thus more plays, the per-stream payouts fall.

Note, in the streaming section of the infographic, the column titled ‘% of users to hit minimum wage’. That’s cross-referencing the calculation of how many plays a solo artist needs from that service to reach the US minimum monthly wage of $1,260 against a calculation of what percentage of that service’s user base they’d need to hit.

There are the usual caveats to all this, as well. By necessity, this infographic relies on average figures: most obviously, figuring out the average an artist would receive after their label takes its cut. The variety of contracts out there in the music industry – from ‘fair’ to ‘awful’ – is important to remember when talking about these issues.

Also, this is all about musicians, so the calculations here do not address songwriters and publishing deals. Both in the sense of how songwriting royalties might swell a musician who writes or co-writes their own songs’ income, and in the sense of not covering income for pure songwriters – currently just as heated a debate as artist royalties.

Even so, we think Information Is Beautiful’s infographic should be widely shared and discussed within the music community as part of the ongoing debate around the value of streaming.

But that brings us on to the last caveat: streaming’s value will hopefully not be just about pure per-stream royalties in the future. We’ve always said – most recently here – that streaming services need to make a better argument for streaming being the driver of multiple income streams for musicians, from live and merchandise to crowdfunding and even physical sales.

That’s not something that can be represented in an infographic as easily as royalties – at least not yet. But we’d love to see someone try, perhaps taking a single artist’s income streams and presenting them as visually (and beautifully) as charts like this. Maybe Zoe Keating could hook up with an information designer next time she publishes her figures

Thanks to Information Is Beautiful for permission to reproduce this infographic. Founder David McCandless’ latest book, Knowledge is Beautiful, is very fine indeed. 

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