David Crosby promises ‘real numbers’ on streaming royalties


Artist and songwriter David Crosby, of Byrds fame, is the latest creator to call out music-streaming royalties. In a tweet reading simply “Real numbers” Crosby published a table of his recent per-stream earnings.

The table ranks Napster top with $0.019 per stream, and runs through Tidal ($0.0125); Apple Music ($0.00735); Google Play Music ($0.00676); Deezer ($0.0064); Spotify ($0.00437); Amazon ($0.00402); Pandora Premium ($0.00133) and YouTube ($0.00069). “Get your song played a million times and get less than $5. Seems fair,” read Crosby’s caption to the table.

There’s a definite quibble around his maths: even the published rate for YouTube would generate around $690 of royalties from a million streams, while the Spotify rate would generate around $4.4k.

It’s unclear what Crosby was referring to with the “less than $5” comment, just as it’s unclear whether these figures are pure publishing royalties or publishing-plus-performance; whether they’re based on solo recordings or an unspecified share of one of his bands’ royalties; and what the contractual details are for those recordings and/or compositions in terms of the cut being taken by other entities.

When asked about why streaming rates are so low, Crosby added this in a reply to a fan. “The companies made a deal to sell out the artists by agreeing to a very very low rate in return for which they got ownership share in the streaming companies which the artist don’t get piece of,” he tweeted.

Which also raises a warning flag, since whether we’re talking the Byrds (whose albums came out through Columbia) or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Atlantic) his career has been associated with labels that now belong to majors who *have* promised to share their Spotify DPO windfalls with artists in their catalogues.

The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young currently have 1.5 million and two million monthly listeners respectively on Spotify alone, so clearly royalties are being generated (note: the two most popular Byrds recordings on the platform, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ (written by Pete Seeger) and ‘Mr Tambouring Man’ (Bob Dylan) weren’t written by the band, so the publishing royalties will be flowing elsewhere).

We’ve always supported artists’ right to speak out about royalties in the streaming era, but even a list of per-stream rates posted by a creator leaves out a frustrating amount of context to truly understand why they’re being short-changed. Then again, as one of the more engaged musicians on Twitter, Crosby may well reveal more of this detail in the coming days and weeks, as the debate continues.

Stuart Dredge

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