The cost of creativity: Spotify can get expensive for musicians

Morgan Knox, Contributing Writer

Many Americans are willing to spend $5 a day on coffee, a caffeinated fix only to be enjoyed for a moment, while many individuals hesitate to pay $1.29 for a song that can last a lifetime.

Because of technology, smartphones and music streaming websites, almost anyone can have millions of songs streaming on demand for free.

The only cost is to listen to the occasional ad, but what is the cost for the artist who produced those songs?

“Streaming websites are great for publicity, marketing and generating a fan base because it is free for the listener,” said Joshua Warren, drummer for the Oklahoma City band Cavern Company. “However people need to be aware that 0.0056 of a cent per play is not enough money to sustain a multiperson band.”

To produce a song a band must first purchase their musical equipment, spend hours practicing, pay for time in a recording studio, send the song for professional mastering and cover art and pay for digital distribution. The fees quickly add up and by the time a single is released an artist may have spent roughly $1,000.

“Payback is the biggest cost,” said OBU graduate and lead guitarist Kolby Yarbrough from the Oklahoma City band Cavern Company. “We spend hours upon hours perfecting each song and spend roughly $1,000 per song to get it recorded, mixed and produced,” he said. “We released our song ‘Dancing in the Dark’ on music listening outlets and have made little to nothing in return.”

Streaming websites and apps have given musicians more platforms to have their music heard, but more money is going to the website than the artist.

“We have to pay for digital distribution of our music,” said Zach Shomaker, lead vocalist and guitarist of Cavern Company. 

“Our single has been streamed 267 times on Spotify and has made $1.19, which is the same if it was purchased twice through iTunes.”

The shift to streaming has devalued the hard work of all musicians. In 2014 Taylor Swift removed her music from Spotify and low-royalty streaming services to preserve the value of her work. Loyal fans continued to buy her albums, merchandise and concert tickets without her music being offered for free.

“Fans can go directly to the artist though their websites and purchase music, concert tickets, vinyls and merchandise to support their work,” Yarbrough said. “Because of streaming services artists must charge more money for concert tickets and merchandise to cover the cost.”

The music industry has evolved where convenience and streaming rules.

In the past music fans had no choice but to physically purchase music through vinyl records, tapes and CDs.

There was no option to pick and choose singles when purchasing albums from favorite artists.

“Art is important, and music is art,” Warren said.

“People need to understand the streaming websites do not pay bands and artists their due.”

To make a living one must make a profit, but it is especially hard for musicians or bands trying to be successful in the music industry. Thousands of dollars spent on equipment, hours of work and layers of expenses leave many groups struggling to continue creating music.

So much money is flowing out, and not much profit is going back to the musicians that create the music that is streamed.

“The music industry is dying,” Shomaker said.

“The artists that are present may not be there soon. All the people in the middle and those undiscovered don’t have the support they need to sustain themselves,” he said.

“People need to recognize the convenience of listening for free comes with a cost.”

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