By Guneet Singh
Sal Fratto put in months of work jotting down lyrics and strumming tunes on his guitar. But he knows that he and his band are only going to make pennies per song.
About 51 percent of the revenue in the music industry now comes from streaming, according to a report published on March 30 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Streaming has grown in popularity among consumers, but poses an issue for artists who are paid very little for their music.
Elephant Jake, an indie-punk band featuring Stony Brook University student Sal Fratto, released their debut LP “Classic” on Spotify, a music streaming service with millions of songs. Even though one song off the album recently broke over 1,000 streams, the band still expects to make very little money from it. The band will take 70 percent of the profit, 30 percent will go to their label and another cut will be afforded to Spotify.
The band’s record label, No Moms No Rules Records, sells physical copies of the album which garners more revenue than streaming. Still, Fratto is appreciative of the streaming service. “Streaming is really for vast exposure to places that we most likely will not visit [on tour] to sell our physical copies,” Fratto said.
While added exposure is an exciting benefit for some artists, it also brings a negative change to the music industry says Lou Gimenez, Chief Engineer at The Music Lab, a recording studio in Elmont. . “You have thousands of songs that you either don’t pay for or pay very little for, so wading through all of the music that you are inundated with has very little value to the average listener,” Gimenez said. “[Consumers] don’t care about sound quality, so the whole experience has been diminished.”
The artists have one consequence in common. “It has not been good for the industry. Artists are getting their music stolen,” Jim Faith, one of the founders of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame which was founded in 2004, said. “It has considerably reduced the ability for a musician or band to make a living.” About 1,500 paid streams is equivalent to 10 downloaded track sales, which is the equivalent of one album sale, according to the RIAA.
Streaming made up only 9 percent of the music industry just six years ago and has now grown by almost six times as much. Consumers have realized that they can now rent music for a cheaper rate than if they were buying it.
The better it is for consumers, the worse it is for artists and the streaming services themselves. “Streaming services themselves are not profitable. About 85 percent of their revenue goes to licensing costs and acquiring content. Everyone wants more money and consumers won’t pay,” Dan Rayburn, an expert on streaming media technology, said.
The RIAA, along with 15 other organizations that feel strongly about the changing music industry, have established a website to inform policy makers and fans about changing laws in the Internet music marketplace. One of these organizations is The Living Legends Foundation, an organization that was founded in Los Angeles in 1991 to honor music and radio industry figures.
“Traditional physical music sales are dying and I don’t believe they will ever return to firmer sale levels. Technology evolves,” Kendal Mintel, General Counsel for Living Legends Inc., said. “However, revenue from streaming has not yet exceeded the revenue that was previously earned from digital downloads and CD sales, so the artists and music creators are losing revenue.”
Streaming also impacts how the success of an artist is viewed. “Platforms like this are directly used to judge new artists as one of the only key metrics of potential success in the industry. Instead of pure talent, success is measured on numbers, followers, and downloads,” representatives from Oak and Ash, a pop and rock group that opened for Bon Jovi and Newsday’s 2016 Battle of the Bands winners, said.
Many artists feel that consumers gravitate towards streaming because of the easy access to songs this services bring. “It seems like a smarter way of [selling music], especially for smaller artists. People don’t want to spend money on individual songs, especially for smaller artists they haven’t heard of,” Dylan Schreiber, a drummer for the band The Commas, said.
Music consumption is higher than it’s ever been because of streaming growth, according to the RIAA. However, Long Island musicians must rely on other ways to make money. “I only make money if someone buys a track and I have yet to make anything more than a few cents in three years,” Frankie Mattos, a folk-pop performing musician and songwriter, said. Mattos has released music on Bandcamp, but plays live shows to bring in money.
Streaming apps are now targeting consumers through the strategy of simplicity. Pandora is trying to make its app more intuitive, while Amazon is aiming to make the subscription process simpler.