“Data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal showed that one major record company makes more per year, on average, from paying customers of streaming services like Spotify or Rdio than it does from the average customer who buys downloads, CDs or both.” – The Wall Street Journal
Despite the much publicized ranting of musicians like Thom Yorke against the evils of streaming services like Spotify, streaming continues to grow at a furious pace. The above quote from the Wall Street Journal shows that not only is it growing but it is becoming very profitable for the people behind it.
But what does this mean for musicians? Although Spotify pays out fractions of a penny per stream, can these services offer a valid means of income, alongside the more traditional offerings of CD and Vinyl sales, tour revenue and merchandise?
Here are a few reasons why streaming may actually be a good things for musicians:
Streaming rewards those who create great music, not just those who have the biggest marketing budget.
The democratic principles behind the creation of the internet in the first place follow suit on streaming sites. Listeners can choose what they want, so if your music really starts to resonate with people, it’s going to find its audience. Spotify, as the largest streaming site, allows anyone to upload their music, even if they’re not signed. However, unsigned bands have to go through an aggregator such as CD Baby. So get your music onto as many of the big streaming services as possible, including Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, and more.
Build your profile and followers
[Editor's note: not all streaming platforms allow individual artists to edit their artist profiles, so investigate each one before attempting to make profile changes.]
Once you’re music’s on a streaming platform, you need to get it heard. Build you profile as completely as possible. Make sure you use a profile image that’s clear and catchy and representative of who you are as a brand. Once that’s done it’s time to start making some social connections within that platform, as you would on Facebook or Twitter. Remember, this is the potential audience that is going to stream your songs and make you money, so be methodical and choosy, rather than using a scattergun approach. Social media networks are about community so you need to align yourself with the right people. Start by making a shortlist of the bands which are most similar to your own, then reach out to their followers. Slow and steady wins the race: don’t try more than 40 per day.
As an unsigned artist with your music now on a site like Spotify, it’s as if you’re in a chess game, just a few moves away from making money. But this is also the point where you need to make a smart move. One great means of getting your music heard is to make playlists. These are the mix tapes of the modern age and if someone types in, for example, ‘blues music’ the internal search engines offer up a number of playlists, as well as the best known artists in the genre.
If you’re an emerging blues band, therefore, and you make a kick-ass playlist, containing 20 artists of your own ilk, you can add in your own band to the mix. Some of these playlists get a lot of listens, so put some real effort into this and you may just be rewarded. If you’re running a blog or other social media profile alongside this, why not tempt other people into making playlists for you by offering gig tickets or a band t-shirt for anyone who creates a playlist using one of your songs which gets a five star rating.
This is savvy digital marketing which is going to translate directly into revenue. Incidentally, Armin van Buuren does this on Spotify, offering a daily updated playlist ‘A State of Trance.’ This has now built up over 120k subscribers as a result!
Push traffic back into the streaming sites from other Social Media
With some four million songs on Spotify which have never been streamed even once, it’s paramount you use every trick in the book to get your music heard. Add links from your website and social media pages, use competitions to drive traffic, even consider Facebook advertising, a surprisingly cheap and highly effective means of finding your audience. You can target everyone who ‘likes’ the Spotify page, for example, which gives you an incredibly targeted reach.
Playing the odds
For many musicians, the numbers simply don’t add up to trying to make money via the streaming music sites, and they certainly have a point. If you do the basic maths, you’re going to need a gazillion streams to make any decent revenue this way, but that’s not really the point. The point is to realise that streaming is now the world’s most popular means of sourcing new music and likely only to gain in popularity. So it’s about embracing the system, playing the system, and using that as one out of many methods for getting your songs out into the world. Spotify, and services like it, isn’t your ticket to riches, but it can put your music in front of a massive audience. Look upon that as the important step, and then when the fan base is in place, your money-making will take care of itself.
Jane McInness is a music industry analyst for Imagem and a frequent contributor to publications like Sonic Scoop and Music Think Tank.