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“As long as you have your own business in order and not too many hands in the cookie jar, (streaming) can be very lucrative.” — Perrin Lamb

For those (most) of you who’ve never heard of Perrin Lamb, he’s a father, singer/songwriter, CD Baby artist, and the latest indie-music streaming success story, earning roughly $56k for more than 10 million streams of one of his songs on Spotify.

A couple weeks ago, The New York Times ran a piece on Perrin called “Independent Musicians Find Unexpected Rewards in Streaming,” saying that:

… Mr. Lamb, 39, is an example of a growing class of musicians who are far from superstars — he still has a day job — yet can reap sometimes substantial wages from streaming.

If you’re doing some quick math in your head and wondering how exactly those numbers spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S, well here’s a little extra context from a Music Business Worldwide op-ed written by another indie songwriter, Josh Collum:

Perrin Lamb is your typical, Nashville indie singer-songwriter. He’s been in town for over a decade. He’s never been signed to a publishing or record deal. His music is delivered to Spotify by CD Baby, an indie music distributor that works with over 400,000 artists like him.

He’s done well with syncs in TV and film, but income from songwriting and being a performing artist has never paid all of the bills. He’s always had other jobs along the way. He’s doing ok, but it hasn’t been easy.

Then, in January of 2014, a song of his called “Everyone’s Got Something” was put on the Your Favorite Coffeehouse playlist on Spotify by their editorial team. The song had been out a year and hadn’t really done anything to that point. But, once it found its way onto the playlist… boom. Hundreds of thousands of plays turned into millions.

To date, the song has about 13 million streams. And the streams have increased, not peaked, over time. He’ll make substantially more in the second year of being on the playlist than in the first.

For transparency’s sake, our friends over at CD Baby sent over Perrin’s most recent sales report. You can view it here (right). When it comes to streaming fees, at last report, he’s been paid on 10,929,203 of those 13 million Spotify streams of “Everyone’s Got Something” to the tune of $44,100.60.

After a distribution fee of 9%, $40,131.55 goes straight to the rights holder: Perrin.

(Note: this report only shows streaming fees or “sales.” Mechanicals and digital performance royalties make up the remainder of the total $56,329.35, but historically lag behind in reporting and collection. As they have with Perrin.)

And keep in mind, the Spotify streams of one song don’t live in a vacuum. They are a driver for Perrin’s business and art as a whole. They drove up the streams on other songs he has on Spotify (you’ll see another song on this report called “Little Bit” that’s made about $37,000 in sales from about 11 million Spotify streams). Perrin’s download sales have gone up. Fan-made YouTube videos have been posted and he’s collecting on those royalties through our friends at Rumblefish (CD Baby’s YouTube Monetization partner).

You see, the “Post-Napster” digital ecosystem is a connected one. And if your business is structured in a way to capitalize on it, that connectivity can be incredibly powerful. And profitable.

So, my hope in sharing this is to show that there is in fact… hope. And even beyond hope, there is reason to be excited.

We are still in the infant stages of this digital migration, and there are already thousands and thousands of true success stories like Perrin’s. There are already artists and songwriters that are figuring out how to build strong, agile businesses for this new age.

As we navigate the growing pains of this migration, and potentially decide on law, we have to be just as willing to hear their stories as we are to hear from songwriters and artists that are signed. It’s too important not to.

And who knows, maybe we’ll find some solutions that work for everyone.

Clearly Josh is positioning Perrin’s story as an alternate narrative to the tales of a streaming music apocalypse told by (or about) megastars like Thom Yorke, Pharrell, and Aloe Blacc — artists who are often cited as recipients of dismal streaming payouts, or who’ve been vocal themselves about the unsustainability of the streaming model.

But this difference of opinion is about more than just outlook or stature; it is, like many things, all in the details.

How music streaming can benefit independent artists

1. When you retain ownership of your master recordings, the payouts are better than many news stories lead you to believe

When major label artists complain about minuscule payouts from streaming services, you rarely hear about the chunk of change that’s being kept by the labels. After all, most major label contracts, even in the digital age, employ outdated accounting practices in order to make sure they profit first before the artist (if the artist is ever lucky enough to recoup on their advance and any expenses charged in their name).

As an independent artist, it’s very likely that YOU are the label. YOU own your masters. You keep 100% of your net streaming revenue.

2. You’re ALSO owed publishing royalties, and those add up quick if you retain 100% ownership of your publishing

You’ve probably also heard quite a few complaints about insufficient publishing royalties generated by streaming. But another important detail that usually gets left out of the discussion is splits, or how the money is divvied up between multiple songwriters and publishers.

Much of today’s pop music is created by a kind of production apparatus: teams of songwriters, producers, beat makers, lyricists, demo vocalists, and more — they work together to make the big hits happen. Then there’s the artists themselves, who, if they’re superstars, even if they didn’t have a hand in actually writing the song, have negotiated for a writing credit.

All of that publishing revenue has to get split up accordingly, not only between the 3, or 5, or 9 songwriters on each track, but among each of their representative publishing entities.

When you look at it like that, you can slice a big pie into some tiny portions. But as an independent, if you’re the songwriter, you retain 100% of your total publishing rights. And you are owed publishing royalties every time your music is streamed, in addition to the fee you receive for the stream of your master recording.

3. The end of shelf life means you have a looooong time to create momentum (or, “Your old music will always be new to someone!”)

Perrin’s song was already more than a year old by the time it got placed on the Spotify playlist and started attracting listeners.

If it were fifteen years ago, or if he were on a major label, his album would’ve been sunk by that point. He might’ve even been dropped from his label after that year was up, or worse, he’d be locked in a contract that prevented him from releasing any new music.

In the digital age, there’s no shelf life, just as there’s no shelf space. This is even truer in the world of streaming than it was for music downloads. With streaming, a song can “catch” years or decades after its release, so it’s important to keep leveraging the power of your entire back catalog.

4. The connected digital ecosystem provides far more opportunities for fans to drive plays

How many millions of Spotify playlists are out there? How many million times a day do people share their personal listening habits on social media, with links to listen via the streaming platform of their choice?

As Perrin’s story suggests, it’s possible that momentum on Spotify (particularly through prominent playlist features) has a tendency to build and build from year to year, as opposed to the old system where artists that were fortunate enough to get a song heard had a limited amount of time to make an impression on fans they had no direct connection to, and a limited amount of tools to build on whatever energy was created during that short burst.

Today, fans are more empowered to continue the momentum. They can and want to play a part in extending the reach of the songs they love.

5. Streaming activity begets streaming activity

It’s not rocket science. The more an artist’s music is streamed, the more people will listen to other tracks by the same artist. And again, this is truer in the world of streaming than in the worlds of downloads or physical media. With streaming, there’s no monetary risk. You’re simply inviting your listener to spend a little bit more time with you. If they feel welcomed and intrigued, they’ll stick around (which generates revenue). If they’re turned off, they’ll turn you off.

6. Streaming activity doesn’t live in a vacuum

As Josh explained above, the $56k Perrin earned from Spotify was for a single song. He has other songs that are generating significant income on that platform too. Plus, that’s JUST Spotify. Perrin’s music is available across multiple services and in different formats. And the activity that happens on Spotify also helps fuel Perrin’s YouTube presence and sync placements (both additional revenue drivers).

Spotify is just one piece in Perrin’s overall revenue puzzle.

It’s a tough road, definitely, but with support, perseverance, and a little stubbornness, it can work.”

So, after all that, let’s get down to the interview portion of this article.

I thought after the New York Times, Josh Collum, and CD Baby got to have their say, we should hear from the man himself. So I spoke with Perrin Lamb about Spotify, independent music, and family life.

Here’s our conversation:

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CR: Your biography places you well outside the tired rock star mythologies of the urbane hipster or the rural romantic. It says, “He lives like the rest of us and jots down lyrics at the kitchen table while arguing with his toddler to finish her vegetables…” 

PL: Well, it’s not so much about image, or creating an image.  It’s just me. And I think people appreciate that. It seems refreshing, I guess. Like, hey, this guy is just like me, only he writes songs about it. It’s relateable.

CR: I found that refreshing to read. Do you think there’s something about embracing the everyday, and shedding some of those big illusions about success that actually makes you better suited for these weird times in the music industry?

PL: Absolutely it does. When I started out, I had no delusions that I would be a “rock star.”  I just wanted to support my family by doing what I love to do. My parents were teachers, so I thought, if I can make as much as a teacher, then I’m golden. It’s a tough road, definitely, but with support, perseverance, and a little stubbornness, it can work.

CR: How DO you balance the responsibilities of family, work, and art? Is music your “full time” gig?

PL: As far as balance goes, I just look at it like any other person that goes to work in the morning and comes home at night. Takes the kids to swim team practice and piano lessons… It’s a job. I’m passionate about it, so there’s no pressure from either side, really. I am a partner and head of A&R for a music licensing company called Sorted Noise as well. So, honestly, the hardest thing to balance is the “artist” and the “business guy.”

CR: You’ve had two songs that have performed particularly well on Spotify. What are your thoughts on that platform, and about streaming in general? What opportunities does it offer indie musicians?

PL: I think streaming platforms are the best source of, not only revenue, but discovery at the moment for independent artists. It’s in it’s infancy and will eventually get all the copyright issues sussed out. But for now, I think it’s invaluable. As long as you as an artist have your own business in order and not too many hands in the cookie jar, it can be very lucrative.

CR: The amount you earn per stream on Spotify is much more than what is commonly reported in stories about major label artist earnings. Any theories on that?

PL: I don’t really have a “soapbox” on the streaming issue.  My experience is totally different than say, Aloe Blacc’s experience.  So I don’t really want to speak to that, but for me, I am the artist, sole writer, and publisher for most of my music. So, zero hands in the cookie jar.

CR: Your album Back to You came out in 2012, but the streaming activity really went into overdrive in 2014. What accounted for that bump? A sync placement?

PL: Well.  That’s hard to say.  “Everyone’s Got Something” has never been synched, actually.  So, getting on the “Your Favorite Coffeehouse” playlist was really the catalyst. “Little Bit” has had some placements, and quite a few micro-syncs on YouTube videos and such.  So maybe that played a role, but as far as I know, the editorial staff at Spotify just liked the songs and went with it.

CR: Once upon a time, radio plays led to album sales. What’s the new paradigm? Is it sync placements leading to streaming activity?

PL: That’s a tough one. I think Radio still drives taste cycles. So, what is popular on the radio will color what types of songs music supervisors are looking to place, or what the public is looking to stream. But as a modern independent artist you don’t have to live and die by radio play anymore. There are infinite ways to make a living in music now, which is exciting!

CR: Have you actively promoted your music on Spotify?

PL: No. It’s happened organically. I’ve taken the less is more approach as an artist. I’m not as active on socials as most folks and I don’t tour. So I think there is a bit of mystery there, which I feel like is intriguing and it fits my personality. I found over the years that the more I try to self promote, the less I connected.  If I let the music speak, it works better.

CR: How have you secured so many sync placements for your songs? Do you work with a licensing agency? Do you have relationships with music supervisors? Any advice for indie artists who want to break into that world?

PL: I decided early on that sync was something that I wanted to focus on.  So I paid attention to which songs were getting the most attention from music supervisors and began to tailor my style to fit that. I actually am a partner and Head of A&R for a licensing company in Nashville called Sorted Noise. Because of that and my experience as an artist, I have formed some very close relationships with a host of music supervisors. I will say this to any artist wanting to focus on sync: Find a licensing rep that you trust, has a good track record, and someone that other artists like to work with. Then just BE PATIENT. That’s the most important thing.

CR: What has CD Baby enabled you to do in your music career?

PL: Honestly, CD Baby has been great, simply because they make it so easy for artists, who, let’s be honest, aren’t always the most business savvy, to be able to not only release and distribute their music, but to get paid!  That’s a big deal.

CR: What’s next for you?

PL: I am working on some new music that will be coming out this fall, and focusing on my work with Sorted Noise. Oh. And the 7-8 yr old Swim Team of course. GO THOROUGHBREDS!

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For more information about Perrin Lamb, check out his official website.

What do you think of the debate over streaming payouts? Is streaming a boon or a bane for indie musicians? Let us know in the comments below.

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