The Reality of the Music Business Today: 1 Million Plays = $16.89

Musician indignant that free radio station does not make him rich

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.10.44 AM.png

"My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89" is the eye-catching headline by David Lowery, a musician who wrote "Low," which is earning him just over a thousandth of a cent per Internet radio play.

Which is the law. The Library of Congress Copyright Royalty Board decides how much Internet radio companies like Pandora must pay artists like Lowery. And even that microscopic number is high enough that Pandora, which earns 80 percent of its revenue from digital advertising, has lost money in five of the last six quarters.

screen-shot-2013-05-23-at-1-29-52-pm.png

"Pandora is barely giving anything of worth for using the songwriters and artists' music," Gizmodo writer Casey Chan points out. Which is true. But ironic, since it was just four years ago that Gizmodo writer Sean Fallon pointed out, also correctly, that "excessive royalty rates were the main reason sites like Pandora hovered near the brink of collapse [in 2008]."

We all want our favorite musicians to be rich and also would prefer to pay nothing to listen to them over the Internet. When we hear that our musicians aren't rich, we feel indignant. When our Internet music sites threaten to close down because of "excessive royalty rates," we feel indignant. 

The solution is to abandon all hope ye who enter the Internet as a means of making a million dollars with streaming music. Even if Pandora quadrupled the royalty rates paid to Lowery, it'd barely pay for three days rent. If you want to pay a musician, there is an easy fix. Go to a concert. 

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Business

Just In