8 Ways Streaming Services Can Help Musicians Without Paying Them


So much of the conversation for the past few years has revolved around a very narrow idea of what streaming means to the industry. Too many focus on one number: amount per play. Streaming can be incredibly beneficial at growing and aiding an artist’s career, however not enough of the services have prioritized helping make this happen. The conversation needs to shift from the per stream payment, to the value provided to the artist. Indie artists with tens of thousands of fans (not millions) especially aren’t seeing a sustainable revenue stream from the streaming platforms, but could benefit tremendously from these platforms if they worked with them on helping to engage and build their base. There is lots of money to be made, but it doesn’t all have to come from sales and royalties. Artists can sustain a healthy music career by embracing streaming. They just need to get creative about how they make money.

Here are 8 ways streaming services can help musicians without paying them:

1) Allow Sponsored Songs

Why do shitty label acts break out when incredible indie bands don’t? Money and access. Streaming services should allow artists with a bit of a budget to target potential fans. Fans would much rather hear a sponsored song than an ad from Coca Cola. And with all the data points Spotify and Pandora have, artists’ campaigns could get very targeted. Feature.fm is a platform that has been teaming up with streaming services to offer this. So far their partnership with 8 Tracks has proven tremendously successful. Feature.fm charges about $.05 a play (for plays longer than 30 seconds). If a fan skips the sponsored song, the artist/promoter isn’t charged.

I’ve spent a good amount on Facebook advertising because the targeting is so specific. And it works. I promote my concerts and new releases through Facebook advertising, but would transfer a bit of my marketing budget if streaming services allowed this kind of targeted advertising. Sure, the streaming services should approve the songs (only accept “quality”). If fans like the song, they can add it to their own playlists or libraries and increase potential virality. And artists would still earn royalties on the plays. The artists could potentially earn enough from royalties to offset the cost of the ad campaign.

2) Data

Pandora led the way with their backend analytics platform, Amp, available to any artist with music on the service. It reveals top songs, cities and number of listeners for that artist. However, there’s still much to be desired in understanding how to best use the data. And it’s awfully frustrating that my most liked songs (thumbs up rating) aren’t my most played. There’s no explanation for this. But it’s a start. The most useful feature is the interactive map of the country revealing the percentage of listeners across the country for each city. Very helpful tool to know where to tour.

+Pandora Unveils Amp Allowing Artists To See Their Data – And It’s Awesome

YouTube revealed their new analytics feature at SXSW set to be released later this year. I got a glimpse at it and it seems promising. But with similar features to be desired. Which brings me to my next point.

+YouTube Provides Artist Analytics And Makes It Easier To Sell To Fans

3) Connecting To Fans

Pandora has absolutely no way to connect with fans. If 100 people have created Ari Herstand stations in Dallas, there are 1.3 million people who live in Dallas. How am I supposed to notify those 100 that I’m coming to town? Facebook ads are the only way to target such a specific audience, but what if those 100 haven’t liked me on Facebook? Pandora, YouTube, Spotify et al should give artists a way to notify fans when we’re coming to town. Send our fans messages.

Spotify has an Activity feed which seemed promising. Artists can post a song (theirs or someone else’s), playlist or just a message to their feed (like a Facebook newsfeed) and their followers theoretically would get a notification. However, these live in the activity feed which most users clearly don’t even know exists because after getting my musician friends who are way more popular than me to test it out, the engagement factor is at about one tenth of one percent. Like 30 plays for 30,000 followers. Pretty pathetic.

Don’t be shitty like Facebook. Don’t make us pay to reach our fans. If a fan follows us on Spotify, creates a station on Pandora, Subscribes on YouTube, let us send our fans notifications and messages. We know our fans best. If they don’t like what we’re sending, they’ll unfollow.

4) Show Notifications and Ticket Info

And a no brainer. When an artist announces a concert your area you should get a notification about it with a link to buy tickets. This is a feature fans would appreciate and would help increase concert attendance. Spotify teamed up with SongKick to display the next show on the artist’s profile, the problem is it shows that next show to every user regardless of geography. So if my favorite artist is playing a show in LA next week, but has 8 shows before that, I won’t see his show listed on his Spotify profile until the day of the show. It should show either the entire tour calendar (with ticket links) OR the next show IN MY AREA. Rdio has this. They show me only the shows of the artist occurring in my area. Props. Pandora has absolutely no concert info anymore. Lame. SoundCloud also has teamed up with SongKick and at least has an option to show all tour dates. YouTube now has Cards where artists can overlay a card on individual videos with links to the tour page on their website. Shazam has a section on the artist’s profile (if you Shazam’ed them) to see upcoming shows in the area with a way to buy tickets.

Why aren’t streaming services helping artists out with this more? I’d happily give them a cut of ticket sales for transactions done through their platform.

5) Merch

If you’re not going to pay us more per stream at least allow us to sell some merch to our fans. Spotify has merch options via BandPage, however on mobile it’s allllll the way at the bottom. Literally, you can’t scroll down any further. Past every release, playlists and other songs featuring the artist. I would imagine most fans don’t even know this feature exists. But at least it’s there. On the desktop version it’s a bit more obvious with much better page realty.

Worth noting Spotify (nor BandPage) take a percentage of merch sold through Spotify. That’s nice. YouTube’s cards also allow artists to overlay merch options on videos.


+Why Apple, Spotify, Tidal Miss The Point. Here’s the Future Of Recorded Music

6) Tipping

Allow fans to tip their favorite artists. Make it clear that 100% of the tip goes directly to the artist. Not the label. The artist. Have a leaderboard of highest tippers. Make it a game. Give fans incentives to tip more. Artists could thank their top 10 tippers with monthly Google hangouts or private concerts.

7) Crowd Funding

Allow artists to display their crowdfunding campaigns on their streaming profile.

8) Discovery

Why is still one of the best ways to break a new act to get them as an opener on a bigger tour? Because it works! Streaming services should use this same methodology to help break unsigned acts. Why does Pandora only include artists at the same tier level of fame on their stations? Why not drop in an up and coming, unsigned act once in awhile? If you think there are no unsigned acts at the caliber of the famous artists, you really aren’t digging deep enough. Pandora has the data, use it to help the indies!

Spotify has started integrating unsigned artists into their very popular curated playlists. Artists like The Well Pennies, The Daydream Club and Cam Nacson have had their songs added to popular Spotify playlists and seen a million+ plays follow – along with increased merch sales, concert attendance and more fans across the board. Not to mention the increased streaming money which has far surpassed their sales numbers.


Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

27 Responses

  1. Chris H

    Data is only useful is it can be seen by everyone, not just a few labels or the artist. Make it open for all to see and consume.

    • Wooly

      Data is not only useful if everyone can see it? While some data should be available to all, there is some data only valuable to certain people.

      • Chris H

        A&R/Artist Development, Club Owners, Radio….basically anyone who wants to invest in your career in some capacity will not if the data isn’t available for them to see. Doing fantastic on Spotify and you being the only one who knows about it, does you no favors. Financial data notwithstanding, that info serves you best when it is out in the world.

        • Wooly

          Over-sharing is not a good thing. It does all parties a disservice and muddies waters, as opposed to making it easier to see clearly. Simply thrusting data at people doesn’t build relationships, which is what the music industry has and always will be about.

          • Chris H

            The best reason to have a relationship IS business. If there is not business to do, then being friends with everyone gets nobody anywhere.

            Oversharing? Billboard, Pollstar, Cash Box and the private data API’s every major collects would beg to differ.

          • Jeff Robinson

            How about ceasing to randomly remove material from their services and paying ALL royalties due? Oh, and letting artists chart where their spin count puts them?


    Music Streaming is a Music Demon!
    and that’s quoting myself.

    When the finances aren’t there to pay for producers, writers, recording, mixing, and mastering music, sales and the quality of music will only continue to decline until the entire industry collapses. It would have been great to have been part of the music scene in the older era’s of the 1960’s-90’s when the resources where actually their to develop and pay artists properly for their work. It’s an absolute tragedy in regarding what’s happening!

    • J

      While I agree that artist’s aren’t being paid fairly, a lot of the artist’s today are resourceful and learn to produce, write, record, mix, and master on their own. The irony is that most the artists today that can afford to pay others for those specializations are the ones that are producing the manufactured, recycled, and unoriginal songs and making millions. Though there are more artists producing from their bedrooms, the quality music still finds a way to rise to the top and these services make it easier now, more than ever, to allow these indie artists to get that visibility.

      • Blastjacket

        Can you please show me data that COMPLETELY backs that statement? I’m pretty sure for every 1 you can find I can find at least 10 who have not yet magically emerged to the top

        • J

          Instead of saying “rises to the top”, what I meant to say was that quality music from indie artists has a good chance of being recognized with services like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, although that recognition tends to be short-lived. For instance, I’ve seen many new Electronic artist’s tracks get popular for like a week and then fizzle out. They received recognition, but it takes a lot of work to gain more momentum and I think it helps when your career is built on a foundation of quality tracks and making music that’s genuine to you. There are way too many factors/variables involved to COMPLETELY prove how an indie artist can rise to the top. This article might have some info of interest: http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/what-are-the-odds-of-succeeding-without-a-record-deal.html

          Again, the ease of access to music production tools has made it a very crowded market. It’s common sense to say that it’s easier and cheaper to make recorded music now than it was in the 1960s – 90s. However, this most likely means the quantity of tracks being released by amateurs have increased, thereby making it appear that the quality of music has decreased. There’s definitely quality music out there made by indies, you just have to sift through more shit to find it.

          • MNLAKER

            It doesn’t really matter how much exposure you get if you can’t sell your music to pay your production expenses and the basic needs to survive on this crazy planet known as earth. I’m sure that there is a lot of good indie music out there that isn’t being heard and that is a major problem! Most radio stations suck because they are stuck in a small rotation of songs that sound like a broken record! In fact is anyone has got any good links to any really good radio stations or bands please let me know.
            Also, Most great songs and hit songs usually involve at least a handful of people to accomplish. Even artists with tons of attention aren’t getting paid in a reasonable timely manor. http://www.msn.com/en-nz/music/news/meghan-trainor-hasnt-been-paid-yet/ar-AA8zPmF

            The current music industry model and the people running the show need an abortion!

    • Just another anon

      “It would have been great to have been part of the music scene in the older era’s of the 1960’s-90’s when the resources where actually their to develop and pay artists properly for their work.”

      bada bing, please remember to tip your bartender and waitress on your way out…. Oh, you are serious? yikes.

      I agree that the scene in the “older era’s of the 1960’s-90’s” was good but your historical sense is a bit off regarding the ‘Money Men’ and getting paid. Actually, the scene these days is just as good but the internet has ruined it (tongue firmly planted) – it has forced many good artists into spending more time complaining about not getting “paid” and not enough doing something about it.

      However, the biggest difference in the scene is that a majority of artists today are selling their souls by allowing their privacy to disinigrate and letting conglomerates steal every bit of information you have about every single fan you have. You are allowing this.

      Today’s artists have so many ways to communicate – there may just be too many for most.

  3. Billy Bob

    Yeah right. While all the equity partners get Google-rich.

    Seriously, what is wrong with you? Keep pouring that Kool-Aid, man.

  4. superduper

    To be honest, I think that the only thing that streaming could be good for is discovery and data collection.

    1)Sponsored songs? Sounds cheap and could be restrictive to all the bands that are not sponsored.
    3)Connecting to fans? Overrated; the best connection that can be made is via the content itself.
    4)Notifications and ticket sales? Could at times be unnecessary. Even so, it probably won’t help out that much.
    5) Merch? What about buying songs addition to? Why limit it to merch? March is only secondary sales and
    6) Tipping? Nope, not going to happen. The music industry should not be reduced to this ‘tipping’ nonsense and I will surely not tip any artists in any way. I would instead buy their songs or albums for a fair price.
    7) Crowd funding? Also overrated and inconsistent.

    That only leaves me with
    2) Data
    8) Discovery

    These are by far the most valuable aspects of streaming by a long shot. Everything else is petty and insignificant in my view.

  5. Anonymous

    “6) Tipping. 7) Crowd Funding”

    Yep, that’s the future.

    And I still think Patreon is doing an excellent job — but I begin to see why new services like RepX and Videscape perhaps could launch even better versions:

    A crowdfunding feature should obviously allow for tipping as well (and it shouldn’t be limited to a certain amount like YouTube).

    Patreon doesn’t do that. Its procedure for making a single donation is awkward. And one-shots are just as helpful as long term commitments.

    Donations also shouldn’t be linked to more or less mandatory ‘rewards’. A lot of people just want an easy way to support an outstanding talent or a great idea.

    Crowdfunding should be as easy as ‘liking’!

    • Sarah

      Crowdfunding should be as easy as ‘liking’!

      Yep. So should tipping and buying stuff. Don’t ever make consumers work to give you money, because most of them won’t. That’s part of why Amazon’s one click patent has made billions through licensing – the less work there is, the more people spend.

      • Anonymous

        Agree — you were right and I was wrong about Patreon and crowd funding. There’s room for improvement.

        Again, the tricky part is getting those credit card numbers. Perhaps it would be easier if you sold physical items as well.

        Anything would do. On-demand items, for instance, so you wouldn’t have to buy a lot of stuff to make it happen.

        It would make the whole thing look like an ‘ordinary’ store. And we leave our credit card numbers in ‘ordinary’ stores every day.

        🙂 The real Anonymous 🙂

  6. Appearing Tonight

    This is just an updated spin on the old notion, “You know the deal, you get famous and we get rich . . . . “

  7. Just another anon

    Love your columns but…

    This time, you lost me at

    “I’ve spent a good amount on Facebook advertising because the targeting is so specific. And it works. I promote my concerts and new releases through Facebook advertising, but would transfer a bit of my marketing budget if streaming services allowed this kind of targeted advertising.”

    “If 100 people have created Ari Herstand stations in Dallas, there are 1.3 million people who live in Dallas. How am I supposed to notify those 100 that I’m coming to town? Facebook ads are the only way to target such a specific audience, but what if those 100 haven’t liked me on Facebook?”

    With all due respect… how does spending money on Facebook (and allow them to “own” your data) find the 100 people out of 1.3 M?

    • GGG

      I think he means there’s no way to target those specific 100 people. In Facebook, you can get pretty detailed about who you want to see your post, based on sex, age, location, ‘likes,’ etc, but you have no idea who it’s going to reach specifically.

      If Pandora gave artists user info, or, since that might seem intrusive, allowed a way to opt into a mailing list for artists, especially ones you like enough to create a station for, it’d be much easier to reach your biggest fans. If I create an Ari station right now, there’s no saying I will ever see a sponsored post next time he comes to NYC. Basically, more services should have ways fans can opt into artist updates.

  8. FarePlay


    Most people will say you’re either in or your out. I say work with what you got, but don’t accept what doesn’t work.

    I’ve been having this ‘conversation’ for nearly three years, can it be 3 years Paul?, and here’s where I am. These interactive music streaming deals suck. At some point after getting lousy compensation checks and selling fewer and fewer downloads and CDs, many of you will come to the conclusion; why bother? We keep making comparisons between video streaming services and music streaming services for 3 reasons:

    1. Music streaming has totally devalue what they have to offer by offering it for free >>> forever. 2. Music streaming kills sales by claiming to have everything. 3. Paid subscription video streaming services don’t do 1 and 2; they make money and even invest in creating content, because they charge people for subscriptions and they make money. No Apples and Oranges, just business.

    Now these bozos from Spotify, no insult intended, knew nothing, zero, nada, zilch about the music business outside of the Napster / Piracy Model. Clearly, they are not marketing geniuses and are so tied to the piracy model that their major positioning statement is: ‘You want us because we help get rid of online piracy and making micro-pennies is better than a sharp stick in the eye’. Which I find debatable.

    They are killing the music business in their own way, one tiny cut or micro-penny at a time. It is time to say goodbye to interactive music streaming and see who comes up with a better idea.

  9. David

    Slightly off-topic (but relevant to streaming in general) I’m surprised that DMN hasn’t (yet) picked up on the points raised by Geoff Barrow of Portishead – e.g. here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3050026/Musician-reignites-row-royalties-streaming-services-Portishead-founder-says-received-1-700-despite-songs-played-34-million-times.html

    Portishead is a good example of the ‘middle class’ of musicians we hear so much about: not Rihanna-popular, but with a substantial reputation and following. 35 million streams a year is the kind of level at which streaming *ought* to generate a viable income, or at least a big slice of one. At a payout rate of half a US cent per stream that would provide $175,000 a year. Of course in the case of a signed artist, this would have to be shared with the label, and there would be costs to pay (management, etc), but still, it would be the basis of a living income. But on Barrow’s figures, if correct, the amount actually reaching the artists is derisory. Even allowing for the fact that Barrow was not the whole of Portishead (which usually had 3 full members), I don’t see any way to get an ‘artist’ share as high as 10% out of his figures. This case really should be followed up by qualified journalists, putting pressure on the label (UMG in this case) to explain and justify the position.

  10. Ajay

    Wow , That’s some interesting information , I have been enlighten . There’s some great suggestions , hopefully the streaming, download radio , music distributions suppliers listen . Much luck to you !!


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