If Streaming Is the Future, Songwriters Are In Deep Trouble

Two of the top three countries, when it comes to revenue from recorded music, have just reported the figures for last year.

US revenue is down by 0.9% and Germany’s is down by 3.2%, as none of the countries has seen digital revenue growth offset the loss in physical sales.

Of course the US relies more heavily on digital revenue, as it accounts for 59% of the music market’s dollar value.  In Germany digital only represents 20.5%, and though its revenues from streaming increased by 40%, it still only represents 5% of the total revenue.  In the US streaming revenue grew 9%, yet it’s only 15% of total revenues.

If Deezer CEO Axel Dauchez is right and “we see the end of music downloads as coming this year,” then musicians are truly in trouble – and songwriters perhaps even more so, as they pretty much solely rely on revenue from recorded music to make a living.

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This past week the latest songwriter royalty statements arrived and, after looking at them, streaming certainly doesn’t look like a saviour to us.  It’s of course difficult to make a snap conclusion by looking at individual statements – my own statements tend to fluctuate somewhat according to how many songs I had out the previous year and how well they did – but the shares different usages represent tend to remain the same.  And when I compare them with fellow songwriters I can tell they’re pretty much representative for all.  So let me give you a peak at what I see.

I receive four statements a year from my collection society/PRO, Sweden’s STIM, and two a year from the publisher that owns most of my catalogue, Universal.  In the past year the revenue I’ve earned via STIM is 7-8 times as much as what I get from Universal, so let’s focus on the STIM ones.

Sweden has been in the forefront of the streaming revolution. During the first half of 2012 streaming represented 89% of all digital music sales in the country.

Yet, considering that around 10% of the entire population subscribes to a streaming service (mainly Spotify), it’s perhaps surprising that digital music still only accounts for 63.5% of overall music sales.

When the head of Universal Music Sweden (the record label arm), Per Sundin, announced “our artists get significant revenues from Spotify, which is our biggest income source for Sweden”, many of my fellow Swedish songwriters wondered why they couldn’t see such “significant” revenues from the streaming service themselves.

STIM’s royalty statement summaries now separate Spotify income from all other revenue, and on my latest statement it still only represented 4.3% of all my royalties.  Matter of fact, in the previous quarter one of my songs earned £1,500 from Italian “disco” (which I can only assume is club play) alone, while it earned £9 from Spotify streams worldwide.  Thank God for those Italian clubbers and DJs, I say.

Admittedly, my royalty statements cover both local and international income, and the Italian figure was a bit of an anomaly. My music may also just be more popular outside of Sweden, but other songwriters report similar percentages.

I’m of an optimistic nature, as well as a Spotify subscriber, and I would really love to believe that streaming income could somehow offset the loss of income from physical sales and downloads. According to the latest figures only 3.4m Americans pay for on-demand music services – only 1% of the population – so there’s room for growth.

But I worry that if it grew to the 10% level that Sweden is enjoying, it would lead to an overall drop in royalties for music creators.

After all, there are signs that streaming is, indeed, cannibalising downloads. As streaming subscriptions increased in Sweden, download revenue fell by 14%.  Meanwhile digital downloads declined for the first time ever in the US, year-on-year, in the first quarter of 2013.

And let’s not even talk about the elephant in the room – YouTube. Despite recently reporting a billion monthly users, songwriters earn virtually nothing from it.  Let’s just hope Dauchez is wrong.

Image: Mad Hatters Tea Party in Sydney, Australia. Pic by Eva Rinaldi (licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic).

35 Responses

  1. Bas Grasmayer (@Spartz)

    Perhaps songwriters should charge more for their services or start writing interactive music that can be used in apps, games, etc.

    Plenty of money to be made with music outside of the traditional spectrum. More than ever.

    Just don’t be passive and invent something new.

    • steveh

      Your response is truly idiotic.

      1. Songwriters cannot individually “charge more for there services” as their income is based on national and international mechanical and performance royalty agreements made by collection societies. It’s not the songwriters’ share of the cake that is the problem but the fact that the cake itself is in decline and under further severe threat from the Ponzi scheme economics of Spotify etc.

      2. The rest of your post seems to to suggest that songwriters should move away from writing songs – somewhat ludicrous I would say. Are you perhaps suggesting they should start selling t-shirts?

      • Visitor

        Uh no. The difference is when a PRO CEO drives his Lambragini to his mansion built from funds from artist royalties, his day job still funnels some of that money to the artists. Piracy on the other hand, funnels NONE of the money to the artists.

        In this world it’s not about who is fucking the artists, everyone is fucking the artists. It’s just we can’t focus on all of it at once. Okay kiddo?

      • Bas Grasmayer (@Spartz)

        I don’t see why it’s necessary to be so rude.

        1. If I write a song for you, would I not be able to set a fee for that?

        2. No. I’m saying songwriters should look at the way songwriters did business prior to the rise of the record.

        Every medium is transitionary. Every medium always leads somewhere else and then becomes irrelevant. Every business focused on any particular medium needs to be adaptable, just like the professionals contained in that business.

        • Michael

          I appreciate what you are saying. I’ve thought about this issue a few times already.

          Charging to write songs is only possible for the top 5% of writers (guesstimate) – but I’m currently investigating a variation on the idea.

          I have occasionally been offered a flat fee buyout for writing lyrics (ie, I would have to sell the rights). But when I look at the rate offered and compare it with the time needed to write a song, it would be more lucrative to do some other form of writing.

          So songwriting is tending to become a hobby, a bit like local historians writing a book and selling 100 copies. They do it as a labour of love, not as a sustainable source of revenue.

          Lastly, if songwriting was becoming irrelevant, I’d be more willing to accept the situation. But there has never been more demand for music and access to it. So the problem is not that people are not listening to songs any more; it’s a systemic twist that increasingly excludes the creator from any meaningful rewards when songs are widely used (YouTube, Spotify, etc).

          The only way out of it that I can see is to place the payment before the creation or access, either through effective crowd-fundng or some sort of subscription model. I’m working on ths now with a singer. I’ve no idea if it will work.


    • D

      Ah, but now according to PJ Bloom artists shouldn’t charge to have their music placed in other media, because its exposure.

    • D

      Ah, but now according to PJ Bloom artists shouldn’t charge to have their music placed in other media, because its exposure.

    • Visitor

      That’s really worthless advice. YOU create something new to replace YOUR job, why don’t you?

    • Stu

      Primary data is always good, so thanks for sharing this Helienne! I’m thinking something similar to Bas though: streaming isn’t THE future – as in the only one. Is it fair to say sync deals are also the future for songwriters (well, the present too…), live performances of your works are the future, commercial commissions, Italian discos…

      In other words, isn’t streaming part of a patchwork of income? Are you seeing those Spotify streams accompanied by a reduction in your income from sales? All of this is asked curiously not aggressively, though.

      Almost as importantly, which song is it that’s tearing up the dancefloors in Italy? 😉

      • Helienne

        Funnily enough, it’s Turn On the Music, which I wrote with and for Roger Sanchez – a song that came out around 7-8 years ago, which is why I’m surprised that it still made that much from club play in Italy.

  2. Visitor

    Well one thing is for sure…Songwriters are not the future.

    • Visitor

      “Songwriters are not the future”

      Um, what do you think the world needs more:

      Streaming services & pirates — or songwriters? 🙂

  3. Visitor

    Sounds like some people may need to get another job. Join the club.

    • Visitor

      Too bad for Helienne the job she choose instead (journalism) is also dying. Should have worked in medicine or technology.

  4. Ron

    Wait, Heliene is a songwriter?! I never would have guessed from reading her articles.

  5. Visitor

    Just a taste of her genius….

    Well I I’ve been waiting long enough
    Hey DJ please won’t you turn it up
    Wanna feel that base, yeah
    Cause I get a rush
    And when it comes, I can’t get enough

    So turn on the music
    Why don’t you turn on the music
    Oh know how to use it
    When you turn on the music, music, yeah!

    • Visitor

      LOL…she spells peek ‘peak’ in her article and spells bass ‘base’ in her song. Sweden is crazy!

      • Visitor

        “spells bass ‘base’ in her song”

        Guess it won’t be a hit then, eh…

      • Helienne

        Ooh, I tend to be a stickler for spelling, so thanks for pointing out my typo on peek. However, I can’t take the credit for spelling bass as base – someone must have copied that lyric from some pirate lyric site that didn’t know the difference between the instrument and base.

    • Michael

      I’d bet the typos come from a wonky lyric site (another of the leeches in songwriting revenue).

      By the way, the sudden surge in plays from Italy is more likely to be an accumulation of plays over several years that had not yet been paid.

      Apart from everything else, even when songwriters are successful, everyone wants to hold onto their money for as long as possible. 5-7 years is not unusual.


  6. Visitor

    “streaming is, indeed, cannibalising downloads”

    Sure, why would any sane person would buy a song s/he can get for free…

  7. Sudden Spring

    I believe that streaming for both music and video IS the future for distribution – not necessisarly for revenue.

    Publishing income is indeed threatened since publishers make about 90% less than the master owner in the digital transmission. And it’s not certain how this will play out for master owners either

    Ruff math — let me know where i’m wrong

    Let’s assume US recorded music sales are around 8 billion and to that lets add 2.5 billion for performance to total 10.5 billion


    Lets’s start with Spotify’s current 1 million paid subscribers at $120 per year to total 120MM.

    • steveh

      “I believe that streaming for both music and video IS the future for distribution – not necessisarly for revenue”

      What you are saying here is completely illogical.

      Legal distribution is how recorded music creators receive their income. Legal distribution is the mechanism that puts the music out into the world, and receives in return the revenue from sales/streams etc.

      The only form of distribution that disconnects putting the music out from revenue is illegal piracy.

  8. Adam Smith

    I’ll say it again, even though when most songwriters hear this, they cringe and say “no way, I’ld have to go back to school or learn a whole new way to live…etc.”

    Stop Publishing. Just F&%KING Stop. Don’t stop creating or writing. Just stop publishing. This taking a very loooong view. Quit feeding the monster. Continuing to publish in this atmosphere is insane, yet people keep doing it, expecting a different result. Let them rely on what’s there already, there’s at least a 5-10 year supply of music that hasn’t reached the top twenty, and that’s what they will be listening to down the road, is the top twenty of the last picks. Bleak huh? Make them suffer. They don’t give a damn, not really. Why should we?

  9. Ellen

    I have never read more nonsense in my life than the comments posted here regarding this disturbing and factual article about streaming and it’s progressive march towards the demise of the Songwriting profession.

    Giving some of you the benefit of the doubt that you just have no clue how songwriter’s earn an income here goes:

    If you are NOT an artist/writer, but just a songwriter who composes for recording artists you ONLY get paid when your song is played—on radio, on Spotify, On Pandora, On YouTube–AND you only get paid when someone BUYS an album that has your song on it–or if someone purchases your song as a single–THERE IS NO OTHER INCOME–we don’t tour, we don’t get paid for writing–an artist can “hold” a song of ours for years and we do not get a “hold” fee–we ONLy get paid when the song is recorded and we get our publishing share and our writer’s share –Streaming sites are NOT paying songwriters anything remotely decent or legal–AND Google gives a home to piracy sites where anyone can download a songwriter’s song for NOTHING—This is called theft–YOUTUBE has software you can use to separate the music from the video allowing even more “honest people” to download our songs without paying—Understand this please—songwriters are professionals who create music for artists and we deserve to be compensated for the “job” we do….ONe of my songs was played over 3 1/2 million times in a three month period on Pandora–my check? Thirty-nine dollars!! And it is the same for all the streaming sites—and when you download my songs for “nothing” why don’t you send me your salary? You have your jobs–you deserve to be paid! Well, so do the songwriters of this world—We have lost 3/4 of our profession–People cannot pay their bills, or survive when the value of what we do is so denigrated……There seems to be this very sad and troubling attitude throughout the world regarding “songwriters”–that somehow we don’t “count”; that we are here to provide a service for the music world–write the songs that you hear your whole life, BUT do it for nothing–Songwriting is not a charity…..Songwriters are the foundation of music–and we love and feel blessed to do what we do–but please, understand….we have a right to be paid. Thats how it works for everyone…DO your job, you get paid…We need help if we are to survive—it’s very, very bad for us now and getting worse. DOn’t support the streaming sites–pay for the music you want—And please, let others know how songwriters earn an income—and stand up for us not against us….

    • steveh

      Well said Ellen!

      The attitude of most of the posters on this thread towards songwriters is shocking.

      Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that so much digital music, particularly unauthorised downloads, have no credits – streams too. People just do not know the proportion of succesful songs written or co-written by writers who are not the artist/ performer.

      But that does not excuse the ugly know-nothing arrogance displayed here…

    • Visitor

      “Google gives a home to piracy sites where anyone can download a songwriter’s song for NOTHING—This is called theft”

      “ONe of my songs was played over 3 1/2 million times in a three month period on Pandora–my check? Thirty-nine dollars!!”

      “DOn’t support the streaming sites”

      Finally, a voice of reason. Please post here a bit more often.

    • Right on

      Right on Ellen.

      We’ve let the leeches and digital parasites set the tone. No more. Lets’ band together to end mainstream piracy… that’s the ONLY way to bring the revenue from legal outlets up.

  10. Annellsson


    I’ve trouble getting money from STIM for my Spotify streaming and the answer they gave me was that they can only make a payment if the song is tied to an artist. When you report a new song to STIM it’s possible to enter the artist, but it’s not necessary and sometimes impossible.

    • Helienne

      I do understand that sometimes when you register a song you may not know what artist will record it later on, but you can amend the registration when you do. Once it’s been released you can also add the ISRC code. I assume that you know who’s released it if you know it’s on Spotify?

      • Annellsson

        Are you sure you can add the ISRC code on your STIM registration? And also at a later date?

        On my registrations there is something called an “ISWC-nummer”.

  11. music buyer

    i spend about USD 300-1000/year. no torrents and no filesharing downloads.

    but, i mostly despise siging – samples are fine. actual lyrics can “go to hell” LOL. e.g. i like Annie Lennox & her voice, so i have paid for their music, but i could not care less about the actual lyrics (singing) – i would have been equaliy content to hear her sing names out of a telephone book.

    this is what i would like to know:

    1. is songwriting an art, craft or something else. pick any top40 song and tell me if that writing is closer to edgar allan poe or closer to work that english-lit leaning emo highschool kids can do as homework.

    2. how many songs that are songwriter credited, are released each year? and how many individual unique songrwiters are credited on these songs? ballpark is fine.

    3. what are songwriter actual expectations? if you are “a pretty accomplished” songwriter – how many songs per year would you be writing (that ppl will record & release) / how much of your time would have been spent / and what is appropriate yearly income for such output?

    thanks much!

    • steveh

      for your information:- songwriters do not just write the lyrics – they write the music as well.

      There are many varied combinations of lyricist, composer and performer that create the music we love.

      If the song they have written is in any way successful then the songwriter should get their agreed fair share.

      End of story.