CD Money vs. Streaming Money, 2004-2014

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*source: Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); US-based revenue figures.  All revenue inflation-adjusted to 2013.

66 Responses


    I really don’t care how people choose to consume music streaming will never make up for lost profits. The notion of profiting off of recorded music is over. Gold is worth money because it’s rare. Everyone and their brother has a DAW capable of making CD quality recordings. When everyone can do it, it becomes monetarily worthless. To have successful income artists to be more Politicians and less like musicians kissing ass and groveling for attention and thus what we have is a bunch of pansies pushing their pentatonic crap on us from every direction. Me personally I got into music to kick ass not kiss it. Everything musicians have to do today to get noticed is the exact opposite of what I got into music.

    • Bill

      Interesting and the height of marketing and ass kissing is going on this weekend …Coachella….not about music at all, it’s about vendors.

      • Digital Downloads?

        I would like to see where digital downloads (Albums + TEA) fit in this mix – and/or – digital downloads VS streaming revenues.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          Yes, I can put that together for you. But given that downloads are going ‘buh-bye,’ I thought it would be more interesting to compare today’s elephant to yesterday’s elephant.

        • Name2

          That would, unfortunately, lead to a chart which runs counter to Resnikoff’s agenda.

          It would show growth back from the abyss, with CDs being a smaller part of the picture going forward.

          Approved DMN graphs are for freedom-loving comrades!! Da!

          • Name2

            Thanks. As I thought, downloads are a huge chunk of reality in 2014. But the RIAA pie charts don’t have raw numbers to track. Resnikoff gives us raw numbers — of categories he deemed important: coincidentally, excluding ones that pretty clearly would have changed his bar graph, given the percentage of the RIAA pie which is comprised of downloads.

            All’s I’m saying is “Why lie and distort so much?” Paul’s charts aren’t total. They’re not “aggregated”.

            How about side-by-sides including and excluding downloads? Might be helpful, informative, or maybe just nothing but colorful. But “complete and colorful, free of an agenda” beats what’s been posted.

    • Sam

      Yep. I play what I want. I stay un-famous, un-rich, happy, and the fans I have are the greatest! The only ass I have to kiss is the ol’ lady’s, and only in the good way.

      Ten years from now “artists” will be paying Spotify to play their shitty laptop-made music, and I’ll still be playing divey little clubs full of great people buying my CDs whether they still have CD players or not. They’ll stuff my tip jar until it overflows, buy me drinks and food, the bartender will hand me a couple hundred bucks and I’ll go home fat and happy. I drive a shitty car, live in a small apartment with old furniture. But the shitty car gets me to my gigs, the apartment contains a beautiful woman, and I haven’t had to do anything but play music for almost 30 years.

      THAT’s how you “make it” in music.

      • Jughead

        This is the most depressing comment I have ever read on DMN.

        • Phil Dutra

          Sam has figured out how to play music, pay his bills and be happy. I find that completely inspiring! Good Job, Sam!

          • Reggie

            The overall story sounds very cool… He makes is sound crappy with a bitter edge. I am not going to knock anyone’s hustle, streaming or selling CDs out of a trunk. Believe me as an artist the only thing I want is to be loved for my music. I just have to stop short of this broken record sounding bitter tone. Cause if you ask me as an R&B artist I could be really bitter if I chose to be.

      • Art

        i use to own a club and felt the artist I played before they broke big should have been paying me for the exposure instead of the 15k a year I had to pay to the publishing,companies

      • Paul Lanning

        You sound like the character in “Piano Man'”. Most of the performers who live the way you describe have to travel around a lot, playing lots of different clubs & other venues. Having a full-time permanent steady gig at one club is a rare situation, and it’s particularly unique to enjoy such a situation AND be able to play whatever you want.

    • Me2

      “Everyone and their brother has a DAW capable of making CD quality recordings. When everyone can do it, it becomes monetarily worthless.”

      Thought experiment: Look up the top ten best selling records of all time. Listen to a random selection critically and ask yourself, “Is this something that anyone and his brother could produce on a DAW?”

      If you still believe the answer is yes, then all I can say is good luck.


        I once read an article by the manager of Nickelback and he stated it quite nicely. Say you go to an ice cream shop and they have two flavors vanilla and chocolate. Your decision is very easy but say that same ice cream shop has 50000 flavors you’re going to stare at the board until you lose the urge for ice cream. The music industry is exactly the same way. There are so many millions of recordings coming out each and every month that it is impossible for the really good stuff to shine through. instead we get artists such as Taylor Swift who exclusively uses the 5 note pentatonic scale and has a diminished understanding of music theory in order to keep promoting on social. You wanna get to the nitty gritty of why music sucks so bad these days? I’m a full time musician, been signed to a label with major distribution by the Warner music Group, have endorsements and am a music publisher represented by The Harry Fox Agency. These days I make my living teaching music playing in a Bon Jovi tribute band. The record business is over! Humanity is going through a paradigm shift not seen since the invention of fire.

        • CoT

          A lot of people don’t want to hear what you’re saying. They accept this new reality and think it’s okay. “It’s about the music, not the money, the business, etc”. That’s fine. Do what you want, what makes you happy. You’re good with doing it in your bedroom or jamming with friends, wonderful. But some of us wanted to make our own music for a living. For a career. The shit that comes from deep, deep in there meant so much to us that it’s the only way we wanted to earn a living. The feeling you get from being on stage with four of your brothers in front of a thousand people and kicking their fucking asses so hard you’re under siege after the show. It’s not unreasonable to think if you have that passion, and you’re giving something back to the public that they demand, that you should be able to earn a living doing it. If no one responds to it? Fuck off, you don’t have something they want. But if they do, you should be able to sell it. That’s commerce. Now, that doesn’t exist. The platforms raking in the billions are doing it on the backs of musicians. This Daniel Ek scumbag. Pandora. You literally get fractions of a penny for a spin. It’s actually fucking insane. I saw this coming years ago. Who’s going to pay to download anything when they can just turn on spotify and plug in the same artist and listen for free? The system is broken. Only when the big players in the game start respecting the output of songwriters and musicians will it change. Given history, fat fuckin chance.

          • chillphil

            1st time reading dialogue here – happy to hear everyone’s view points and that it’s honest, critical, and engaging! Keep it up thanks

        • Frederic kass

          “Music for the Soul” What do you give to the listener, fan or community besides mind numbing nonsense? If you give beauty and enjoyment and improve the quality of life then you are doing something. I compose rich, melodic music, with soothing and yet provocative chord changes, bridges and harmonies. It has character and body. Much of the music has some ideas that are part of my style. The music varies from ballad, soft rock ballad, Mediterranean, and liturgical. Maybe for many those of us who work very hard to give quality, these changes in the market will lead to better music for more people. We just need to show what we are offering and work very hard to discern ourselves and make it available. I hear the so called song of the day from U-tube, and for 90% of it I could shut my eyes and write it for robots. I was teaching a six year old, and played him some pieces. He wanted a beat and had no patience with too much melody, feeling, and character. So there are 3 billion listeners out there of all ages. We can make this work, and stop letting a hand full of clever promoters and cooky cutter writers turn the entire world into a cacophony of robotic noise.Good luck and G-d bless to the real artists among us. Fred Kass comment on or page

        • Frederic kass

          “composer owned streaming company” I invite everybody commenting and start talking about a collective where as in a mutual company all members are partial owners where we pool our resources to create an internet streaming and music company that guarantees better royalties and gives better service than spotify. It is not for high profit for the participants but exists for the benefit of the members who are composers. This is the same theory as the mutual insurance companies in the 19th century where the big banks were running the farmers out of business.

    • Human with a soul

      The idea of profiting off recorded music is dead? Just because most people have access to a DAW doesn’t mean they’re capable of making good music. Your statement is about as ridiculous as saying that since everyone has had (relatively)affordable access to pencils, paint and paper for thousands of years no one should have ever tried to profit off of art. What?


    Very few people will purchase music when it can be streamed online for free. Is there such thing as non-burnable cds???

    • Anonymous

      There is no such thing as music that can’t be duplicated. It doesn’t matter what the music is recorded on or how restrictive you make it. If it can be heard, it can be duplicated.

        • Dale

          Not really. I can build a system that stops piracy. Question is will the music biz and vendors adopt it.

          • Callum

            Then they’ll just plug the output of the player into something that can record it…
            It’s impossible to stop piracy.

          • Anonnnn

            Nice dream, but whatever “system” you build can and will be easily undone by someone else. Back to reality.

  3. FarePlay

    Getting down to the real problem with Spotify.

    Too big to fail? Has Goldman Sachs too much invested to allow Spotify to go under and does their need to go outside the US and Europe for investors any indication of how tough a sell Spotify is becoming?

    Given the disruption Spotify has created in the sale of recorded music and the financial impact interactive music streaming has had on the industry and individual musicians and songwriters are investors chasing an investment that will have a negative impact on the future of music?

    Corporate Responsibility? You can stop laughing now.

    • superduper

      It really baffles me how people say that ‘disruption’ is a naturally good thing. Clearly there are ways in which it can be a good thing in theory, this is not always true.

      • FarePlay

        Agreed. I’m using disruptive as a negative and have been for sometime. In its’ simplistic form it means change, not organic change, but going against the norm. It is definitely a mantra tech likes to use along with another word that has been co-opted and changed by the innovators; ADAPT, which feels more like a command than a suggestion.

        Pivot is another one.

      • Sarah

        Yep. It depends on the nature of the specific disruption.

        For instance, if something disrupted Spotify’s business by offering a new model that results in greater income for the music industry, that could be a very positive form of disruption overall.

        Disruption is like any other form of change; it can be good or bad, according to the outcomes.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Let’s not forget that we’re talking about Goldman here. They might be prepping a fat, juicy IPO that will fail, with the intent to make money betting against that IPO. You really want to dance, Daniel Ek?

  4. Tcooke

    In past, buy a cd, $12 bucks and the consumer bought it for one song, perhaps dicovery of a couple more. Out 20 cds in a collection, just a few get lots of spins. The $12 price recovers packaging, printing etc. this all pretty inefficient compared to new models. Songs that are played more get more money. Songs are played along other songs by different artists. It’s a more competive efficient market place in theory, and this benefits the consumer. Change is change. Some don’t like it out fear. Others will adapt and lead.

  5. Yaba

    By the way, does anyone know why there’s such a huge drop in total revenues from music sales? From around $15000 in 2004 to just $4000 in 2014. That’s huge!

    • FarePlay

      No question the transition from the sales of physical product, primarily CDs, to the digital consumption of music has been the over-arching factor for the dramatic loss in revenue for recorded music.

      Drilling down to the next level, free-file sharing, which started as a peer to peer service, exploded into a global for-profit business forcing the music industry to compete directly with an illegal service offering free access to all music, film, etc.

      But the ensuing revenue destruction from piracy didn’t end there. By offering listeners the ability to unbundle albums and access individual songs it forced Apple, their iTunes store and other online music retailers to sell not just singles, but every song from every album for $.99. A loss of over 90% in revenue compared to album sales.

      As if things hadn’t deteriorated earnings enough, Spotify’s was able to convince the major music labels to offer listener access to tens of millions of songs, at the listeners sole discretion, for free, legally, without placing time limits on those offers.

      Interactive music streaming has created a situation where the extremely low per-transaction earnings from airplay coupled with the loss of paid download and CD sales is further cratering earnings.

      How this destruction and diversion of revenue away from those who develop talent, play an instrument or write songs will play out over time is cause for concern.

  6. DrNue

    I’m so sorry that all the Lars Ulrichs and Jay-Zs have to wait a moment until they can afford their next gold-plated Hummer…
    Seriously, as an Artist myself, wasn’t it all about creativity and being heard one day or am I romaticizing?

    Where are the voices of the great minds of our time complaining about dropping album sales?
    Where is Björk, Tom Waits or Radiohead to be heard about it? A yeah…nowhere…
    Didn’t just Radiohead, Trent Reznor, Tricky, Muse, Mr.Oizo or El-P&Killer Mike give away their art for free?
    Are they broke by now?

  7. Wilson

    Well, I pay an incredible amount of money to see artists live (which is where most of their revenue comes from) so I only feel bad for older artists who can’t tour. If you are under the age of 40, quit your whining.

  8. Anonymous

    I pirate anything I want and in exchange purchase goats for poor third world families in the artists name.

  9. Wooly

    Is there a chart or graph to show the relationship between some money and no money?

    • Name2

      Yup. And the industry was tired of dealing in singles. They wanted everyone to pay $13.99 for music. Somehow, that didn’t work out as planned.

      Ahmet Ertegun made his empire on the idea that someone HAD to go into the city and HAD to buy that single they heard on the radio.

      It’s all been fumes since then.

      • FarePlay

        The reality. For many years after listeners migrated from singles to albums in the mid sixties, people didn’t buy singles. The labels had to keep producing them to get the sell through retail reports to billboard, cashbox, Gavin, etc.

        Where I get stuck with this argument about overpriced CDs is that it’s been around forever and everyone agrees. There is still a lot of album quality work being produced by artists, so in my world where talented artists make a good living, how do we turn listeners into buyers? What happens when interactive music streaming collapses under its own weight?

        • Name2

          The peak year of singles sales in the US (1973) just happens to coincide with the beginning of the irreversible decline in real wages in this country.

          If those fucking ingrates would skip a meal or two and buy a CD based on hearing 1 song, everything would be hunky dory.

          • FarePlay

            I’m impressed. Yes, 1973 was the high point for the middle class in this country. I travelled for nearly a year in South America in 1975 and came away with tremendous respect for the US and our healthy middle class. Gone.

    • Ariel Hartung

      Correct. Regular CD music distribution has lots of expenses. CD manufacturing (disc, labels), shipping, maintenance of CD shops (rents, employees, benefits) etc. There should be a graph, where you compare the operating profit between 2004 and 2014. I guess the difference is tiny.

  10. Dale

    If an artist becomes popular enough, they’ll make more than enough to touring and featuring on other artists songs to make a lot more money due to reach. Only question is do we care that the business behind the music is collapsing?

  11. Speak once in a while

    investment in tech companies will promote their activities…
    investment in true Artist will promote their activities …
    your investment becomes either of theirs … with or without mgmt.
    take care of the Artist … and their work…
    if you like Artist… their art/music …
    don’t follow their depreciation by over appreciating technology
    …you can follow the true squeaky wheel … it has been greased (they have your investment and appreciation)

  12. Ryan

    This really only tells part of the story. It totally neglects digital music sales in singles and albums. One thing I think is interesting is the following:

    What would really be interesting (if even possible) would be a chart of total revenue generated from recorded music per year, format not withstanding. That would include digital music sales, physical music sales, streaming, terrestrial radio, etc.

    The thing that I find interesting is this: if you’re paying for a streaming service that averages $10/month, or $120/year, is $120 more or less than you would expect a person to pay for recorded music in a year?

    • John

      Hi Ryan. The problem is the artists who spend a couple grand and countless hours creating their music are getting paid, basically $.01 from the streaming sites. That is obscene. Some are getting less. Huh? Yes.
      The record companies, in general, have been raping artist since the early 50’s…maybe longer. They know people want everything for free and are not really buying cds like they used to.Now, they’ve moved into the “streaming” business. Time to take most of the money again. If artists stop the streaming game and make people purchase the legit $.99 download, maybe we’d all see a little money for all of our hard work. I’m sure you’ve taken the time to figure out how long it takes an average indie or independent artist to “penny” up to even $10…forever. It would be nice to make a little profit in this lifetime.
      Best Wishes for a profitable future 🙂

  13. Mark S

    It will be really interesting to see this same chart in another 5 years. My 2011 Harley had a CD player. My 2014 has a USB port and Blue Tooth. People will consume music based on what options are available to them. CD’s may never be completely obsolete but I would suspect sales will shift to downloads from CDs in short order for the reason noted above.

  14. mitch

    No comfort, but books and the publishing industry are going through much of the same transition.
    Think how ticked you would be if you spent 3 years writing a book and someone can buy it on line, download it (probably from another country) for $2 and you make nothing. Shouldn’t happen but it does.

  15. Diane

    Too many people making poor music and far too many audiences indoctrinated in what is being pushed by a few powerful producers have resulted in a glut of bad music that takes away from professionals who want to be paid for worthwhile creative product. For all who don’t care about making it a career for decent pay, please don’t put it out to take attention and money from those of us who do. For all the good musicians who simply give away their music, please work with those of us who want to make good music a good business. Not everyone with a strong desire to make music or write a book has the talent and has put in the time to learn the craft and gain the experience and they have cheapened it all. Also, people who don’t want to pay for music should think about how they are cheating in this whole process as well.

  16. John

    Well said everyone. It’s time for everyone to stand together and DEMAND BETTER! If you’re a musician:
    1. Learn everything you can about music and technique and theory 2. Learn to perform on your instrument as well as you can 3.SING! don’t just rhyme words 4. Write something intelligent AND entertaining and number 5. is for everyone – STOP BUYING, LISTENING TO, TOLERATING, AND ENCOURAGING bad behavior and media…period. AND, PAY FOR YOUR MUSIC! Artists work hard to create their material. If you like it – BUY IT! Music in NOT free.