What Streaming Music Services Really Pay — According to David Crosby

Again — as real artists have shown — don’t expect to make much on streaming music services.  Least of all on YouTube.

Here at Digital Music News, we’ve covered real artist payouts from streaming music services before.  And, let’s face it – unless you’re Drake or Post Malone, you shouldn’t expect to make a living from streaming.

Award-winning cellist and composer Zoe Keating, for example, revealed she earned just $4,388.93 after nearly 1.2 million total streams on Spotify.  On Deezer, she earned $99.06 after 20,460 plays.  Keating also earned $167.31 from 44,366 plays on Amazon Music – most likely Music Unlimited.

But YouTube ranked as the service with the most humiliating payout.  After 865 plays, Keating earned a paltry $2.47, not enough for a coffee at Starbucks after sales tax.

Keating earns the bulk of her cash from performance royalties.

Now, a major artist has revealed how much he actually makes on streaming.  And he isn’t happy about it.

“How to earn less than $5 from streaming,” by David Crosby.

Artist and songwriter David Crosby recently took to Twitter to rally against the rise of streaming music services.

In a tweet dubbed “Real numbers,” he shared his recent streaming numbers after a million plays.

Crosby earns $0.019 per stream from Napster.  TIDAL pays the former Byrds member $0.0125, while on Apple Music, he receives $0.00735.  Google Play Music pays around $0.00676 per stream, while Deezer $0.0064.

Spotify, Amazon, and Pandora again ranked as the lowest-paying services for musicians.  They paid Crosby $0.00437, $0.00402, and $0.00133 per play, respectively.

And despite multiple licensing deals with major labels, YouTube still has the worst payouts – $0.00069.  The numbers mostly fall in line with a report shared earlier this year on Digital Music News.

Crosby finished the post reprimanding the services, stating,

“Get your song played a million times and get less than $5.  Seems fair.”

Yet, what about the context?

Frustratingly, Crosby hasn’t elaborated on the exact streaming numbers.

Did he mean a million plays per platform?  If so, the ‘get less than $5’ math doesn’t add up.

On YouTube, he would’ve earned $690 from a million plays.  Spotify, Amazon, and Pandora would’ve paid out $4,370, $4,020, and $1,330, respectively.  Deezer would’ve given the Byrds singer $6,400, and Google Play Music $6,760.

Crosby would’ve earned $7,350 on Apple Music, while TIDAL would’ve paid him $12,500 in royalties.  He would’ve received $19,000 from Napster.

So, after a million plays on each respective platform, Crosby would’ve received $62,420, a far cry from $5.

Several other questions remain.

Did Crosby publish the direct per-stream publishing royalty rate for his solo tracks, or did he include the share from his bands’ royalties?

More importantly, do the figures include the cut his record label received from his streams?  Probably not, but, if so, how much do they actively receive?

In the age of streaming, we still haven’t discovered how efficient artist pay-throughs from labels are.

After all, major labels receive more than a 50% share in royalties from streaming music services.  And, each passing fiscal quarter, they continue posting record revenues from streaming.  For example, UMG and Sony Music both earn $550,000 an hour from streaming revenue combined.

The Byrds, as well as Crosby, Stills, and Nash, also remain incredibly popular.  On Spotify alone, both groups have 1.5 million and 2 million monthly listeners, respectively.  So, how much has Crosby seen from his hits?  And, how much do they actually keep?

Crosby cleverly avoided the topic.  He instead chose to vent his frustration on the services, not on the labels which clearly take a higher cut of the revenue.

When asked about earning low payouts from streaming, Crosby merely replied,

“The companies made a deal to sell out the artists by agreeing to a very very  low rate in return for which they got ownership share in the streaming companies which the artist don’t get piece of ….clever …sh-t-y.”

But, who’s truly to blame for these humiliatingly-low payouts?  Spotify, Apple Music, and every other streaming platform?  Or the major labels?


14 Responses

  1. Anon

    Why can’t artists comprehend that it’s not just their streams that matter? Maybe Crosby releases album and gets 1m total plays in a month. If he drops that album in the same month as Drake, he’s diluted. Drake is going to pull way more plays and that’s just the way it is. If services paid per play, then Drake could probably single handedly put a company like Spotify out of business with the volume of plays his content gets. Because of this, streaming services share royalties based on market share, which allows them to have a royalty ceiling that trends smoothly over time. It seems timing is very important for small and mid-sized artists these days.

    • soundranger

      ” If services paid per play, then Drake could probably single handedly put a company like Spotify out of business with the volume of plays his content gets.”

      There’s an old saying: “If you wanna have a dance you gotta pay the band.”
      For god’s sake, napster showed up in what, 1997 or something? And you all still haven’t figured out how to honestly pay creators for digitally transmitted content?
      Do you ever stop to think about the great material not entering the market because who, other than a completely exploitable newbie, would want to play this winnerless game?
      An industry with untold miracles to give, bottled up and stifled by clueless execs crimping the digital distribution systems with their big data and small imaginations.
      Thanks to DMN for the coverage.

      • More like untold whining

        The only thing I think of Is Whining rich boy and his label crying about “oh my money youtube Spotify” in an age when they get more bank then ever before when they were doing CDs in the 90s and trying to ban that before it started making them money becuase before that it was going to destroy music like everything else before it as well.

      • Anon

        “Do you ever stop to think about the great material not entering the market because who, other than a completely exploitable newbie, would want to play this winnerless game?”

        And there’s the rub. Until the spigot is shutoff completely, streaming services will have a healthy supply of content to share. Spotify and Apple Music have something like 50M songs to choose from with more added everyday. And why? Because there are plenty of people trying to create something and share it with the world. No different than users of Facebook or Instagram. Just like Facebook has ‘cheapened’ the value of public discourse, so has YouTube with music. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but it is what it is and there’s certainly no going back at this point.

      • Who needs who?

        Dont lobbyist for your industry always compain about how these platforms were cheapening music but then when negotiations with youtube once broke the prospect of being shut out from the platform cuased them to panic?

  2. good good

    he needs to blame the deal he signed and the royalty sharing splits he does, not the streaming services, they paid out the royalties (4k-6k) its all the other stuff I mentioned that got him $5. I get 100% of my royalties since im indy and write my own songs. The per stream rates he’s stating are actually good, higher than mine!!

    • Anonymous

      There are 50 000 000 pieces of music to listen to. There is a limit over time,however where that lot of songs will need to change and evolve as has happened throughout history. The styles, the content the fashion the rhythms melodies . The writers aren’t going to be able to give the time it takes to create this music while it’s so insultingly cheapened. It will hit a crisis point. Musicians love giving music to others but they need to live and be inspired by something. No wonder there are so many songs about misery. A lawyer or a farmer or a teacher or chef doesn’t give away their hard won skills for zero dollars neither should we expect it from them. Musicians aren’t stupid. For now it’s the goose that lays the golden egg. There was a saying in the seventies. “Give us manned not canned music.” There’s nothing like good quality live music in a concert hall. The experience itself cannot be outdone by a computer and a speaker of any quality. It never has and never will.
      Temporarily only.

  3. Asahd the hole

    How much are any of these artists getting for their recorded music on the radio? Z100 (NY) and KIIS (LA) have about 5 million listeners each per week. Multiply that by the dozens of times they play a track. For fun, now add in every spin from every other radio station in the US…

    So how much does all of the radio play add up to?????


    • RT

      Radio play is actually one of the biggest earners for Artists in America. The radio stations pay a much higher rate than streaming services as well as royalties to writers which the streaming services are behind on.

  4. Anonymous

    A couple things I want to point out…

    – The per-stream rate alone is really not a good indicator of what streaming services are actually paying out. In most cases, it is determined by taking a pool of money (usually a percentage of subscription or advertising revenue earned in a given period), and dividing that pool of money by the number of streams in that period. A typical user pays $10 per month. That user may listen to music on the service for an hour that month, or a hundred hours, but either way, they’re paying $10. The more time people spend listening to music on the service, the lower the per play rate is. A high per-play rate doesn’t mean that the service is paying out a lot of money. It means that its users aren’t using the service as often as others.

    With that said, subscription services do pay a hell of a lot more than advertising-based services. I think it’s important to have advertising-based services, provided that those services are non-interactive in nature. The real problem is UGC services (YouTube, SoundCloud) and the ineffective safe harbor provisions that allow them to make music available interactively for free. While there is certainly promotional value for making limited content available there, they need to be reigned in so they’re not giving away the whole farm for free. Those articles that the EU are considering would help in that regard.

    – The number 1,000,000 has historically been a magic number in the music industry. You sell that many albums, your album has just gone platinum, and you’re possibly making a somewhat decent amount of money from it. However, that number isn’t all that exciting in the context of streaming. A stream and a sale are very different things. If you buy an album, and it’s a good album, you’re probably going to listen to some of the songs on it more than once. 1M sales is a big deal, but 1M streams is not really something to get excited about, or expect a lot of money from. The problem is that streams have replaced sales. Few people are buying music anymore. Windowing new releases as CDs or permanent downloads would help with that, but no one wants to out of fear of piracy. I think a healthy music industry should have both sales and streams. Pay $10/month for older content, $1/track or $10/album for new releases. I don’t know if that can happen though.

  5. DavidB

    It’s unfortunate that so many musicians (and some commentators) seem to be completely innumerate. It should have been obvious at a glance that Crosby’s figures make no sense. Maybe he really is getting less than $5 for a million streams (but NB he doesn’t actually say so), but if so it has nothing to do with the payment-per-stream figures he lists. Congratulations to DMN for noticing this, but you seem to be the only ones. For example, the blog Music-Technology-Policy quoted his figures without reservation. I submitted a (polite) comment pointing out that something was wrong, but it wasn’t printed, and comments became ‘closed’ without explanation. Sensitive or what?

  6. Joseph K

    When is David Crosby going to pay back Phil Collins for getting him a new liver?

  7. Angelito

    Manual typewriters are not coming back, either. Why does this dipwad act as though the music biz owes him the same 60’s royalty that allowed him to drug his liver into oblivion?

    Maybe he should have saved some of that drug money. But, whining is easier for Hollywood morons.

  8. Cause n Affec the truth

    Xcellent they rob the napster to pay SAM , an sam in return continue to rob nap into digital prostitution leaving the Indy out of work , Best thing to do sell cassetts this deception isf sin helps sining why bother .They kiilt the nose off dispite the toes in pain . Cause of this viral digital defect humans dominated humans, to no end Ecclesiastes 8:9 like my baby child says. papa le me lone…. I need moto papa tey hurt folks .