To stream or not to stream

An issue much on the minds of performing artists and songwriters these days is the rapid growth of streaming audio services like Pandora or Spotify, which offer targeted music streams designed to follow the tastes of individual listeners, but which fall outside the legislation controlling how artists and writers are compensated for radio play. Our David Morris takes a stab at explaining how this is a hardship with a personal example.

David MorrisAn open letter to my music-loving friends who stream music.

I’m not asking you to stop because I know you won’t. But I do have a humble request: if you hear something you like, please consider buying the album, or at least purchasing the song from iTunes or elsewhere. I’m a non-performing songwriter. Allow me to give a little economics lesson about what that means. After I write a song, I have to decide if I think the song has a reasonable chance of being recorded. If I think it does, I pay for a demo recording. The cost is usually $100 to $200. For copyright protection, I pay another $35.

If no one records the song, that money doesn’t get recovered. If someone does record it, I have a shot at covering expenses.

As a songwriter, I get 9.1 cents for every unit sold. So if my song is recorded by a band that presses 1,000 copies (sadly, pretty typical for many bands), I get $91 (if I’m the only writer). Still not enough to cover the costs, but if it gets radio play and played at live shows by the band, I have a shot.

But with more and more listeners streaming music for little or no cost, fewer and fewer CDs are being sold. Yes, many streaming services DO pay songwriters, but it’s a tiny fraction of a cent, and I do mean tiny.

So fewer and fewer songwriters make back the cost of demoing and copyrighting their songs.

No, I don’t write songs to get rich. But I do have bills to pay. Don’t fall for the argument that downloading services give artists and writers valuable exposure that pays off with sales later. The songwriters are for the most part anonymous, and exposure doesn’t put food on the table.

That’s my rant. Listen to streaming services if you must. But if you want good music to survive, buy the music you love. And listen to the radio. That’s only way to make that happen.

Thanks for reading.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris, an award-winning songwriter and journalist, has written for Bluegrass Today since its inception. He joined its predecessor, The Bluegrass Blog, in 2010. His 40-year career in journalism included more than 13 years with The Associated Press, a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and several top editing jobs in Washington, D.C. He is a life member of IBMA and the DC Bluegrass Union. He and co-writers won the bluegrass category in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest in 2015.