The Web runneth over with stories from artists discussing just how little they are making from streaming. In one, folk rocker Damon Krukowski examined his own paychecks from album sales and streaming services for Pitchfork. He concluded that a song of his would have to be played 47,680 times on Spotify or 312,000 times on Pandora to earn the profit of a single LP sale.
What strikes me about this is that if it takes so many plays to equal the income of one sale, why are we comparing apples to oranges? Is there actually anything to gain from the comparison?
It's as if our language no longer describes what is happening in the music business. How does a performance of a song differ from a spin or a play or a stream or a view or whatever? What are these things and how does the interaction a listener may have through each equate financially, especially in comparison to that of a sale?
Lots of questions here, but my point is that each of these words is used to describe a different artist-listener interaction and each represents a different revenue stream having different value. Yet despite this, we continue to insist that they are the same when they are not.
I've written before about considering streaming services to be radio replacements. One way to define a spin is its audience reach (perhaps as measured by Nielson/BDS). That is simple definition, but one that drove the record business for a long time. During that time, the spin had a complement: the sale. One of them provided an easily measurable metric defining marketing reach; the other provided a sales margin defining financial success. Enough of the first could lead to even more of the second.
The problem is that the results are now so drastically different from our experience that it's no longer useful to compare one to the other. I'm not suggesting I have a solution, but maybe if we change our language and redefine what each of these interactions means (in terms of metrics and/or in terms of margin), we can assign them values that will allow comparison. By doing so we will begin to tease out how they can fit together to create a new model.
A place to start is through case studies. (Here is a compilation via Stuart Dredge.) One thing is clear: the search is about the individual artist. There is no cookie-cutter approach. Each artist is unique, so why shouldn't their business plan be unique too? This is an important consideration at a time when the well-worn methods once used to market and sell music no longer have the same effect. If we discard our old language, our old definitions, we can replace them with new ones and ultimately see how to plot a path forward.