File Sharing: How musicians earn money in the age of free music.


The internet has been great for people communicating and sharing ideas with each other in every part of the world. Unfortunately for musicians and record companies, people figured out to share music with each other without paying any royalties to those who deserve it. Websites such as The Pirate Bay host file sharing links that allows users to share files such as albums, movies, and even books. While these files are often of lower quality and can be accompanied by viruses, plenty of internet users never pay for their music, and artists are losing tons of money off of album sales. For example, Beyonce’s latest album was illegally downloaded over 240,000 times. At $15.99 an album, the singer could have earned an extra 3.8 million dollars. Now while Queen Bey and her husband are already exceedingly wealthy, image what file-sharing can do to artists who don’t sell out stadiums on their tours. Albums were huge for income in past generations, but that seems to be a thing of the past. Music sales fell 6.3% from 2012-2013.

However, steaming services rose 32% in that year. You might think that streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, etc. would make up for losses. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many of these services rely off of ads in order to pay the artists. For example, 1 million plays for a song on YouTube can fetch around $1000 dollars. If 1 million people actually bought that song on iTunes for $1.29, well you can do the math. Besides the video sharing site, Spotify is probably the most popular music streaming application. The brand recently announced they had reached 15 million premium users that pay for an add-free experience. While this is good news because people are actually paying for their music, many musicians are still unhappy. Artists such as David Byrne, Thom Yorke, and Taylor Swift believe musicians should be paid a lot more for their work from the service. Based on royalty payments, one song download on iTunes is worth 33 plays on Spotify. Understandably, musicians are not happy with this 1/33 ratio.


In order to make ends meet, artists have to adapt to the changes the internet and social media have brought. Royalties from songs in advertisements, movies, and radio can generate a lot of cash. However, one part of the music industry has blown up in the past decade: festivals. Festivals are huge now, and artists are reaping the benefits. Events such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, Firefly, and Electric Daisy Carnival bring hundreds of thousands of people to one place to see a variety of artists. Over a decade ago, Coachella amassed only 25,000 people to see the world’s biggest rock acts. Now attendance has quadrupled that, and the concert occurs over two weekends just to meet demand. In 2001, rap duo Outkast made around $5 million for a 46 stop tour. Last summer, they toured again and made $60 million in 40 stops that were mostly music festivals.

This is a glimmer of hope for struggling artists who are trying to earn a comfortable living from all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into their music.  Personally, I think more people should sign up for services such as Spotify premium, for more users equals more income to the artists. Hopefully even more people go to festivals, buy band merchandise, and maybe even start paying for their music to support an industry caught in volatile times.

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