How Much Does an Artist Make When You Stream Their Music on Different Services?

If you’re an ethical music listener, you might care to know whether or not the artists you love and support are actually benefitting from your listening to their music. In zee olde times, when you would have to buy a physical copy (be it CD, tape, record, or what-have-you), you could be pretty sure that at least some of that money was going to the artist – probably enough that if they were famous enough, they could survive off of it. But what about in the current day and age, with most people listening to music on streaming services?

We did a “fun” little thought experiment to try to get to the bottom of what the per-stream rates really mean. For this article, we used the 2020 per-stream figures as reported here. To summarize, here are the per-stream payouts on each service, from most to least, rounded to the 4th decimal place:

  • Napster $00.019
  • Tidal $00.0128
  • Apple Music $00.0078
  • Google Play $00.0068
  • Deezer $00.0064
  • Spotify 00.0044
  • Amazon Music $00.0040
  • Pandora $00.00133
  • YouTube $00.0000

So first off, let’s note the obvious thing screaming out at us here – yes, that is zero dollars and zero cents when rounded to the 4th decimal place for YouTube. Technically the original article typed it out as $0.0.00069, using weird ways of noting decimals so they could remove one zero from the sad, tiny number. We’ve decided to keep in the more intuitive number of zeros but give them the benefit of rounding up, and used $00.000007 in the rest of our calculations.

Next off – let’s note that only two services pay actual pennies, rather than fractions of pennies per stream. That’s Napster and Tidal. If you love and want to support artists, the easiest conclusion to come to is that you really should be paying for one of those two services. You can get a Napster subscription for $10 per month (again, we’re rounding for the sake of simplicity…by one penny here) for an individual or $15 per month for a family of up to six (so it’s worth it even if sharing with just one other person). You can subscribe to Tidal for the exact same cost for a normal subscription, or double that for high fidelity sound. Spotify premium also currently costs exactly the same as both of these. So, technically, Napster is your best bet for making sure your money goes to the artists you love. Perhaps they’ve chosen to do this since they are, for better or worse (we’ll pretend this is still debatable), the ones who popularized all this stop-paying-for-music-from-artists-you-love-by-getting-it-on-the-internet stuff in the first place. We’ll consider their high per-stream payout some version of a penance / community service.

But now for the fun part of the thought experiment. Those numbers are so tiny that it’s hard to understand how/if they could ever add up, so we came up with another way to think about it. What if a person were SUCH a big fan of a band that they played that band literally every single moment (waking and asleep) of every single day in a year. What is the absolute maximum a single fan’s devotion could mean for the band’s bottom line? To calculate this, here’s the formula:

pay per stream x (60 minutes per hour / average song length) x 24 hours per day x 30 days per month x 12 months per year

(you could just do per day times 365 and technically it would be more accurate, but that wasn’t how our brains worked.)

So, for this author’s band, The Dandy Highwaymen, we briefly surveyed our catalogue and, without doing actual math, surmised that our average song length is about 3 minutes. By plugging that plus the per stream revenue noted above, we have determined that the 100% dedicated fan who streams the band’s music on a given service would bring in the following amount per year for that artist on each service:

  • Napster = $3,283
  • Tidal = $2,211.84
  • Apple Music = $1,347.84
  • Google Play Music = $1,175.04
  • Deezer = $1,105.92
  • Spotify = $760.32
  • Amazon Music Unlimited= $691.20
  • Pandora = $224.64
  • Youtube = $00.00 (……if we very generously use the $.000007 number, it comes out to $1.21 for the year for 172,800 song streams.)

So what does this all mean? Well, first off, you may want to consider not using YouTube to listen to music if you care about that music going to artists. That’s about as generously and kindly as we can say that. (Yes, we are proud of ourselves for not swearing here.) If you want to use a service that doesn’t cost you anything but sends the artist relatively the most money, Spotify is the way to go. Listen to some ads and you’re good – your favorite artist will be paid their almost-penny each time, making them a whopping $760.32 if you listen every single moment of every single day for the whole year. If you have the money to shell out for a premium account, Napster is by far the best choice you could make, as both they and Tidal both pay actual pennies, rather than fractions of pennies, per stream. When you compare Napster vs. Spotify, you’ll see that they pay well over four times as much per stream, yet costs exactly the same to you, the fan who wants to support the artist.

So, your plan, please, should be: Use Spotify for as long as you are willing to put up with ads. Then, once you are sick of ads, and/or decide you get enough value out of having music in your life that you should probably actually pay for it, do not just upgrade to Spotify premium. Go sign up for Napster instead. The first month is free, so if you hate it, you can always just go back to using Spotify for free.

If you’re like me, though, you’ve already got your family plan on your previously selected service all lined up and paid for, and you’ve gone to great lengths to get it set up on your less-techy-savvy parents’ listening devices of choice, with setting up apps, enabling skills, creating desktop shortcuts, and whatnot. Switching is hard. But if you consider the value that you can bring to the artists you love for just a little effort on your part, and zero extra dollars, here is hoping you may consider it worth it to break through the inertia and put in that extra bit of effort to make the switch. I know it is something I will be striving to do as soon as this pandemic is over and I can safely visit my family indoors and go through changing everything around on all their devices for them.

Now go forth and set up those Napster accounts!

Photo credit: leonardo samrani

(I have not been paid by any of these parties to write this, and everything written is purely my personal opinion. Any numbers used for these calculations were reported by a third party, and I make no claim as to their accuracy. I may add affiliate links to sign up for these services – at least the ones in the higher-paying half of the list – eventually, and if I do, they will credit my account for some free service time if you click on my link to sign up for an account.)