The title of this post is a tongue-in-cheek reference to a 2013 blog post by David Lowery, frontman for the band Cracker, entitled My Song Got Played on Pandora 1 Million Times and I Got $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale!
As the title suggests, Lowery is upset about receiving a small sum of money for a large number of Internet radio plays on the popular music streaming service Pandora. As my title suggests, I’m relatively happier.
Let me be clear that I mean no disrespect to David Lowery. In fact, I’m a fan. All I want to do is respectfully offer another perspective to Lowery’s post. But before I start, let me clarify a few more things.
First, Lowery’s numbers are based on about 1,159,000 plays from one quarter of 2013 for Cracker’s song, Low. My number of $1,407.74 is for about 1,279,000 plays from 2010 to 2013, and it’s from an entire album worth of songs, though the vast majority of the plays are one song.
Second, as theunderstatement.com has documented well, Pandora’s total payout for Low’s 1,159,000 plays was around $1,370, so my number and Lowery’s number shouldn’t be that far off. The $16.89 that Lowery references is just for his portion of the songwriter royalties.*
My $1,407.74 came from an organization called SoundExchange who represents performers and sound recording owners.
Lowery also received money from SoundExchange, as he alludes to in his article: “I am also paid a seperate [sic] royalty for being the performer of the song. It’s higher but also what I would regard as unsustainable.”
Lowery is probably correct about the unsustainable bit. There is quite a bit of dialogue happening about whether streaming services like Pandora and Spotify are paying the right rates. People also question whether record companies and publishers should take as big of a cut as they do for streaming, considering the costs associated with streaming are lower (no physical product or physical distribution costs involved).
Lowery and his bandmates are likely operating under recording and publishing contracts signed 10-20 or more years ago, well before streaming services, and maybe before digital downloads. The band probably takes home around half of the total royalties, and then the band members and songwriters split the performance and songwriter royalties. Independent musicians like me get to take home 100%, and if you’re a solo act, there’s no splitting royalties amongst bandmates.
So, again, Lowery is probably correct that the streaming model is not where it should be just yet, especially for bands under contract. For truly independent musicians, though, I would argue that streaming services, and particularly Pandora, have definitely improved things.
Tim Westergren, Founder and CEO of Pandora, wrote asort of response to Lowery’s post where he notes: “Today, over 70 million listeners tune in to our service every month, where they hear the music of well over 100,000 different artists. These artists span the entire musical spectrum; from the well-known to the completely obscure, representing every imaginable genre. The vast majority of our collection gets no other form of radio airplay.”
I’m certainly closer to the “completely obscure” side of the spectrum. Ten years ago, I’m sure my CD would have collected dust on a shelf somewhere while I continued to work a day job. Instead, the Pandora bump is probably the biggest motivator for me to keep making music at a level that is satisfying to me, and also makes a little money.
So, I just want to send a quick thank you to Tim Westergren, and to the folks at Pandora, for putting music from people like me out there and giving listeners the chance to decide what they like.
At the same time, I certainly agree with the underlying sentiment that the streaming system is not perfect. It needs to keep evolving. And I guess I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy to think that it will do so, responsibly. But not without some pressure from folks like Lowery, and also folks like Billy Bragg who points out the labels and music companies need to be willing to change, too.
By the way, I listened to the Cracker Pandora station while writing this. Seven Cracker songs came on, and one of them was Low. So, I made Cracker’s team roughly $.00828585 total. Lowery, by my calculations, will get roughly $0.00010201 of that from BMI, and an estimated $0.00141329 from SoundExchange, for a total of about $0.0015. His bandmates will split another $0.0021. BMI and SoundExchange’s administrative cuts would be around $0.00007616 and $0.004081, respectively. And the band’s recording and publishing companies would get the remaining $0.00051339. I hope I did all that math right!
Here’s the playlist:
July 2, 2014 Playlist for Pandora “Cracker” station
Cracker – I See the Light
Radiohead – Creep
Everclear – Santa Monica
Weezer – Say It Ain’t So
Cracker – Low
Cake – I Bombed Korea
Beck – Loser
Fastball – Fire Escape
Sublime – What I Got
Cracker – St. Cajetan
July 3, 2014 Playlist for Pandora “Cracker” station
Cracker – Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)
Meat Puppets – Backwater
Cake – Short Skirt/Long Jacket (Live)
Tom Petty – You Don’t Know How It Feels
Cracker – This Is Cracker Soul
Radiohead – Creep
Weezer – Island in the Sun
Lemonheads – It’s a Shame About Ray
Arctic Monkeys – Fluorescent Adolescent
Cracker – Everybody Gets One for Free
Tom Petty – You Wreck Me
Lemonheads – Into Your Arms
Harvey Danger – Flagpole Sitta
Cracker – Forever
Wilco – I’m Always in Love
Billy Bragg & Wilco – California Stars
*BMI represents Lowery for his songwriting royalties. BMI also represents me both as songwriter and publisher, but I have not received a check from BMI, who should owe me over $100 at this point. I have e-mailed them about it, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now since it’s a small check.