Do Your Favorite Artist a Favor and Stop Streaming

I stream, you stream, we all stream. It’s basically impossible to avoid in 2017. If you like music and you don’t have endless amounts of cash to blow, there’s no way to get around it, but as you stream you should know what the costs of streaming are. Though it may be the best option for you economically, it’s far from the best option for those who work in the music industry.  

We once lived in a world where selling 1 million copies of an album in its first week was barely an accomplishment. Today, doing the same is recognized as an enormous feat that only a handful of artists can pull off (looking at you, Adele and Taylor Swift). Streaming has caused a steady decline in music sales over the last few years, with album sales declining by 16.9% since 2015 according to Billboard. After all, why purchase an album when you can listen to it for free on a slew of platforms?

Here’s the thing – art isn’t, and shouldn’t be free. Labels and the artists they represent are the ones who end up paying the price for our free music addiction. On average, 1,500 streams on a platform like Apple Music, Spotify, or Pandora is equal to one sale – just one. Spotify has also confirmed that the rights holders of any given song only earn about $0.006 per stream. This might not seem like a big deal when it comes to millionaires like Jay-Z or Madonna who can easily support themselves and their crew, but it makes all the difference to rising musicians and independent artists who are completely self-funded. Signed artists are often indebted to their labels for years, attempting to pay back all the money that has been loaned to them at the start of their career. It’s pretty difficult for artists to pay back thousands of dollars when they’re barely raking in hundreds (if they’re lucky) from streams as a new or unknown artist. Physical and digital album sales aren’t just how artists make a significant portion of their living, it’s how they afford to record new albums, shoot music videos, create merchandise, and go on tour all to please you, the fan who sings their songs in the car while you’re driving home from work or getting ready for a night out on the weekend. If you aren’t supporting your favorite artist by actually purchasing their music, eventually they won’t be able to afford to create all the exciting content that comes with it.

You might recall a period from late 2014 through mid 2017 when Taylor Swift removed her entire catalog from Spotify, or more recently when she wrote an open letter to Apple after they decided not to pay any royalties to artists or labels during Apple Music’s three-month free trial period. As Swift put it, “Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. . . this is not about me…This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.” Many artists, especially independent artists, spoke out in support of Swift, reaffirming her claims that artists should be paid for their work. Apple responded accordingly and vowed to pay artists during the free trial period.

Swift isn’t the only artist who has pulled her content from streaming platforms. Drake’s Views, Adele’s 25, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade were withheld from Spotify upon their release, and the latter is still unavailable on the platform. It’s not uncommon for the general public to cause an uproar when an artist withholds their music from streaming sites. They’re labeled as “money-hungry” or as “sell outs,” but honestly, no artist owes you free content. Their art is their livelihood. It’s how they put food on the table and care for themselves, their families, and their crew. Artists spend years creating albums, and they deserve more than mere cents for their work.

At the end of the day, streaming is great for discovering new songs and testing out music from artists you might normally overlook, but when you find something you really love, something that you find yourself listening to over and over, you should pay for it and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Just think, if you can afford to buy a fifteen-dollar dinner or case of beer, or a fifteen-dollar shirt that you’ll wear maybe five times this season, then you can afford a fifteen-dollar album that you’ll likely listen to for years to come. There’s something special about actually owning your music. That record you had on repeat the summer before your freshman year of college? It’s more than fifteen dollars-worth of melodies. It’s a moment in time. I know, it’s a radical notion that art has value, but if you begin to believe it, others will too.