Streaming music through services such as Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music has become one of the norms in music consumption today. However, it has a profound effect on musicians and the music industry, and not necessarily in a beneficial way.

There are numerous benefits of music streaming services from the consumer’s perspective, and many people use these services because they are so convenient and affordable. I don’t always use streaming services to listen to music, but I certainly recognize the benefits. With services like Spotify offering student discounts and an unbelievably wide variety of music, it makes sense for college students to want to take advantage of it.  

It also makes some sense for musicians and record labels to involve themselves with streaming services. The main foreseeable benefit for them is the exposure that massive streaming services can provide; when a new album, in its entirety, is available for anyone to hear on the day it comes out, the awareness of that album shoots through the roof. Presumably, the hope is that people will become so interested in the album that they go and purchase a copy. However, a big issue with this comes into play: what about the people that just keep streaming the album and don’t buy it? Why buy the album when you can stream it for free, even without a premium streaming service?

Regardless, services like Spotify and Apple music are making money. Spotify, whether the consumer pays for premium service or not, still makes money off of the ads that appear in the free version of the service. So what do they care if people go and buy the new album they just heard? The reality is that they probably don’t. In fact, they would likely prefer if people just streamed the album and generated more revenue for them.

Whether people are streaming an album or buying it, money does actually make its way back to the record company. With streaming, the revenues slowly trickle their way back up to the record company. But make no mistake, the amount of money from streaming is small, relatively speaking. This is where the problem lies, because if the money that makes it back to the record company is small, then imagine how little artists make once the record companies have taken their cut.

An artist who is signed to a record company makes fractions of a penny for each time a song of theirs is played through a streaming service. They make slightly more if they are unsigned, as the money then goes directly back to the artists.

Many artists over the past few years have tried to take a stand against low revenues from streaming services, or tried to figure ways around the traditional methods of streaming to make more of a profit. Most recently, Kanye West fought back by releasing his new album exclusively on Tidal, a subscription streaming service. West is by no means the first person to do this, nor is Tidal a brand new service. However, being the high profile musician he is, and given the anticipation people showed towards this album, his decision to start the album as a Tidal exclusive was an odd one that sat wrong with many fans. Even with this decision, West is likely only making pennies (if that) from the streams of his new album.

There is no doubt that streaming music is a convenient, practical and easy thing to do. From the consumer side, it is one of the best ways to listen to music today, especially with premium services offering no advertisements. However, the next time you enjoy a new album you listened to on  a streaming service, consider purchasing a copy, and let some more money trickle back to the artists that you love.