Streaming Service Payouts and a Conversation with an Actual Musician

*Note: When I originally published this article I included all the particulars of the conversation – my friend’s name, band, and label. My friend came back and asked that names and any identifying details be changed or omitted to protect him against backlash from the label, which to him presented a very real and imminent threat.*

Yesterday a friend of mine posted this very interesting article about the amount of royalty money artists actually make from streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. A big takeaway: it can take about 50,000 streaming listens before an artist will make as much as they make when you actually buy their record. In one case, the band Cracker’s famous song “Low” (“hey, hey, like bein’ stoned”) was streamed 1.1 million times on Pandora, and the check they received was a whopping $16.29. Spotify’s payout was better: 116,280 listens got them $12.05. YouTube’s was the worst: 152,900 views = $1.95.

Cracker’s initial success came about 20 years ago, when a band could release a smash single and sell full-length CDs with 10-12 tracks for $13 – $18. People would hear the one song on the radio, and then buy the CD just for that one song. Cracker could theoretically be millionaires right now. Instead, after 1.1 million listens, they have barely enough for one round of happy hour drinks for the band.

7 Royalty Checks That Will Make You Lose Your Faith in the Music Industry

My friend who posted the article spent 5 years as the guitarist for a popular thrash-punk/emo band. We were friends on the high school drum line, and, while at one time we both dreamed of becoming punk rock legends and touring and producing gut-wrenching ear-splitting, Warped-Tour-worthy albums, I decided to go to college while he decided to actually live out this awesome dream.

When he posted the original article I read it and immediately commented to see if I could get more of his story as a young and (to my mind) successful musician. What followed was an extremely eye-opening and fascinating Facebook chat conversation about their experience with the stinginess of the music business, his decision to leave his dream behind and whether it was all worth it.  It’s a really authentic and compelling view of how the traditional definition of “success” as a band (gain a following, produce an album, tour endlessly, get paid) has basically evaporated.


  • Conversation started Tuesday
  • Guitarist Friend:

    Hey brotha! I think the real question is, who is making any type of money off of music and what kind of drugs are they selling? Haha

     Let’s put it this way.. Our last lp and ep are still sold in nine different countries but none of us has seen a dime.
  • Robin Crocker


    and wow, that’s rough
  • 2/11, 3:52pm

    Guitarist Friend:

    I still keep in touch with a lot of friends selling out venues only making five bucks a day.

  • Robin Crocker

    Robin Crocker

    Really, no kidding.

     Major market venues like Dallas?
  • Guitarist Friend:

    2/11, 3:53pm

    It all depends.. Mainstream type music makes money.. But it’s almost still like leased money if that makes sense
  • Robin Crocker

    Robin Crocker

    yeah, projections and all that

  • Guitarist Friend:

    We got to the point of selling out venues of 500 cap in canada every night but you still only make so much. Our label would tell us we were selling so much but we never saw anything

    I mean we sold thousands online but the illegal download rate is like 90% larger

     For everyone so you’re either justin bieber, Wayne, jayz, etc. or you’re not.
  • I mainly posted that bc so many ppl are blinded by the “glamorous” life of being a rock star but it’s really all in the perception of it. No money, but you travel, ppl like you, but then you have no food, no relationships. Etc.. So many ppl keep doing it cause they think they’ll eventually make enough money to support a family and quite frankly I haven’t seen or heard of anyone truly doing that in a hot minute
  • Robin Crocker


     That is really amazing
     So how long have you been with a label?
  • Guitarist Friend:

    We signed that deal a good five yrs ago but we haven’t been a band in a yr.

     It’s just crazy cause I’ll be at a bar and I’ll hear a song I wrote come on the jukebox some one random paid for and I’m just like, can I have that buck to buy a beer please??? Haha
  • This is all really fascinating to me. Would I recognize any of the songs you wrote that other artists are doing?

  • Guitarist Friend:

    Nah. I was finally to a point to where our engineer, who was also our producer, offered me a spot producing artists while he engineered cause we worked like a team well.. But I just said screw it and came to the medical industry.

  • Robin Crocker

    haha! well that is awesome. so you’re totally not in a band now? what’s happening with [the band]?

      Guitarist Friend:
  • Well I started writing folkish songs about a yr ago and now I’ve put together a new project just for fun. It’s crazy cause it seems like ppl I play this stuff for are way more into it but then again it’s way more marketable. Using guitars, upright bass, banjo, ukulele, trumpet, multiple percussion instruments. I’m pretty stoked about it. The band is done but recently we decided to play a few shows.. Cause why does everything have to be laid out like it is ya know? Start a band, get hype, record a record, tour, blah blah, then quit. Screw following a plan when my original intentions were just to have fun cause I love music so we are still going to play here and there

  • Robin Crocker

    yeah, totally. you just wanted to have fun. would you say it was worth it even though it didn’t work out?

  • Guitarist Friend:

    Though I’m still kind of bitter about things, absolutely it was worth it. I’ve traveled more than most ppl I know, learned worldly things, made memories, learned real life they don’t teach in school, etc. Sometimes I open my eyes and really can’t believe I did that and also that it’s gone. It’s weird sometimes ppl don’t realize they are living a dream they dreamt the yr before

  • More than anything… I’ve got lyrical power through the shit that I went through with that. Haha used to be hard to write them but not now



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