NYT Logo

I find it interesting that The New York Times chose to write about one of the very rare instances of an independent songwriter making five digits off of streaming.  

Singer/songwriter, Perrin Lamb, who is the focus of the Times article, says that he earned $40,000 from the streaming of one of his songs, from the streaming site, Spotify.  

The fact that Mr. Perrin earned some money from his art is a good thing and may he continue doing it.  What I find problematic is that the Times framed the article in such a way that it gives the impression that songwriters really can earn a significant amount of money from streaming, and Spotify (and possibly other streaming sites) can help make it happen.

The article goes on to say that one of Mr. Perrin's songs was played TEN MILLION TIMES in order to earn that $40,000.  What the Times doesn't say is that in order for Mr. Perrin to have earned that 40K, he was paid approximately four tenths of a penny for each play.  

You might think, well, $40,000 for something that came out of your head, that's pretty good!  If you look at the figure, $40,000 can be interpreted as a new car or a year of tuition at a top private university, but the real issue is how much Mr. Perrin was paid per play and how much he could have been paid if the per-play rate was fair.

Let's take a look at what the rate would be if ten million people purchased Mr. Perrin's song.  While the purchase of a song is quite different from the streaming a song, the statutory (stat) rate in the United States is .091 cents and if Mr. Perrin wrote the entire song, that is what the song for him as a songwriter for each purchase.  Multiply the stat rate per purchase and Mr. Perrin's income for his song would amount to $910,000 – that's a heck of a lot of new cars, but we're not talking about sales, we're talking about consumers hitting the free button as much as they want.  The devil is the percentage between a "free" play and a purchase.  The percentage of the free play comes to a little over four percent of a purchase.  Shouldn't the percentage be higher?  How about eight percent, especially when songwriters do not participate in ad revenue?

Another item I found conspicuous was that there was only one solitary negative quote and it comes from Mike Doughty, the former singer of the group Soul Coughing.  Doughty calls the payment, "absolutely tragic."  And he's right, especially if you account for the following:

1) The amount of time, effort and expense Mr. Perrin put into the creation of the song (writing, recording, mixing and maybe mastering).
2) The song's amount of plays was bolstered by a fortunate incident: Spotify's algorithm recommended that the song be highlighted by adding it to a list for its listeners to check out.  The recommendation put the song on the front burner for a period of time, which lead to an onslaught of plays.  Fact: Rarely do songs get plucked out of the thousands of songs submitted to streaming services and then listed as a recommended choice, and then go on to get played ten million times.  Had Mr. Perrin's song not been noticed by a robot, the chances are fairly slim the plays would have reached its current total.
3) The song did not earn $40,000 in a few months, by the way; the song was uploaded to Spotify in 2011 and the article does not mention when the earnings of the song hit 40K.  My gut tells me it took years, otherwise, The Times would have mentioned it.

Then, of course, there's the discussion about the revenue Spotify brings in from subscriptions and the aforementioned advertisements, but we won't get into that. 

With all that said, I have buried the lead.  What came to mind as I read the article was: why this story and why now?  Did the Times just decide this was a nice piece for its readers or is this part of a scheme by Spotify's PR department to push its rarely unheard of success stories onto the press at a time when the streaming giant has been struggling to maintain an upstanding image?  I wonder, but I'll probably never find out.

For those who are reading this and/or the NYT piece, if your first impression is that streaming companies are fair to songwriters, think again – or at least perish the thought – because songwriters are getting the raw end of this deal.

As for Mr. Perrin and his forty thousand bucks, I say good for him.  I just wish his success story were the norm, not the exception.