Let’s face it. A huge number of us, myself included, are not going to make it to the big time with our songs. I’m not trying to be negative here, just realistic. I have made some money over the years from my work in television, and when I first started recording my songs in the early 90’s, I sold a few CDs when I was out there performing all the time. I even made a little money from mp3.com when I first signed up for it because a few of my songs were chosen for their playlists. Do you remember mp3.com? Then you’ve been on the web as long as I have! It was actually kind of exciting back then.
I thought the web was going to be a great way to get that exposure that I couldn’t physically do myself; it would get my music out there to the big, wide world that I didn’t have the time or money to travel around myself. And slowly, everyone else had the same thought. A few clever people took notice of this and they created websites where music could be uploaded and distributed to anyone who was interested. What could be better?
The other day I read a statistic that more or less floored me.
It was on Hypebot, whose Twitter account I follow. It stated simply that 4 million songs on Spotify (20%) have never been played. Never. And that’s just Spotify. I checked the stats for my own albums, which I had uploaded and paid distribution fees to Reverbnation for. Half of the songs I had up there had never been played. The rest had maybe a couple of plays, the odd one more than that. One song had a fair amount of plays, perhaps because of its name “Shades of Grey”. Yep, that was a happy accident because I didn’t name it that way as a ploy! I wrote the song well before the book became popular.
I wonder how many songs on Spotify have had one play, or maybe half a dozen? That makes the picture a lot more gloomy when you think of it. How much are we paying to have our music distributed to iTunes and the rest of them, only to have no plays, or maybe one or two? We get maybe a third of a cent per play, if that, and the distributors get a hundred thousand times that because we paid them.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand that most of the work is up to us. We have to be promoting ourselves and our songs, we have to be out there performing or trying to draw some attention to our music, in order to get those plays. I haven’t been performing for a number of years now. But I allowed vanity to get in the way of logic. I paid money to have my CDs distributed online, and even when there were hardly any streams or sales, I kept them up there for another year, and then another. I wonder how much money these distribution services like Reverbnation make from vain people like me?
I have finally smartened up, and recently began the long process of taking them down and removing my Reverbnation account. I say “long process” because it isn’t easy. There’s no such thing as a simple “delete” button that gets rid of everything in one fell swoop. No, you have to remove your music, you have to make sure that any money coming to you gets paid out (which is very little, but I withdrew it anyway), and then you have to try and remove your profile. Even weeks after I removed my music, they tell me that I can’t remove my profile because I still have my CDs for sale, which I don’t. I’m emailing them to try to straighten it out, but I anticipate more mess trying to take down my profile in the coming days.
I am not trying to discourage you from trying to sell your music. By all means, do it. But I think we all have to have a much more realistic picture of what is possible and who is trying to take advantage of our naivete. David Byrne wrote an excellent column in The Guardian recently, expounding upon his opinion of streaming music. He says “Not surprisingly, streaming looks to be the future of music consumption – it already is the future in Scandinavia, where Spotify (the largest streaming service) started, and in Spain.” and then goes on “For many music listeners, the choice is obvious – why would you ever buy a CD or pay for a download when you can stream your favourite albums and artists either for free, or for a nominal monthly charge?”
This affects you, the songwriter. Nobody wants to pay you for your work any more if they can get it for free. And if they do pay anything at all, it goes to the services who host your music, and very little goes to you. If you have a record label, then the label will take most of that.
There are bands and artists that are willing to pay to be discovered on these services, and maybe you are too. But don’t let it go on as long as I did. I’ve finally come to my senses.
UPDATE: within two days I had a response from Reverbnation and I was able to completely remove my account.