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We live in a world where access to music has become easier and easier, and that's a beautiful thing. We can find almost any song for free on YouTube or Spotify and share playlists with our friends or followers. But while the access to music is a wonderful thing for listeners, where does it leave artists?
In some ways, the age of the mp3, and in turn, the age of music streaming, have opened up avenues for musicians that were unthinkable forty years ago. Small scale artists are able to get exposure on the internet without large record labels or radio stations backing them up. Self-producing is more possible, and the more the artist is involved in the process, the larger a cut the artist gets. But is it enough?
Large scale streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music pay artists an average of $0.004–$0.008 per stream. If you're an artist that has millions of followers, that's totally fine, and you're probably getting much of your revenue from large-scale, international tours and merchandise. But small scale artists who can't afford a tour also may not have enough listeners on streaming sites to get by. And if they can't make enough money, how can we expect them to keep making the music that we love?
So should we avoid streaming? Well, not exactly. While streaming may be a fairly low contribution to an artist's revenue, at least it rewards the artist for every play. But what if we combine the mp3 and streaming to the highest benefit of artists? Buying an album directly from the artist, or from a high payout platform like Bandcamp or Noisetrade, which give 85% of the sale to the artist, is your best bet at giving your favorite small artist the pay they deserve (and a lot of the time for a cheaper price than buying mp3 from iTunes or Amazon music, which pay as little as 10%). However, it doesn't have the benefit of large access or continued payment of streaming services. Not to mention, most people no longer use mp3 players, and streaming has become the most convenient way for many people to access their music.
But when you don't want to use your data or your phone storage, mp3 and CD are still viable options for music access, and they might just be the key to keeping your favorite in the business. Besides, chances are that when your small artist goes on tour, they'll be pretty excited to sign your copy of their CD at the merchandise table.
Instead, when you really love a small artist and you want them to keep making music you love, buy their album on a high payout platform AND keep streaming them on Spotify. Keep a playlist of your favorite artists that you want to pay and keep it playing in the background when you're not otherwise listening to music, and enjoy the album you bought when you don't have space on your phone or you're all out of data. Put the artist on playlists you share with your friends to give them exposure, and then convince your friends to come to that concert if you're lucky enough for them to come to your hometown.
And then, of course, keep going to their gigs and buying their merchandise, and don't forget to bring that CD for them to sign!
At the end of the day, the way you manage your music is your own choice, and so is how you want to spend your money. But remember that artists are people too, and if you're like me, you'll want to provide them the means so they can keep improving your life through their art.