On Spotify

Hey friends: here are my two cents on Spotify. Speaking of two cents, I’ll point out to start with that it would take about 8 song streams for me to make 2 cents on Spotify. Ah, but I digress.

My new album, Ordinary Band, is two weeks old now. I’ve never had a human child to compare this infancy to, but as far as CDs are concerned, I’d say things are going well. I’ve been selling the CD out of my little blue merch suitcase at shows–2 or 3 or 10 copies at a time to nice people who like my songs. I’ve been driving from one end of this peninsula to another, delivering stacks of 5 CDs to Door County retailers who have kindly agreed to sell it. Friends and strangers have come up to me in the grocery store and pressed $15 into my hand, and I’ve run out to the car to grab them a copy of the CD. I’ve been slipping CDs into self-sealing white envelopes and shipping out Kickstarter packages to the 234 generous people who helped bring this album to life in the first place. Every one of these sales helps offset the $24,500 that I spent to create, crowdfund, and publicize the album. It’s not a multi-platinum record, to be sure, but who’d want that anyway when you get to experience this kind of supportive community? Thanks to the generosity of you guys, my friends and fans, I’ve already made back almost $19,000 of those costs.

Along the way, I’ve gotten a few questions about when the album will become available on Spotify.

So let’s say I put the album on Spotify, as I did with my other two albums. For those albums, I make—hang on, let me look it up—anywhere from one-tenth of a cent to 1 cent each time a song of mine is streamed. Read that again. $0.001 at the least. $0.01 at the most. Usually about $0.006. I know we musicians are supposed to try to get more zeroes in our income figures, but I don’t think that’s the side of the decimal point we’re going for.

Let’s do some math. At the upper end of that pay spectrum, it takes 1500 streams (150 times through the CD) to make up for the revenue of one CD sale. At the lower end, it takes 15,000 song streams (1500 times through the CD) to equal that one CD sale. Did I mention that making this CD cost over $24,000?

I’m no economics expert, but it doesn’t take a financial genius to figure out that if even a few people decide to download or buy my CD because they couldn’t stream it, I come out ahead—or at least, less behind than I was before.

So I’m not making this new CD available on Spotify or other streaming services. At some point, I may put 2 or 3 songs up, so that people trying to find out who I am before a show will hear my latest, best work. But for now, it’s a physical copy, or iTunes, or nothin’. (In case you’re wondering: iTunes compensates musicians pretty well: 64 cents for a single song download—or the equivalent of 640 streams of that same song via Spotify. Granted, that’s using the lower end of the Spotify pay scale, but really—does it make it much better if it’s 64 instead?)

I know these are changing times, and I don’t pretend to think this is the right choice for all independent musicians. My last two albums are available on Spotify. And I feel a certain pressure to take the Spotify plunge, get with the times—or I risk losing fans who won’t discover my music any other way. It’s a real risk. I don’t blame musicians who value the exposure of Spotify over the cash of a physical sale.

I’m not blaming consumers, either. A lot of people are supporting artists in different ways, like Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms, either instead of or in conjunction with streaming services. And I know most of us feel strapped for cash: financially speaking, why would anyone ever buy a single album for $15 when they can have the entire recorded Western musical canon for $10 a month?

My answer is: because the current streaming paradigm is not sustainable. In my perfect world, streaming services would begin acting with integrity, and government regulation of those streaming services would become more robust.

But in the meantime: if we as listeners don’t continue paying for the music we enjoy, musicians can’t keep making that music. Recording costs money, pure and simple. You pay for the microphones, for the studio, for the engineers’ time, for the graphic design, for the musicians who play on it, for the CDs themselves. And it takes time and energy, just like building a house does. I spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars making this record. If we as listeners want to listen to the music we love, we have to pitch in somehow—not because it’s the right thing to do (though it is), but simply because otherwise musicians can’t record that music.

For my part, I feel nothing but supported in making this latest album. In fact, I can’t believe how supportive you all have been. I am deeply touched by the generosity of people I do and do not know who came together and make this CD possible.

And part of accepting that help means I have to make smart financial decisions and be a good steward of the funds with which those people have entrusted me. For me, this time around, that means no Spotify. And you know what? It takes me a long time to write enough songs to make a new album. Maybe by the next time around, we’ll have figured out a way to make the system better.

A couple of notes:

You can buy my new album, Ordinary Band, on iTunes, at my website at www.katiedahlmusic.com/music, or on the Waterbug Records website at http://waterbug.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=504. 

Also, Dar Williams​ said all this better than I ever could at her keynote address for the MN Music Coalition conference in April. If you’re interested in her intelligent, enlightening, hilarious perspective, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAd–dZ0lVo