The Record Industry Expects a Windfall [from streaming]. Where Will the Money Go?


"In recent years, several financial institutions have predicted record labels will soon be celebrating annual revenues that begin to approach, if not surpass, their late-1990s peaks: What was an inflation-adjusted $25 billion-per-year business before the millennium could bring in more than $41 billion annually by 2030, according to Goldman Sachs.


A recent survey by the nonprofit Music Industry Research Association found that the median income for an American professional musician in 2017, when the industry was already rebounding, was around $35,000. Of that, only $21,300 came from activity related to music, including live gigs, streaming, and merch. For everyday professional musicians, live shows were the most common source of income in 2017; the median amount earned was just $5,427. Most survey respondents said they don’t earn enough from music to cover their living expenses.

According to the artists, managers, label executives, and industry observers I spoke with for this piece, streaming is transforming the music business in a way that should allow certain artists to keep a bigger share of the earnings from what they create. And yet, just as it’s been throughout the history of recorded music, most of the money will not go to artists. A few experts even admit that many musicians who might once have sustained modest yet viable careers may now have to give up on their dreams of making a living from their work."

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