Music Business

Music Streaming is “just dressed-up piracy” says Rosanne Cash

image from upload.wikimedia.orgSinger and songwriter Roseanne Cash has testified passionately before Congress on the need for copyright reform.  But Johnny Cash's little girl also has some strong opinions about music streaming – including paid services like Spotify.  She took to Facebook this week to throw a few bombs at what she sees as pirates dressed in new clothing.


Cash also said her music had been streamed by Spotify 600,000 times over an 18-month period, resulting just $104 in royalties.  She did not clarify, however, if that payment was for her as a songwriter or artist royalties funnelled through a label. 

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  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and was just talking to someone about it recently. I’m all for change and new developments in technology and business, but streaming has really caused a lot of problems for artists due to a complete lack of addressing the musicians’ concerns. It’s a business for everyone except the musicians. All that being said, it’s still a tool today’s musicians need to consider…

  2. The little amount she made is because of her contract she has with her label. Why dont these artists realise what contracts they actually have with labels.
    Spotify pays much more than YouTube which is around $2.00 CPM (per 1000 plays).
    If she was independent she would have made at least $1200.00 USD from around 600,000 plays.
    She needs to check her label contract. Same with all these older artists! Streaming comes under a different section in their contracts.

  3. 600.000 streams is really nothing. And she tends to forget that she also earn money on iTunes and other streamning- and downloadservices.
    And soo stupid to call her fans pirates… Its a industry-issue, but a user-issue…

  4. Yes, this is the hard fact: 600,000 streams seems like a lot, but it’s not. Usually, one stream on Spotify reaches only a few people (like less than 5). One radio stream on a decent-sized radio station reaches tens of thousands of people. So 600,000 streams is probably equivalent to less than 60 spins on terrestrial radio. If you view it in those terms, the compensation doesn’t seem so unfair.
    The problem is that streaming is winner take all in a different way than the old terrestrial radio game. Streaming is more from the bottom up vs. from the top down.
    In radio, if you can convince the powers that be to play your song, you’re going to make some money. And since the universe of songs that get played on radio tends to be rather small in the overall scheme of things (with lots of old music continuing to get many spins for years and years), if your song makes it into the universe of radio songs, you’re likely to see consistent money for a long long time.
    Streaming doesn’t work that way. It’s much more about what have you done for me lately. If you are Macklemore, who had hundreds of millions of streams last year (if not billions), you are making some real money from streaming right now. If you aren’t, you’re probably not making much of anything at all, because streaming volume is not determined on the supply side in the same way that terrestrial radio spins are. So your song or master is less likely to develop the sort of long-term equity that will pay the songwriter or artist consistent cash over many years.
    So while Macklemore is a big streaming winner right now, he should probably invest his winnings in something outside the music business (like an indexed mutual fund), because there’s a good chance that he won’t have the sort of long-term residual income from his music that certain classic rock Boomer artists have had over the last 40 years (i.e,. back catalog tycoons like Bob Seger).
    Reasonable people can argue about whether this sort of change is for the worse or for the better, but I do think that this is a significant change, and that it will affect artistic production and career trajectories moving forward (unless streaming volume increases significantly and per stream revenues increase accordingly and even then there’s no guaranty that this income will ever replace the income that some people have been slowly losing).

  5. As a songwriter and a recording artist (of little note), myself, I’m regularly confounded by those who seem to confuse or conflate the VERY different revenue streams from songwriting/publishing and from performance.
    And when this happens, they almost very often seem to use the seemingly tiny revenue streams for *songwriting/publishing* from ALL streaming (including so-called Internet radio, which pays the court-adjudicated equivalent of songwriting/publishing royalties established for terrestrial broadcasting) as an egregious example of how ‘artists are getting screwed over.’
    But what is so often left out of these jeremiads is the fact that paid subscription streaming pays the recording artist what is meant to be a reasonable equivalent of the mechanical royalty proportionate to a ‘full’ sale of a ‘permanent’ download.
    The pay-per-play is typically between $.007 (a little over a half cent) and a penny and a half. (Labels can get signing bonuses from distributors that temporarily raise per-stream payouts to a given label, but it appears per-stream payouts are currently running in the 3/4 to 1-1/2 cent range for the artist/label.
    THIS, of course, is a two way street.
    For artists who create music folks listen to on an ongoing basis, it can add up to a continuing royalty stream that lasts long after the bump of an album’s sale.
    But for those who sell albums that get listened to once or twice and forgotten, this is a REAL problem — their economic model just had the bottom drop out of it..
    Another important fact that some of these jeremiads miss is the fact that many of these anecdotal artist stories are being told by artists SIGNED TO LABELS who take a huge cut of the stream payout.
    If an artist was smart over the last decade or two, he watched the fine print — or, sometimes ‘better yet’ skipped the whole label trap entirely and put out his music himself, keeping the full slice.
    If not, he might very well find himself in the unenviable position of someone who signed the wrong deal with the wrong label.
    It happens. And it always has.

  6. “Singer and songwriter Roseanne Cash has testified passionately before Congress on the need for copyright reform. But Johnny Cash’s little girl also has some strong opinions about music streaming – including paid services like Spotify.”
    Mr. Houghton, it may have just been a poor choice of words, but referring to Rosanne Cash, a well known and respected singer, songwriter in her own right, as “Johnny Cash’s Little Girl” sounds dismissive and condescending.
    You even misspelled her first name. As the editor of a respected and well read music blog you are naturally held to a higher standard and are expected to refrain from personal comments. Especially with those you clearly do not know.
    It is important to have artists participating in the conversation about artists’ rights and it is the responsibility of people like yourself, who have a voice, to encourage their participation.
    It has been over a decade since Lars Ulrich stood up for what he thought was right, only to be mercilessly attack for his beliefs. Until artists feel safe to step out from behind the curtain and express their beliefs, we will continue to get it wrong.
    Whether it is Internet piracy or streaming.

  7. Rosanne Cash has tremendous experience in and insight into the situation of artists, and more guts and intelligence in articulating what many of us are thinking than anyone I’ve met. As a woman with a decades long successful solo career of her own, I believe she’s more than earned the right not to be referred to by the sexist diminutive: “Johnny Cash’s little girl”.
    Cash’s choice of metaphors for what is happening with the streaming services isn’t the issue: the issue is the unbelievably low rates these services are paying: ALL of them, across the board.
    Now advocates for these services can go on insulting those artists with the guts to speak out till hell freezes over: it isn’t going to change the simple fact: the rates being paid by these svces are simply not sustainable.
    What do we mean by not sustainable? I mean that for Cash, for myself, and for the overwhelming majority of working artists, the money we make back from these streaming services does not come close to paying back our basic production costs, let alone enough to live on while we’re composing/rehearsing/recording/mixing/promoting.
    I’ll allow Cash to clarify whether the figures she quoted referred to both artists and composers royalties herself. But let’s suppose they only referred to her artists royalties: So what? 106 dollars doesn’t come close to paying production costs: not if its tripled, not if its quintupled: professional recordings on Ms Cash’s level cost tens of thousands of dollars.
    James Hope writes:
    “The little amount she made is because of her contract she has with her label…If she was independent she would have made at least $1200.00 USD from around 600,000 plays.”
    James- you’re assuming that Ms Cash, who made $104 has a record deal giving her less than 10% of net? Wow, she must have the worst record deal in history. Or maybe your math is bad?
    But James: streaming svces are no more sustainable for indie labels and artists than they are for the majors:
    My own label, Pi Records, pulled its catalogue from Spotify: after 3 months, they had received a check the streaming their entire catalogue: for $30 dollars.
    Now if that’s the future you want, you’ll get it: but it will be a future without jazz, without classical, without creative forms of rock, without anything but the top 1% of the most commercial product.
    James Blocke writes.
    “600.000 streams is really nothing. And she tends to forget that she also earn money on iTunes and other streamning- and downloadservices.”
    James: who are you? And what have you ever made that 600,000 people have cared about? And where do you come off with the patronizing assumption that Cash ‘forgets’ that she also earns money on ‘iTunes and other…svces”?.
    Perhaps you’re ignorant of current downward trends for Itunes and other download services: they can’t compete with low streaming rates. If you don’t believe David Byrne’s claims that streaming svces are driving all the truly sustainable forms of income out of business, just listen to streaming advocates like Marc Geiger: those who believe its a utopia or a dystopia all agree: its the ‘future’.
    FYI: We haven’t ‘forgotten’ anything: we are highly concerned about unsustainable streaming svce rates because it is strongly likely that within the next 5 years, that’s all there will be.
    Posted by: James Blocke | 10/04/2014 at 04:13 AM
    j-lon writes:
    “Yes, this is the hard fact: 600,000 streams seems like a lot, but it’s not. Usually, one stream on Spotify reaches only a few people (like less than 5). One radio stream on a decent-sized radio station reaches tens of thousands of people”.
    One of the many canards put out by streaming svce advocates is that it is the equivalent of radio. J-lon: THIS is the hard fact:
    Radio augmented and promoted sales of cd’s and other monetizble forms: Streaming is REPLACING the sale of CD’s and other monetizable forms.
    None of us are against streaming: we’re against rates of pay that are destroying our livelihoods and our culture. And that’s exactly what the services current rates are doing. And that’s why artists are joining the Content Creators Coalition in the US and similar organizations all over the world: we’re organizing to fight back.
    Marc Ribot
    In the words of Muddy Waters:
    “Sail on, Sail on my little honey bee sail on. You’re gonna keep on sailing, till you lose your happy home.”

  8. It seems to be questionable whether streaming will ever be able pay a sustainable rate for artists. If it’s even possible, I imagine they’ll abandon the business before they’ll let it cut too deeply into their bottom line. At any rate, it’s not going to happen without a fight. From a piece re: Spotify’s late charm offensive:
    ““The Per-Stream Royalty Will Never Increase“: There was a big dustup over royalty rates that boils down to why should artists take it in the shorts while Spotify executives get rich. The answer? If you just give it some time you’ll make more money. Not because the royalty rate will go up–no, no.
    Spotify’s Mark Williamson told the small invited group that the way that artists will make more money from Spotify is to grow their audience. You know, make it up on volume. Why? Because Wiliamson confirmed what we all believe: the per stream royalty will never change.”

    Also: I always love the “the future” non-argument that comes up in these discussions. That’s quite a marketing coup that this one company was able to convince everyone that its business model is “the future” and everything else is, I guess, just pining for the caveman days. One would think the future would be able to turn a profit, for one thing. Dig it, I can be the future, too, if you give me enough money to give away free candy until everyone else is driven out of business. And just because one guy can eat everyone else’s lunch for awhile by bringing in slaves work his sugar cane fields, doesn’t mean we have to allow it to continue forever.

  9. I am a huge fan of Rosanne’s and was impressed by her testimony at the senate hearing broadcast on C-span. I do occasionally download from I-tunes, but from this point on will buy the actual CD for an artist from now on when possible. If this insures a larger cut for the artist, now matter how incremental, all the better. I have been a musician for going on 50 years now, and will never be a player of “note”, but have a responsibility as such to support theses artists as best I can.

  10. The point at which he used the phrase “little girl” was the point at which anything else he had to say became irrelevant.

  11. Blah blah blah. I am sick of all these artists moaning about Spotify. Guess what? You DON’T have to use Spotify or any other streaming service for that matter. Heck you don’t even need a label. So if you are too lazy or too stupid to set up your own a la carte downloads system or sell your own CDs then STFU! No one puts a gun to your head and forces you to sign up to Spotify. Sell your own music, try and convince the public to pay for your album and stop whining. The last time I checked, CDs are still on sale.

  12. Like every other artist rant that I’ve read (see Van Dyke Parks’ awful piece for The Daily Beast), the numbers tell a different story.
    I don’t know how it is possible that an artist of Ms. Cash’s stature can have only 600,000 streams in 18 months. I am someone you’ve never heard of, and one of my self-produced albums gets that much in two months. Spotify does not have a fixed rate per stream, but for me the pay rate has always been close to $0.005 per stream. My distributor (one of the usual aggregators) gives me 100% of that in exchange for a fixed fee of less than $50 per year. Do the math yourself, and you can see that I make a lot more from Spotify than Ms. Cash. And again, you’ve never heard of me.
    Why? I don’t have a label taking most of the money before it gets to me. Spotify almost certainly is paying someone $3000 or so for those 600,000 streams. If Ms. Cash only sees $104 of that, she has an awful deal or is a victim of fraud, or maybe both.
    Let’s say a typical CD has 10 songs (as Ms. Cash’s album Seven Year Ache did), so 600,000 streams equals 60,000 listenings of a full CD. Not sales, listenings. Now say that you sold a CD that each fan liked enough to listen to straight through 10 times over the years that they owned it. You would get that from just 6,000 CD sales. Now it doesn’t sound so impressive. Yes, it would probably still pay more to be selling CDs for 600,000 plays than to stream them, but the point is that 600,000 streams on Spotify is not a lot for someone as well known as Ms. Cash.
    Maybe her fans used to buy a whole CD on the basis of one or two hits. The rest of the album wasn’t much good, and instead of getting played through multiple times, they listened to the equivalent of maybe 20 streams, and a lot of that only because they felt a need to get something from their investment of $15 for a CD or were across the room and couldn’t hit the skip button when the one hit on the album was over. Back then, Ms. Cash got all her money up front. The new deal with streaming is that you only get paid when people listen, and if the 600,000 streams in 18 months figure is correct, not many people are listening. If Rosanne Cash no longer has much of an audience and still has a crappy deal with her label, how can she expect to make money with her recorded music?
    Read The Daily Beast piece by Van Dyke Parks and see how he laments that co-writing one song with Ringo Starr will not, as it would have 40 years ago, pay for “a house and a pool.” Because, you know, Van Dyke Parks and Ringo Starr are huge these days, and it’s those darn streaming services that are screwing them out of their rightful houses and pools. Boo hoo.

  13. Yes, it is the New Music Business, and yes Bruce you can’t trust spellcheck on artist’s name…Little girl?.
    All that aside is the bottom line. The biz model keeps trying to adapt after the fact. As far back as when CD writer’s hit the popular market and nobody saw it coming, really? Now we are totally digitized and listening to inferior sound quality (MP3), Radio is the terciary marketing promotion device (e-ads/sites,Tv)and The Giant Record Co’s still don’t see the future. The new Biz Model is being created by the generations that grew up in the cyber world. That makes sense,right? It’s a free-for-all as an artist to promote themselves. Of course what that breeds is more Business/Ad men that create music instead of musical creators that have a little business sense (or no sense at all, just talent).
    That said let’s move on to snarky Mr. Yamamoto who has a very modern but, I believe, warped view of what a sophisticated music listener wants or why they appreciate albums instead of single songs. Quoting Mr. Yamamoto: “Maybe her fans used to buy a whole CD on the basis of one or two hits. The rest of the album wasn’t much good, and instead of getting played through multiple times, they listened to the equivalent of maybe 20 streams…”
    We live in a world where winning a singing contest is more important than what they’re singing about (and of course how well they mimick an autotune machine,lol). A sophisticated music listener actually wants to get something from the song: ie a story, a moral fable as opposed to more songs about sex and booty. An album buyer wants to get to know the artist and who they are. So according to you good music is on a song by song basis so it could be any singer singing a song that is relevant to you and all the other unsophisticated listeners that want to dance to ‘I’m Hot’, ‘look at that Back’ or whatever. Enough about you.
    The old model presented songs in a repetitive manner so the audience could love it or not. ‘Kite-ing songs still would not make a hit when it’s all said and done. And what exactly is wrong with sophisticated listeners that cherish that artist and care about the singer-songwriter that touched their hearts with relevant songs about real life, not just booty.
    Sorry to say that our modern music listeners grew up listening to ‘Mario’ music while they played nintendo growing up-So that doesn’t need more explanation, does it.

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