Are Merch Sales More Important Than Song Streams?

1While streaming is the new normal for music consumption, the income that many artists receive from it is far less than needed to sustain a career. But, as some artists have learned, merch sales, remain an excellent way to net much larger profits.


Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix

The streaming age has given virtually everyone immediate access to music, but at what cost to creators?

Streaming is the new normal. Just last month, Spotify revealed it now has 232 million monthly listeners, including 108 monthly subscribers. Apple Music, the company’s closest competitor, now boasts 60 million monthly subscribers. Those two platforms alone help more than a quarter of a billion humans access music every month. That results in a lot of streams generating a wealth of cash, but for who?

Most artists love the amount of access streaming allows consumers, but hate the pay structure. That is due to the fact the majority of musicians make $0.06 per stream or less depending on the platform. With a high enough volume of streams, anyone can make a comfortable living but reaching that many streams (millions of plays per month) is difficult unless an artist has a celebrated catalog or a consistent presence in top songs charts.

While She Sleeps, a British metalcore band that releases music through their own label (Sleep Brothers) in collaboration with UNFD and Spinefarm Records, is tired of relying on streams to make a living. The band tours heavily, and through their accounting have discovered that music is no longer the primary way they support themselves. Creating and performing music is what they do, but at the end of the day, selling merchandise is how the members of While She Sleeps support themselves.

The band is responding to this discovery by releasing a new t-shirt design that makes it clear how fans can support the artists they love. Check it out:

You can order the shirt on the band’s official website. The group is also making the design available for other musicians to use, for free, on their own merchandise. Click here to grab the file.

In a letter released with the design, While She Sleeps wrote “The majority (76% in fact) of music in 2019 is streamed. Probably by you, definitely by us, and there is nothing bad about that. But if bands and artists are to survive and win the battle of art vs money, we need to find new income to keep afloat.”

You can read the full message below:

While She Sleep’s latest release, So What?, is available now. 

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  1. This is such an important point. With everyone focused on digital streaming, we forget that touring & selling merchandise have been artists’ bread & butter for a long time now. It’s also a much easier income stream to control. You can’t determine whether your song will resonate with the masses, be included in a playlist, etc. You can, however, look to see if an item is selling & plan accordingly. It pays sometimes to look backwards & not what has always worked, what will continue to work.

  2. Excellent take James. It’s clear that today’s artists need to focus on more than the hard-to-predict streaming numbers. But the best solution seems to be that they are both important. I work for a company called Single Music – we’ve recently built a tool that lets you attach things like pre-saves, follows and subscribes with physical products in Shopify.

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