Music Business

How Many Spotify Streams Are Necessary To Live Above The Poverty Line?

The royalties earned off of Spotify streams are notoriously low, but do provide some income to artists. So just how many plays does it take for a musician to live above the poverty line?


Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix

Spotify streaming royalties often upset artists, but how many plays does a musician need to live above the poverty line? We did the math.

The streaming wars are raging on. Spotify has more than one hundred million monthly subscribers worldwide, which places the platform far ahead of its peers, but Apple Music and Amazon Music are gaining millions of new users with each passing month. Whether or not the global economy can sustain the numerous streaming platforms won’t be decided for some time, but whether or not artists can survive the streaming economy is a hot topic that needs to be addressed.

Any industry expert will tell you that musicians today have it easy. There are more avenues for exposure than ever, recording music is (or can be) cheap, and an increasing number of artists are finding success outside the traditional label system. It is theoretically possible for anyone with access to a laptop and the ability to convey a melody to become a digital sensation who has fans all over the world without the aid of big label money (though, to be fair, big label money still makes a sizable difference).

Streaming payouts are a relatively new revenue stream for musicians. No one is suggesting artists survive on streaming royalties alone. Still, with physical media sales bottoming out and competition for tour revenue increasing, the money made from streaming can have a significant impact on an artist’s ability to develop, not to mention sustain themselves.

Still, every other week someone goes viral online and builds an entire career of the profits made from streaming royalties. The majority of these overnight sensations are young and without families to support, but they still have the cost of living expenses that need to be met. That got us to thinking: How many streams does it take to survive on streaming revenue alone?

According to the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), the poverty line for single-person households is $11,770. If we ignore how that figure would be hard for anyone to live on in a major city (and most mid-size cities), then we can round up to $12,000 and use streaming revenue calculators to figure out how many Spotify streams someone would need to sustain themselves.

At an average payout of $0.006 per song stream, a musician living in the United States needs 3,000,000 plays annually to have a gross income of $12,000. 

Of course, if the artist has a label deal the record company would get paid before the artist. Depending on the amount owed to the label, the artist may need millions of addition plays to see the same amount of income themselves.

But what about people with families? The ASPE puts the poverty line for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) at $24,250. Using the same average royalty rate, a musician would need 6,062,500 Spotify streams to earn that amount of gross income.

These numbers get much bigger when the musician is part of a larger group. If a band has four members and all four have families where they were the sole source of income, the group would need to generate 24,250,000 Spotify streams to gross enough so each member’s family would be at or above the poverty line.

Again, no one is saying an artist should survive on streaming royalties alone. Some will be able to make it work, especially if they have a large following and low overhead, but most will need to create as many revenue streams as possible to survive. The key to a long career in music today is through the development of a community around an artist and their work that promotes purchasing merch, physical media, and concert tickets. That has always been true, and likely won’t change anytime soon.

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.

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  1. I too wrote a blog about Spotify – I don’t know where you get your numbers from but, there was a spat between Peter Frampton and Spotify. Apparently, with 55 million streams of ‘Baby I Love Your Way’ he only got $1700. I worked out that for me to make 1700 on Spotify I would need approx 1.1m streams…..a tall order, for me at any rate…

    1. Interesting read. This is why I’d love to see more research done to understand what the impact of a user-centric payment system would be, especially on emerging artists and those in niche genres.

  2. At an average payout of $0.006 per song stream, a musician living in the United States needs 3,000,000 plays annually to have a gross income of $12,000. 3 million plays will generate gross income of $18,000 and not $12,000 and this income will only be generated with a direct deal through the likes of Distrokid, Ditto Music or Tunecore.

  3. I wrote a comprehensive article on this same subject called “Roll, Roll, Roll the Lie Gently Down The Stream – How Spotify and other Music Streaming Services are Robbing Music Creators.” The numbers that you list are not the same as the ones I found in my research. I received $17.97 for 40,000 combined spins which is closer to $.000044 per spin across a more realistic sampling of multiple services (not just Spotify).

    Here is that article with graphs and a full break down:

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