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A musician on his 21-cent royalty check

Kai Ryssdal Nov 15, 2012
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Since high-speed Internet and streaming music took over the music industry, the business of being a professional musician has become confusing at best. What was once a relatively straightforward transaction — you give me a few bucks, I give you my record — is now part of a complex algorithm that online music services like Spotify and Pandora use to figure out how much musicians ought to be paid.

Which is, to put it mildly, not very much.

Damon Krukowski, once of the band Galaxie 500 and now half of a duo called Damon & Naomi, took on fee structure in a story he wrote for online music magazine Pitchfork titled “Making Cents.” In it, he defined the problem with a simple example of a recent royalty check he’d received from a streaming online service:

“Galaxie 500’s ‘Tugboat’ was played 7,800 times on Pandora in the first quarter of 2012, for which its three songwriters were paid a collective total of 21 cents, or seven cents each.”

Pathetic, right?

“It depends on your attitude and how much you expect to make on your music,” Krukowski laughs before agreeing that it’s not a livable wage. While he’s a supporter of the free movement of information and he’s excited about the distribution opportunities afforded bands by the speed and scope of the Internet, he wrote the article because he feels there are still fortunes being made in the music industry, but maybe by the wrong people.

“Someone is making an enormous profit,” says Krukowski, “and it’s not the musicians.”