A singer-songwriter friend of mine told my that one of her songs got 250,000 streams on Spotify and she got a check for $27.00. You cannot support artists on that. Which is why many talented artists with strong local followings are still working their day jobs instead of making more music. This is a very tough business, no more so than for the emerging and mid-list artists that I feature on the radio show and in my reviews. There are so few paths to success for young artists. TV shows like "The Voice" and "American Idol" are showcases designed to advance (or revive) the careers of the judges and enrich the producers and networks; very, very few finalists or even winners go on to high level success.
The collapse of the recorded music market has made it virtually impossible even for a talented online music star like Maggie Szabo to make a good living selling recorded music. Club gigs help, but many clubs are making the band pay them and hope they make it back in door charges.Even when they do get paid, it is hardly a comfortable life unless you are playing every night of the year and selling many many CD's after the show. Some make ends meet as session musicians; others teach music - both emotionally and artistically rewarding, but nothing to get rich with (unless you were the Wrecking Crew group in 50's and 60's - see the movie!).
Licensing works for some, like Toby Lightman, but while it can pay the bills, it is not necessarily a path to stardom, even when the talent of the artist screams out for it (as hers does). Hard work may pay off, as it seems to be for the enormously talented Irene Diaz who will play anywhere, for anyone, anytime and has been rewarded for her work with showcases at SXSW, openings for stars like Gabby Moreno, tours with La Santa Cecelia and national broadcasts like the Tiny Desk Concerts on NPR.
So I was very interested in the announcement this week of a new artist-owned streaming service, Tidal, by Jay-Z, Beyonce' and their business partners Rihanna, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Alicia Keys, Jason Aldean, Daft Punk and members of Arcade Fire with the promise of paying a fair percentage to the artists who music it will distribute. I am only "interested" because we will have to wait and see about a couple of things. First, will they pay a fair percentage? They are silent on what they are paying the artists, just saying it will be "more". Since Tidal is actually a Swedish company, Aspiro, bought by Jay Z, getting corporate reports to find out if artists do actually make more may be difficult.
Second, can it survive? I don't mind paying $10 a month for streaming music - I pay that much for a movie or a night at a club (less drinks). But 40 million people stream Spotify for free and as long as they get what they want without paying for it, it will be hard to convince them that the HD quality sound of Tidal (which is great!) is worth it will be tough. Tidal has 515,000 subscribers as of this week compared to 60 million for Spotify. And then there is GooglePlay and Grooveshark and Soundclud and...and...and. It is a tough market.
I am going to go for the 30-day trial and will probably stay with it just because it may offer a path to financial stability for artists. But, we shall see.