Since the arrival of Spotify in 2011, artists have been at odds with streaming music services over the royalties they recieve. And now that Apple Music has entered the music streaming wars, the question of how much each music service pays artists is as rife as ever. But without a clear explanation of who's paying what, it's easy to find yourself using Taylor Swift as a barometer of artist fairness.
Now, a new infographic from David McCandless at Information Is Beautiful attempts to clarify streaming music's murky financial backwaters.
On the left side of the chart, a line graph connects the streaming service (i.e. Spotify) and the amount of revenue it pay their artists per play (i.e. $.0011) with the number of people who use the service (i.e. 75 million people). The right side puts that information into context by showing what percentage of the total number of users is needed in order for artists to earn the U.S. minimum wage, which McCandless approximates to $1,260 per month (the federal baseline for minimum wage is $7.25/hour but it varies by state). For example, in order for an artist to survive on Spotify sales, he or she needs 2% of its 75 million users—that's around 1.5 million users—to play their track per month.
The chart is most useful when simply comparing the artist revenue per play. Google Play pays artists the most, quickly followed by Jay-Z's recently acquired streaming service Tidal, which is expected given its "by artists for artists" platform. Spotify and Apple Music are neck and neck. Perhaps the most startling revelation? Apple Music cut its artist revenue in half after transitioning from Beats, which it bought last year.
Comparing the streaming sites is not exactly apples to apples, as a careful look at both sides of the chart will show. For example, Tidal pays its artists more per play than Spotify ($.0070), but it has far fewer users (.5 million), so an artist would need to rely on a larger percentage of a smaller pool of users to play their track. And McCandless's infographic doesn't offer a fair comparison to Google Play and Apple Music, two of the biggest players, because there's no user data available.
Still, being transparent about artist royalties is a step in the right direction for streaming services, and it's useful for users to see a company's intentions. Check out the data McCandless used for the infographic here.