Why now is a great time to stockpile your favourite albums

Coronavirus is affecting us all. Some people are being forced to work from home, while others such as freelancers and those working in hospitality and entertainment have had their livelihoods severely impacted.

One space where this is also apparent is the music industry.

Thanks to Covid-19, many festivals, live shows and tours have been scrapped, leaving musicians in the lurch. Huge events like Glastonbury, Coachella and SXSW in Austin have been forced to cancel, and according to a Musicians’ Union survey, UK musicians have lost around £13.9m in earnings because of the crisis.

Of course, it’s not just big stars and massive festivals that have had their lives put on hold. Under the top tier of earners is a whole industry, from roadies and tour managers to small bands and performers who don’t have huge platforms and the ability to make money from just releasing music alone.

Over the past 20 years, the live music scene has become essential in order for musicians to make money. The rise of Napster and illegal file-sharing hit the industry hard as people began to get their music for free. It took nearly 10 years for streaming to arrive.

However, while streaming does provide revenue for artists, unless you’re Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber, the results are measly. Spotify might have around 124 million paying subscribers and, according to Music Business Worldwide, major record labels are said to be earning $19m each day from streaming, but not much of this money finds its way back to artists.

In fact, on average, Spotify pays an artist $0,0039 per stream, while Apple Music is slightly higher at $0.00735.

To put this into context, in 2018 when Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas broke Spotify’s single-day streaming record with almost 11million listens, the rights holders made $92,400. That’s before the revenue was split between the songwriters, producers, artists and so on.

Most artists don’t have 11million daily listeners. Zoe Keating, a cellist and composer, shared in 2018 that her music was streamed 2.25million times over the year, from which she netted just $12,200.

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It’s also not that simple. Spotify also divides revenue by proportion of listeners. So, for example, if there are 1million streams in total for one month and Post Malone accounts for 100,000 of those streams, Mr. Malone (plus his label and rights holders) will earn 10 per cent of the total amount Spotify pays out to artists, regardless of whether people paying for their premium service listened to a single song by him.

At a time like this, it’s art and music that help us make sense of things and provide us comfort

This method means that for most musicians, revenue from streaming alone isn’t enough to live on. Because of this, artists rely on live shows, residencies and festivals in order to make money, with live music in the UK contributing £1.1bn to the economy. And with no live shows or festivals to play, many musicians have found themselves cast adrift.

Naturally, we are all feeling the pinch during this time, and while the government has put some measures in place to help people, everyone’s financial situations feel precarious. Nevertheless, if you’re able, there are some ways that you can help your favourite artists during this time.

It seems like an odd concept in 2020, but buying the music of your favourite artist can make the world of difference, be it downloading, ordering a CD or a vinyl (you can even buy cassette tapes again).

If an artist is unsigned and you buy your music directly from them, they can take home 100 per cent of the profits. Meanwhile, depending on the make-up of their record deal, many artists can earn anything from less than 10 per cent to 75 per cent from a download or a CD sale.

That figure is even higher for sales of vinyl. Caren Kelleher, former head of music app partnerships at Google, found that independent artists need only sell about 100 copies of their record on vinyl to make the same amount via royalties as they would from around 2.5million YouTube views or 368,000 Spotify plays.

There is also merchandise that fans can buy, from t-shirts to soft toys. And often these pieces of merch’ include a download of an album or song for you to keep, too.

New threads and a new album? Winner.

By highlighting how precarious things are for musicians working right now, there’s every possibility that things might change.

Perhaps, record labels and streaming services that make a profit from the music artists create will be forced to reassess how they divide up revenue streams. Taylor Swift has spent years talking about the worth of music, and perhaps now, with the potential financial difficulties many artists are facing, people will realise just how much needs to change in the music business.

Art is valuable and worth paying for.

In the meantime, though, think about how your favourite artist or band might be struggling with the loss of their live shows, tours and festival slots, and what you can do to help.

At a time like this, it’s art and music that help us make sense of things and provide us comfort. In order for that to continue, we need to look out for those who create it for us. Even if you can’t afford to buy an album, streaming as much music as possible from a variety of different artists will still help. Treat this period as a time to diversify your tastes or discover musicians you’ve never heard of before.

Music can bring people together, be it through collective listening or discussing songs on social media with friends; you don’t have to be at a gig to feel connected via song.

Buying an album or a t-shirt might not solve the coronavirus crisis, but it might just help an artist in need.

You might discover a new song or album that you love in the process, too. Surely that’s worth it.

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