As a music fan, I love the cost and convenience of the best music streaming services. But as a musician I'm horribly aware that the sums paid out by the streaming services are very, very low. A back-of-the-envelope calculation says that in order to earn the same amount of money as one play on national radio (about $40), I'd need to have a song streamed over 120,000 times.
As USA Today reported, Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib once pointed out that it would take more than 800,000 streams per month to pay the equivalent of a $15 per hour job. So it's interesting to see Deezer, the sixth biggest music streamer worldwide, team up with Universal to pay more money to artists.
According to Deezer CEO Jeronimo Folgueira: "This is the most ambitious change to the economic model since the creation of music streaming and a change that will support the creation of high-quality content in the years to come."
That's quite the claim. So what's actually being offered to artists?
Deezer's plan to give your favorite artists more money
The new feature announced by Deezer will pay artists differently based on how people play their music. So if you hear an artist's song as part of an algorithmically generated playlist, that'll pay a little less than if the song is specifically chosen by you.
The aim is to do two things: reduce the power of algorithms and increase the power of people. So an artist with a decent fanbase should see a pretty significant uptick in their streaming revenues as a result of fans playing their music rather than it being randomly inserted into other people's feeds. If like me you listen to new records again and again on repeat, you're making cash registers ring at that artist's HQ.
Deezer also says that it'll introduce a rewards tier for artists with larger numbers: if you have at least 1,000 streams from 500 unique listeners per month, you'll qualify for a higher payment rate.
As Deezer puts it: "We are now embracing a necessary change, to better reflect the value of each piece of content and eliminate all wrong incentives, to protect and support artists. There is no other industry where all content is valued the same, and it should be obvious to everyone that the sound of rain or a washing machine is not as valuable as a song from your favourite artist streamed in HiFi." Deezer says it's going to be cracking down much harder on fraudulent, infringing and generally dodgy content too.
It sounds good, but of course the devil is in the detail: streaming payments are famously opaque, because most services don't just run a straight 'X cents for X plays' tariff. And the money artists make from streaming is still going to be relatively low, so if you really want to support your favorites then you need to see them live and buy their merch.
But on the face of it this new system does appear to be a step in the right direction – and if it's popular with artists, their managers and their record labels you can expect other streamers to be pressured to follow in Deezer's footsteps.
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.