Jazz Maths: How many Spotify streams it takes to earn the Dole
Dance like nobody’s paying.
That’s the slogan for Spotify’s new advertising campaign, touting the fact they now offer a free thirty-day try-before-you-buy premium subscription. Free music! Obviously, that tagline is fairly tone-deaf, as New York-based musician Blake Morgan pointed out on Twitter, given the woeful Spotify royalties rates for musicians. Of course, someone is paying though. Someone always does. It’s just not Spotify.
Morgan explains in the same tweet how 380,000 Spotify streams a month earns an artist minimum wage. New York State’s minimum wage is $11.10 an hour or $15.83 in those colourful Australian dollars we use. An average working week is 38 hours. That’s $601.54 dollars a week, or $2663.96 a month (divide the weekly wage by seven, then times it by 31 days).
This is all jazz mathematics, with rounding and the complete disregard of 30-day months, so please forgive the odd stray note. After all, with jazz maths, it’s all about the 1s you don’t carry.
Anyway, this means that Aussie musicians will earn 0.7 cents per stream. 0.7 cents! There’s not even a coin for that!
This maths jives with a 2018 CNN piece which reports the rate at $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream.
Now, $2663.96 a month isn’t a terrible wage for a young musician. You pay for a room in a sharehouse with Kennards boxes for windows and a shower that last worked properly when thalidomide was sold. You buy wine in boxes and Mi Goreng for romantic occasions. Towels can be blankets, blankets can be towels. You’re a muso. Life is good. But this income is predicated on a number of things.
For one, you and you alone need to be taking in those royalties. That means no bandmates, no managers, no record labels with cute names and loose accounting practices.
You also need to be getting 380,000 streams a month, every month. That’s no mean feat, and out of reach for the majority of musicians.
It is also the end result after shelling out costs for recording, mixing, mastering, a digital distribution service, a radio pluggers, a PR person and all the other things you will probably need if you have any chance of getting 380,000 streams a month. Hey, it’s not impossible. And today’s climate means music can be made and disseminated for next to nothing.
So, let’s assume you are in a four-piece band named The Darlinghurst Rats, because that’s something in the news I overheard my partner talking about last night, and what is a bad vermin problem for some Sydney residents is a damn great punk band name for others.
The Darlinghurst Rats are trying to make a go of it, and because you prescribe to the punk ethos, you recorded a single live in a rehearsal space on a Tascam for free, and put it out yourselves because fuck the man. No publicists, no fuss, just warehouse shows to crowds carrying longnecks in paper bags. The shows are going well. You are getting popular.
The online-only single ‘Rats Run Rampant’ (see the theme?) is being streamed way more than you ever could have imagined. Three longnecks deep after one particularly well-received show, you start to talk about how you could really make a go of it. Sure, you need to get a better drummer, but that’s a discussion for another day. That’s second album stuff. So, how many streams will it take to earn as much as you are all currently earning on the dole?
Let’s do some maths. It’s punk maths though, so it’s not nerdy. Keep reading! The Newstart Allowance is $501 per fortnight for single people, or $452.30 each for a member of a couple, because true love should be financially punished. All of The Darlinghurst Rats are single, partially due to the bed bugs and artfully placed cereal bowls around your shared apartment, but mainly because you plan to tour the hell out of this single, and you can’t just leave a partner at home while you’re on the road. It’s not a Kerouac novel.
So, let’s bump that stray dollar off to make it an even $500, because, let’s face it, receiving $499 would be less insulting than $501. Each of you needs to earn $500 a fortnight, or $250 a week, just to be at dole levels. That’s $1K a week your band needs to pull in, from streams. The gigs will pay for the petrol it takes to get to the gigs, so that’s a write-off, a purely promotional and partially cathartic exercise. But the gigs will get you exposure, which will get you more streams. Focus on the streams!
So at 0.7c per stream, you need 142,858 streams a week to earn the dole. Divide that by seven and times it by 31 (sorry September; fuck you February) and that’s 632,656 Spotify streams The Darlinghurst Rats need, every single month, in order to earn the same amount of money they would get from sitting on the dole.
If that seems inconceivable, that’s because it is.
And thus, The Darlinghurst Rats, once a promising young punk band with drive, ambition, and a record that a few thousand people loved the hell out of, came to the logical conclusion that it would be more worthwhile for them to simply sit on the dole, split a Stanley 5L, and write the names of different Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi outlets on their ‘looking for work’ form every few weeks – until some other tired punk in a tie, nursing his own broken dreams, calls them into a fluorescent office for a Work For The Dole meeting.
Dance like nobody’s paying.