LAFAYETTE, La. -- Yvette Landry has grown used to the disappointed look from fans. They frown when they learn the country singer’s next record won’t be out soon.
Landry’s finances are recovering from thousands spent on her last recording, which achieved a respectable 19,000 spins on Amazon.com. In return, the streaming company mailed a royalty check — for 19 cents.
“You just have to kind of kind of chuckle at something like that,” Landry said. “I haven’t cashed it, and I don’t think I will. I’m just going to hang on to that.”
Landry’s keepsake is symbolic of a major challenge for local and mainstream musicians in the digital age. The internet instantly exposes their music to a global audience.
But while streaming services such as Amazon, Spotify and YouTube have become listeners’ top choice for consuming music, they return little to musicians. Streams are often free for listeners willing to put up with occasional ads.
Yet the services, which make money off the ads and subscriptions, pay musicians a fraction of a penny for each stream of a song. According to The Trichordist, an artist rights advocacy blog, that payout rate is dropping as streaming numbers grow.
Eric Adcock, of Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars, calls the payout to musicians “embarrassingly shameful.” The band’s 2016 CD “Gulfstream” was nominated for two Grammys and received more than 100,000 spins on Spotify. Based on Spotify’s pay rate of $.00058 per stream, the band received $58.
Adcock counters with 2015 financial filings from Spotify, an eight-year-old Swiss company with more than 100 million active monthly users. The report revealed that the average Spotify employee enjoys an income of $168,747.
“It would take over 288 million plays of ‘Gulfstream’ for me as a writer to earn that in a royalty,” said Adcock. “When is the last time you paid .00058 cents for anything?
“If we would have sold 100,000 records, like our streams, we’d be really in business. We wouldn’t have to wait to make another record to recoup our investment.”
The meteoric rise of streaming has prompted local musicians to change their approach to recording. Some are delaying projects or going to unlikely sources for help.
Passing the hat online
Scott native Zachary Richard, who has sold gold records in Canada, has felt the fallout of streaming and digital music. With CD Baby as a song distributor, Richard needs roughly 2,500 spins of a song to earn $1.
This 45-year music veteran is currently recording his 21st album. To soften the impact of his upfront costs, Richard turned to a resource used mainly by newcomers — crowdfunding.
Richard launched a Kickstarter project to raise $45,000 to cover studio and related expenses. More than 500 supporters pledged $67,180.
Richard said help with his initial investment allows him to maintain high standards and make up for revenue lost in the digital age.
“Studio recording for me is approximately $2,000 per day and this includes studio and three musicians,” said Richard. “Overdub is half as much. I am committed to quality recording, which means there are no real corners to cut.
“It is possible to record at home and even on a telephone and the results can be amazing in both cases. I am old school, however, and am addicted to studio recording in a professional setting.”
Richard added that song publishing, a top revenue source, has taken a major hit.
“Streaming has significantly compromised publishing revenues, which are based on two components: performance and mechanical royalties,” said Richard. “With streaming, there is no mechanical reproduction and so there is no mechanical royalty generated. This is a significant loss for song writers and publishers.”
Scott Durbin has navigated streams and digital music from the stage and the classroom. Durbin is a member of the Imagination Movers, a New Orleans-based children’s band that’s recorded music and TV shows for Disney.
Since 2015, he’s served as coordinator of the Music Business Program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
In today’s world of digital performances, he constantly urges students to register with Sound Exchange, a nonprofit that helps sound recording copyright owners collect royalties.
Durbin said the service, which has paid more than $4.5 billion in royalties, can boost revenue for creators.
“If you’re played on terrestrial radio, AM or FM, the artist who performed that song is not going to get any money,” said Durbin. “The label is not going to get any money.
“But with digital performances, especially non-interactive like Pandora or Spotify where you don’t choose your song, all of that revenue can be claimed by an artist or whoever owns a sound recording through Sound Exchange.
“Sound Exchange is one of those things people don’t know about. But it’s a revenue stream that when they become aware of, it adds to what they can bring in.”
Musical Van Goghs
Much work remains to close the financial gaps in digital streaming. The Recording Academy has a Grammys on the Hill effort that works for music legislation reform in Washington, D.C.
Local artists also urge supporters to still buy CDs, which offers them the biggest return on their investments. Returns vary, but independent bands with their own label, like the Hub City All Stars, can pocket 50 percent or more of a CD’s sale price.
Technology has not dimmed the musicians' dedication to their craft.
“I never got into music to make money,” said Adcock. “But I think 'fair' needs to be discussed.
“Van Gogh sold only one painting his entire life. That did not keep him from trying to make the best art he could possibly make every time he put the brush to canvas. That’s exactly what our mission is.
“We’re still going to make the best art we possibly can. But when recording studios are very expensive, there’s album artwork, manufacturing costs, royalty rates, it might take us a little longer to get the next project out, especially when people are purchasing an opportunity to hear our songs for .00058 cents.”