Being a musician and trying to get paid can be a terrible chore. You can fill a club with drinkers and they’ll still stiff you at the end of the night. Your work—and your draw—will constantly be requested free of charge, as though the magic word “exposure” paid for rehearsal studio rental and gas in the van. Even deep-pocketed concerns will hose you. A band I was in in the ‘90s had a song that managed to grow some stubby little legs thanks to a compilation appearance, and a few years after the fact, a popular cable channel wanted to use it in an animated TV show. Thrilled, I filled out a small mountain of paperwork in 2003, and I’ve still not seen a check. The same song got used by a major clothing company, but not a cent found its way to my pocket for that, either. I have a good idea which of my former bandmates gave away that song for a song, but I’ve left it alone—I was livid about it at the time, but it’s long enough in the past now that there’s no sense in getting worked up about it anymore. I still play in a group that constantly records new original material and tours as often as it can, but if I was in this for money, I’d have been done after that fiasco.
But don’t think for a moment that this sort of heinous chicanery befalls only the obscure strivers who for obvious reasons are more vulnerable to it. Important and influential artists that you’ve heard of and enjoyed get the screws put to them all the time. The way radio royalties work against smaller artists is especially vile, but as radio diminishes in importance and new models emerge, innovative new ways to rob artists emerge alongside them. Right now, Pandora, ASCAP and BMI are in court arguing about exactly how songwriters will get hosed in the future. There are so many things to read online on the subject of how musicians do or don’t get paid it’s practically becoming a genre complete with its own classics, but just as a picture speaks a thousand words, money in the bank speaks more loudly still, and a recent piece in Aux that might startle you offered some pictures of musicians’ money in the bank.
How little does the music industry pay artists? Shockingly little. Spotify, the dominant streaming music source in the U.S., is leaking money. They reportedly dole out 70 per cent of their revenue to royalties, and while that number seems high, consider this: each song stream pays an artist between one-sixth and one-eight of a cent. One source claimed that, on streaming music services, an artist requires nearly 50,000 plays to receive the revenue earned from one album sale. Ouch.
This check was cut to the influential and respected post-metal band Isis by a company called Music Reports. No specific accounting was offered.
Lambgoat speculated that this check, also from Music Reports, may have been cut for one month’s worth of streaming royalties for the long running Washington D.C. death metal band Darkest Hour.
In the ‘80s, Camper Van Beethoven were a HUGE deal in the independent/college music scene. They split into Cracker and Monks of Doom in the ‘90s, with the former becoming very popular indeed. For over a million Pandora plays of one of their hugest hits, “Low,” Cracker got a little under $17.
OK, anyone wanting to could quibble as to the significance or popularity of Isis, Darkest Hour, or even Cracker, and by all means, that’s what the comments section is there for. But this is Janis Ian. Grammy winning, massively influential folk artist Janis Ian. “Society’s Child,” Between the Lines Janis Ian, hauling down some fat Darkest Hour cash, here.