On Nov 20/18 I decided to post my concerns on the state of the music industry and share some simple math. I seem to have struck a nerve. The post has ABOUT 5.6k shares / 2.9k likes / 1.1k comments and sparked an exciting conversation. EXACTLY what I’d hoped for.
This page is home to that post and related links - Danny Michel
MEDIA LINKS - Original Facebook post
Likes 2.9k / 1.1k Comments / 5.6k Shares
Nov 20 - Read it in Vancouver Weekly
NOV 21 - Read it at CBC MUSIC
Nov 22 - Hear about it on CBC’s “As it Happens”
*The segment is at 01:09:08min
Nov 23 - Hear Danny on CBC’s “Metro Morning”
Nov 26 - Read about in FYIMusic News
Nov 28 - Hear follow up with MusicCanada on CBC’s Metro Morning
Nov 29 - Read a post by S.A.C. Songwriters Association of Canada
Nov 30 - Hear Murrays Foster’s follow up - Metro Morning - Link coming soon
DEC 07 Read about it in Rolling Stone
Dec 08 Hear Danny on CBC FreshAir
Nov 20/18 ~ A Peek Behind The Curtain: The Expiration Date On Music
“I’ve been a full-time musician for 25 years. It’s been nothing but hard work, but I love hard work. My songs bought my house, my studio, pay the bills and more. Through it all the conversations backstage with other musicians have always been about music, family, guitars, friends, art etc. But in 2018 that conversation changed. Everywhere I go musicians are quietly talking about one thing: how to survive. And I’ve never worried about it myself UNTIL 2018. What I can tell you is my album sales have held steady for the last decade until dropping by 95% this year due to music streaming services.
Note my earnings for “Purgatory Cove”: this song has been in the TOP 20 charts (CBC Radio 2 & 3) for 10 weeks, climbed to #3. In 2018 that equals $44.99 in sales.
FACT: An artist earns $0.0038 per play on Spotify
I know I’m not alone. As a result bands/musicians are downsizing, recording at home, cutting corners where ever they can. Studios are losing business. Session musicians, techs, administration, grant writers are all losing work. And with every band in the world back on the road, venues are clogged and ticket prices have tripled. For me it means being away from home and taking on more work than I ever have.
A recent post by Unison Benevolent Fund showed “In a study of the music industry labour market, 24% of musical professionals indicated they were considering leaving the music industry”.
From the conversations I’m having I believe that statistic is much much higher. Over the last few months I’ve spoken to many brilliant life-long musicians (some you know) who are quietly beginning their exit strategy. I fear musicians are reluctant to admit any of this because so much of this industry is perception; the illusion that an artist’s career is soaring, when really, it might not be. Having to be the constant used-car salesman, manager, admin person AND travelling artist (while in survival/panic mode) isn’t healthy. Yet, you can’t afford to hire anyone.
Social media makes it all worse and as a fellow musician pointed out, streaming services shame artists with the pressures of how many “likes,” “streams” and “followers” they have.
No one need to feel sorry for me. This is what I do. And I’m not scolding anyone or suggesting people stop using these services. I don’t know what the answer is. But I hope musicians speak up about what’s really happening. Music fans deserve to know how this all works and why the artists they love may soon be gone.
This new model of “free music” simply can’t last much longer.
NOV 22 Amendment
Wow!! The response to my post has been incredible. I’m thrilled to see the conversation come forward truthfully and musician’s being real. In a world that is more fake everyday. It’s what we need most. The post has been “shared” almost 3500 times with 1000s of “likes” & “comments”. It’s revealing & concerning. I’m also getting constant personal notes from musicians (many you know) sharing their stories. Truthfully, they’re heart breaking. Some struggling to pay rent, buy food or see a dentist. It’s worse than I suspected. And always hidden. That’s why I decided to reveal MY simple math.
This colossal revenue loss effects all artists at every level, each in different ways. And each have their breaking point. If you’re at the top, you’re at the top. If you are at the bottom struggling, I can’t imagine how you’d survive. Me, I do ok. I’ve worked really hard for a few decades, saved my money, invested, paid off my house… So no one needs to feel sorry for me. But what it means for ME is having to make up the huge loss in album sales by slugging it out on the road even harder. Never home, always away. The drives, lugging gear, merch, admin, planes, hotels. As I approach 50 I have to admit I find the thought debilitating. For others it’s much worse.
The comments from all music fans have been supportive, beautiful and kind. To them, thank you for being there with us. You know who you are ❤ To everyone, don’t feel bad about using streaming services. That’s not the issue. How little they compensate the creators of the content is the problem. I Use streaming services sometimes, but less all the time. It’s Feels soulless compared to holding a vinyl album lyric sheet in your hands or leafing through the beautiful art/CD package and reading all the albums credits, musicians, studios and artists that worked together to create it.
Again, I don’t pretend to understand the deep mechanisms in the machine and I don’t know the answer. And shocked that no-one else does. It is a global issue. This is just my prediction…an explanation to why I believe the landscape of the music you know will change soon.”
UPDATE - Dec 23/18
Records and Tapes and Streams, Oh My! > UPDATE
I played my last show of 2018 this week and wanted to thank everyone who’s come out and supported me this year. I can’t believe I still have fans at my shows who’ve been coming for 20yrs! Incredible!
It’s been a few weeks since my post about the industry (music streaming) and I wanted to share some hopeful things that have come from it. 1st, I never imagined it would spark the conversation it did. CBC Metro Morning, CTV Toronto, The Toronto Star, Rolling Stone and more. I haven’t been able to get through all the comments and emails but I have heard from and/or spoken with SOCAN Music, Unison Benevolent Fund, The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings (FACTOR), Songwriters Association of Canada, Music Canada. AND I’m thrilled to say I’m meeting with Spotify in the new year too.
Through over 6k shares and 1k comments, one thing that struck me was that most of the dialog was from music fans saying they had NO idea how streaming worked and asking what they can do to help. It’s wonderful to know that people still want to support the artists they love.
While I feel a bit like a cab driver as Uber rolls into town, I remind myself I’ve watched the format change 6 times. I was born in 1970 so my 1st band’s songs were printed on vinyl because CDs were far too expensive to manufacture. I’ve released music on vinyl, 8-track (small run), cassette, CD, digital download & now streaming. (And vinyl again? Ha!)
I want to reiterate that my original post said “I’m not scolding anyone or suggesting people stop using these services”. I myself have a Spotify subscription. I understand the convenience, the simplicity. The depth of music is incredible. Earlier in the summer, I enjoyed making playlists of my favourite music from Turkey, Jamaica, Cuba, Belize etc. This is some the music I listen to. If you want to check them out, they’re on my page.
My main concern with streaming is how artists are, yet again, paid last and paid poorly by the medium. I don’t know the hard solutions, but a number of interesting questions arose in my conversations with folks on this topic:
- Should streamers be able to donate directly to artists? I’d happily pay more for the music I love. Maybe a donate button?
- Why are artists with 50M streams playing the same size venues as me and not selling out the ACC? How do streams turn into true/active fans?
- Should editorialized playlists that generate millions of passive “background music” streams in cafes and shops be paid the same as dedicated active streams directly from an artist’s page?
- Before, you’d buy a song for $0.99, download it, and it was yours to listen to it as many times as you wanted. However with streaming are you not just renting the song and paying a minuscule amount each listen? That seems reasonable until you calculate that the artist would earn the equivalent of that dollar after you listened to that ONE song (roughly) 230,306 times (15,350 hours). And if you ever close your account all of that music is gone.
Each artist has their own path. I don’t create to sell. I don’t create to win. I never have. Not every song is a racehorse. If you’re a fringe jazz band or eclectic world music group you might never have millions of streams. Yet all this music is part of the fabric of our culture that enriches our lives. So yes, “Follow” and “Like” your favourite bands on streaming services. Talk about them, spread the word, go to their shows, buy a shirt or an LP.
This streaming genie is out of the bottle, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked & tuned. I’m doing my best to keep evolving and be a part of the solution. Let’s all keep listening.
Have a wonderful holiday
JAN 09 2019
Netflix just raised their prices claiming “...we’re working to improve the Netflix experience for everyone, everywhere.“ If that’s true, I’m more than happy to pay more If it means they’re employing actors, camera people, set designers, make-up artists etc by producing their own content like “Stranger Things”, “The Crown” etc. They started out in the licensing/streaming biz but realized that eventually the big studios would stop giving away their content (or threatened to leave, like Disney did) so they started making their own.
In my original post about music streaming I admitted that I didn’t have the answer, but maybe this example of how Netflix might be evolving is encouraging. Imagine if music streaming services did the same, investing in artists and our music community. While Netflix's product is only partially the content they create, if you’re an artist on a streaming service, their product is the content YOU create.
I’ve had many conversations recently with many people in the industry from all sides of this discussion. Mostly I’ve been encouraged to embrace the new format (which I am) & how to increase my stats/streams. Still, unanswered is my original question. How can the music community down the chain survive?
I love the fact that a blind person in an old age home can now say “Siri/Alexa, play me songs from the 50’s”. That’s a beautiful thing. Maybe they should get free streaming. But the rest of us...? Remember when we all paid $100 a month for cable TV for 20 years? I can’t believe people complain about paying $14.00 for thousands of hours of commercial free content…not to mention ALL of the music ever recorded in the history of the world for $9.99. Why do we suddenly expect everything for free?
You get what you pay for.
More honest words from another one of Canada’s finest songwriters. After a meaningful chat and plan to get on the phone this week Justin also wrote “…yes please share my post on FB. I’d love to become part of the discussion. Let’s talk”. Thanks JR!
After you read my post, please read Danny Michel's post below and share your opinion. I'm taking the time to respond because Danny's resonated with a conversation I have with Dale every week.
This is not a business to enter into (full time) for the faint of heart, that's for sure. I try to stay positive as I have always been an optimist, but sometimes I think "Who am I kidding?!? How long can I afford keep this up for?".
In regards to streaming - I was making more revenue from online sales before streaming, and when I had a smaller audience. Now I have a much larger fanbase overseas and in parts of Canada, and apparently have more people in new markets listening to my music (800+ in Denmark from last week alone!), however I can't afford to get to most of those places to perform, and I don't think I have many people coming out to my shows because of streaming sites. I naively thought years ago, 'this will only get easier if I just keep playing and building my audience'. It did seem to get easier but only for a short period of time. I was making good revenue from physical and digital sales AND live performances, and then streaming came along. Apart from the German market, where people still seem to buy higher quantities of physical merchandise at the shows, physical sales in almost every other market I tour have decreased. Online sales have shifted from downloads to streams, and are generating less and less for me monthly.
I'm no business wiz, but if you are 'replacing' a revenue stream with a new model, shouldn't that new model generate more revenue than the model you are retiring? Streaming hasn't provided a profitable substitute, and it's led to more and more people ditching physical altogheter, eliminating what was historically the #1 way that record companies made money?
Though I can't really afford to, I'm taking time from touring in Europe this winter, to figure out how to adapt my business model, to be able to continue touring and creating in the future. I don't want to quit, but I'll be honest, it's tricky to make enough revenue to cover the basic needs as a touring/recording artist.
Trying to stay positive and healthy.
Trying to see streaming as one piece of the pie in my business model, but not to stress out about it.
Trying to encourage fans to BUY the music first, then stream/share in addition.
Trying to focus on being a better artist and performer and to get the best-fit LIVE opportunities.
It would be awesome if streaming services paid more, or if those streaming numbers equated to other revenue. There are companies working with the companies to improve policies, and I should probably educate myself on who they are, and what's happening. I'm not sure how I can help in this battle.
I want to have a balanced business model, I'm just trying to figure out what that is for me and my music. Where do I best invest my time and money to achieve artistic AND business goals?
I remember when streaming first became a thing, and I sat and heard conference panels telling artists to sign up because it was the way of the future, and that streaming would increase digital and physical sales, and more people would come to the shows. Well, it doesn't seem to be working as good as it sounded back then.
I try to avoid complaining or talking about it because I guess I just want to invest any energy I do have in moving forward. But it's important to speak up, and if anything, some people might choose to BUY music rather than STREAM, even occasionally, if they know how it helps artists and their teams.
This post was pretty hard to articulate, I still have mixed emotions/thoughs about it all. I should probably go write a song about it now.
A fan of ours asked us to share our thoughts on Danny Michel's recent post (see link below). We've known and loved Danny since touring with him on the Vinyl Cafe back in 2008. We're so proud of Danny for bravely addressing this difficult topic. Here are our thoughts (written by Sheila Carabine)
The Danny Michel article hits the nail on the head. The reality is, if you’re not at the top of the industry pyramid, you have to be touring full time in order to make a living exclusively from your music. Luckily, performing is the reason we got into music in the first place - that’s where the magic happens. However, if you want to have any semblance of a life at home, you need to find alternative ways to supplement your earnings, often with non-artistic work, or rely on a partner / your family to help you out. Essentially, as soon as the tour van comes to a halt, so does the majority of your musical income. It’s just the new reality.
Amanda and I have scaled back our touring schedule significantly in the last few years, for various reasons, so we both now find ourselves pursuing side jobs. While it means that we aren’t doing the thing we love most of all 24-hours a day, it has also afforded us new experiences in different industries. It has stretched us personally and professionally - Amanda has taught herself video editing, web design, furniture upholstery and how to do PR for other artists. I got my Masters in English, worked for the provincial government for a time, and currently work at a law firm.
The dream of course would be to live and breathe as musicians day in day out, but each artist is faced with decisions that only they know the answers to: How much do I want to be away from home? How often do I want to be recording and releasing new music? Do I crowdfund for my next album, or do I take the risk and invest in it personally? How many detailed grant applications am I willing to fill out? Can I afford to hire a band? Will I ever be able to retire, will I even want to? Do I have to give up dairy?
As Danny says, we’re not asking for sympathy. To sing and create and connect with others is the greatest gift and one of the most meaningful ways to spend your time here on earth. I think we've just arrived at a place of reckoning, with ourselves as artists, and with the current structure of the industry. And Danny’s post begs the most critical question of all: if the artist isn’t getting the bulk of the earnings generated from their streams and downloads, then who is? In other words, why is the industry outperforming the music?
Earlier today my friend Danny Michel wrote a great piece about the music industry's present business model (streaming, downloads, etc...) and it's been getting a lot of attention. Why? Because he said what a LOT of longtime professional, successful musicians are thinking, but might not want to admit. Despite all your success and years of hard work, it's tougher than ever to survive as an artist.
This unprecedented decline in record sales comes back around and shrinks budgets for making records. This affects not only musicians but recording studios, producers, engineers, mixers, writers, session musicians... everyone they collaborate with to make a record.
So why am I writing this? I don’t earn a living making or recording music... But everyone I photograph does.
As a photographer who has specialized in rock & roll photography for over 25 years, and who's enjoyed much success and had unimaginable opportunities and pinch-me moments, I'm here to say that it ain't getting any easier.
Let me break it down for you with some simple math. Last year a friend of mine asked me to quote on shooting their album cover and publicity photos. I presented them with a number that was quite reasonable based on past work we'd done together. Their reply? “That's more than half what it cost to make the record!”.
What they could offer me based on the overall budget was 90% less than what I pitched. There's almost always room to negotiate, but this didn’t make sense. And the realization that this could become the new norm, sucked.
Why am I sharing this? It's been my experience that a lot of photographers in the music / entertainment industry are very reluctant to share the details of their business. I should know, because I'm one of them. We are a very guarded bunch.
So if you're a music photographer and you've noticed certain clients aren't able to offer you as much as they used to, and you ask yourself “Is it just me?” No! It's not just you. Things are changing.
Look, I love my job and will keep doing it until it stops making sense. Who am I kidding... it's never made sense and I'm still here.
I just want to acknowledge and stand up for all my talented professional musician friends, and say it's not just you. Through creative discussion, we'll figure it out and keep making beautiful things for the world to enjoy.
Danny Michel, thanks for inspiring me to let my guard down just a little bit and share this.
- Dustin Rabin
PS – Danny pointed out in his essay that he is not scolding people for using music streaming services or asking them to stop using them. “I don't know what the answer is”, he said.
Dude, you're not the only one. But I'm glad we're talking about it.
Murray’s response to MusicCanada’s response on Metro Morningo Here
”Infuriating interview on CBC just now, in response to the great post by Danny Michel last week. Matt Galloway interviewed Amy Terrill (who works for Music Canada) about how to stop professional musicians from going bankrupt and leaving the industry. I know Amy, I like Amy, and she and Music Canada do great work in helping the music industry in many ways...but Music Canada is literally funded by the major labels in Canada to protect and promote the interests of the major labels. Asking a spokesperson for the major labels to talk about how to get more money to musicians is like asking a fox why so many chickens keep disappearing every night. Here's how streaming works: Spotify and services like it collect a huge amount of money from the public, and they pay a big chunk of that to the organizations that own the copyright of the music: the major labels. The major labels then DECIDE how much they are going to pay artists, and that amount is immorally small. Remember all that talk a few years ago about major labels going out of business? You don't hear that anymore, because they're making huge profits from music streaming and not paying musicians their fair share of it. The major labels could decide tomorrow to give musicians a fair chunk of their streaming revenue...but they never will. It's true (as Amy said) that YouTube pays even less per stream than the labels do, but to paint YouTube as the villain in this scenario is a classic misdirection on the part of Amy/Music Canada/the major labels. That's why Amy stammered when Matt asked her how to get more Spotify revenue to musicians - the right answer is, "We need to legally force the major labels to pay musicians more per stream," but Amy can't say that because of the name on the bottom of her paycheque. And the solution she proposed - "We need to get more people paying for Spotify, not using it for free" - won't help musicians at all, but will fatten the coffers of her bosses, the major labels. Like I said, Music Canada has done some great work for the music industry, but on this issue - the one that matters most for working musicians - they throw musicians under the bus over and over again, because that's what they're paid to do. And that's why I'm so pissed that a Music Canada employee was chosen to advocate for musicians on CBC Radio”