Spotify pay shit money row. Guardian article makes bizarre claims about musicians earnings

Spotify pay shit money row- Guardian article makes bizarre claims about musicians earnings.

Thom Yorke and Nigel Goodrich started it all by pulling the Atoms For Peace album off Spotify because of the shitty royalty rates paid to smaller bands by the big company.

And it’s true, the Spotify royalty rates are so laughable that most musicians don’t even look at them.

For the fan, of course, it’s a great service- but it’s just another hurdle a musician has to clamber over whilst attempting to survive in the increasingly infested sea of sharks that’s out there.

The old school model of the cigar chomping crook has been replaced by the shiny digital thief like the pirates, grinning as they make money and telling you that they are doing you a favour- Spotify is the respectable end of this bleeping new world.

Thom Yorke has certainly sparked debate again- that endless debate about how poorly paid musicians are in the digital era- a time when playing in a band is fast becoming a rich kids hobby.

There was an article on the Guardian website today about how musicians get paid that seemed quite naive- so naive that we have decided to answer some of their basic points. Also we hope their writer got paid more than what a band gets paid by Spotify for their labours! (Guardian piece in italics).

Spotify is not the world, yet the hair-pulling and foot-stamping on both sides that always accompanies these royalties debates often forgets that. So where else do artists make money? Here are some ballpark figures:

CDs and downloads: Depending on the dealer price and if they are recouped (ie have paid back the initial label investment), it could be anywhere between £1.02 and £1.44 for a CD album sale (and 80p in mechanical royalties for the songwriters) or between 10p and 14p for a download (8p for the songwriters).

That’s all well and good in an ideal world but someone has to pay to make the things and there is also the studio and rehearsal cost- (and boring real life stuff like food and rent and often having to split the money up 4/5 ways…). It quickly seems that this article is written from the perspective of someone who thinks Robbie Williams is the average musician- even a big cult band makes very little from CD sales these days- they are also much harder to distribute with shops going bust, people buying a lot less of them and people being able to get the music for free off the internet.

Radio: A play for a three-minute song on Radio 2 generates £59.73 (collected by PRS for Music) for the songwriters, and a similar figure (collected by PPL) is split between the label and the performing artists.

That would be great but radio is very limited in what it plays. Radio one and two will pay good royalty rates but they play a very narrow band of songs over and over and that’s mainly pop which is a tiny percentage of music that is ever made. Evening radio plays slightly more music but it pays far less royalty rates. 6music pays far less as well and also plays a quite narrow band of music- mainly the polished end of indie and hip indie music and certainly no rock music- so rock bands have little chance of making much radio royalties…

Live: Private gigs can range from £75,000 for an act with a few hits to £2m for superstars. One UK DJ is estimated to have made $300,000 (£200,000) per show in Las Vegas last year.

Maybe this writer could work as an agent! Hardly any bands get £75 000 per gig! – even with a few hits! Classic bands with a bunch of hits get about £10/15 000 and more for festivals- well known circuit bands are likely to be getting two or three grand tops and that’s still very few musicians- then there are the costs- travel, crew, accommodation and visas (up to £5000 to get a British band into the USA these days and months of messing around to get the visas which is also costly).

Use in a TV show or film: Background music on EastEnders, say, falls under the broadcaster’s blanket licence and would cost a few hundred pounds. If used as a theme tune to a show, it could generate £40,000 split between the act and label (with a similar fee for publishing).

How many people actually get this? It’s like winning the FA cup getting music onto an ad or a TV show- I can’t even believe this is even listed as some sort of common earning for a musician.

Use in a Hollywood movie: Up to £100,000 just for the recording (again, likely to be shared with the label).

This is now really starting to take the piss…

Use in an ad: Between £300,000 and £400,000 would not be uncommon for the rights to the original recording for a defined campaign period, possibly doubling if its use is exclusive.

Very, very rare and nowhere near as much money…

Endorsements: For anything from clothing brands and jewellery to energy drinks, upwards of £400,000 a product.

Yes, if you are Jay Z, usually the occasional free shoes for anyone else.

Maybe the article was written as a joke – a parody on out of touch journalism, because whoever wrote it does not live in the real world and seems so out of touch with reality that it’s unintentionally laughable.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I’m involved in the live end of the business and your claims regarding fees for shows are even more bizarre than the Guardian.

    • In what way? your average handfull of hits classic band with good live following with get 10/15 000 per gig…a new band on the up will be aiming for that, an average circuit band with small cult following 500/1000 per gig…support bands still get 50 quid after all these years…this is no exact science and the fee really varies but these are the ball park figures. Most bands will play a gig and then drive back home after because 2 day van hire will put them into loss- that’s the economics of rock n roll- no-one is complaining- it’s tough out there but no-one wants to see articles with the fees quoted as being 75 grand! the Guardian piece gives the impression that bands are loaded when it’s much, much tougher than that!

  2. Yup as a spotify subscriber I love it from a punter’s point of view, but… take the current Bowie album for example – I didn’t expect to like it, but it was on the front page of Spotify when I booted up my PC to start work so I thought “what the heck” hit play and found that I actually enjoyed it. In day’s of old, having discovered an album that I liked I’d have bought it – but when you don’t have a lot of money it’s hard to push yourself to go on Amazon and pay ~£8 for an album I can listen to on my PC, Sonos or Phone anytime I like (assuming Bowie doesn’t join the ranks of people leaving the platform) which with miniscule rates being paid to artists isn’t good.

    • agreed- it’s great for punters and people will sometimes go and buy the album afterwards- I use it myself! it can’t be denied though, that it’s eating into record sales and making life tough for the smaller labels…

  3. Spotify is seen by many small artsist/labels a simply a way of people discovering new music, not a revenue stream. at $0.0045 a play or whatever its miniscule. If Spotify did pay out a decent amount per stream a whole army of peeps pressing play continiously from different IP addresses, scripts and bots would spring up overnight.


    Google = the pirate bay, as regards people downloading music for free. they could easily tweek their algorhythm to exclude pirated music showing up but fail to do so. Googles original manifesto, don’t be evil, thats a joke. also napster founder sean parker, had a wedding recently for milliosn dressed as star trek geeks. the man responsible for decimating a whole generation of musicians.

  5. i agree completely. it seems that the mainstream “artists” that we really dont need to hear are the ones reaping all the rewards. one thing i dont agree with is “6music play a narrow range of music”… compare it to any other mainstream station and its unbeatable in terms of diversity. where else would you hear The Fall alongside Chic?

    • i love 6music but I’m talking about heavier music- like rock, metal, punk, goth etc etc- massively popular genres that got very little radio play and very little royalties therefore the argument that bands can earn off radio royalties is negated…

  6. Kind of typical of The Guardian, their writers clearly live in an Islington-centric bubble where the tiny amount of musicians they rub shoulders with do make that sort of money, but it’s quite a laughable take on the real state of affairs.
    I guess it’s what you come to expect of the 1%’s thought process.
    Why does anyone even read what that rag have to say about music now anyway? It’s simply The Mail for Bjork fans.

  7. Hello. I wrote the piece. Thanks for your comments.

    I think it’s only fair to reply to your comments (note also that there was a word limit of 400 words and so every subtlety and variation could not be covered; not that I want to make excuses but I think you need to understand the broader context of the piece which was commissioned for the print edition).

    The piece was designed to show what *could* be made – not what *everyone* makes. That perhaps could have been been made explicit in the piece but note the point above about word count.

    Re: CDs and downloads. Note I say that this is what they get *after* they recoup. That negates your points about manufacturing etc.

    Re: Radio 2: it was picked as it is the biggest radio station in the UK so will pay the most. Niche stations will play more music but pay less. I mention a specific radio station and it was, as such, not supposed to be taken as a universal rate. I say “Radio 2” not “all radio”. p.s. Radio 2 plays a lot broader music than you give it credit for. It still could play more but I would argue is nowhere near as narrow as you say it is. But that’s another debate for another day.

    Re: gigs: note that I say *private* gigs, not all gigs. A band playing in a pub *might* make a bigger profit than a stadium band who have enormous overheads and may lose money on gigs. There are no reliable figures on what anyone makes from playing live. I picked private gigs as they might only be applicable to certain acts but at least there is a guaranteed rate.

    Use in a TV show: of *course* not everyone will get one of these slots. It’s TV. The opportunities are narrow. But they do exist. So this was to illustrate what *could* be made if you were lucky enough.

    The same goes for Hollywood movies and TV ads. Note I say “would not be uncommon”. That is very different from saying “is across the board and universal”.

    The final point about endorsement deals: again, like TV slots, they are rare but the subtext is that you have to be of a certain size to be in the running for one. A brand new band that has only played three gigs is not going to get an energy drink endorsement deal.

    If I had been given 4,000 words, there would have been space to look at what everyone earns – from Robbie Williams down to some bunch of 18-year-olds playing their local pub and everyone in between.

    The piece was only ever intended to cover what *could* be made, not what is made by everyone. There were enough pointers to suggest that this was the case. Maybe it was not made as explicit as it could be but at no point do I suggest that these rates are applicable to everyone. They are upper end figures. They should be approached as such.

    Thank you.


    • Eamonn, your whole four hundred word article is irrelevant. Nobody is doubting what *could* be made by major artists. Nobody is arguing that acts like Jay Z, or Radiohead, for that matter, aren’t raking it in. The whole *controversy* was caused through Thom Yorke ad Nigel Goodrich making a stand (and brining attention) to the fact that big time business is muscling in on the music industry in a different way than it has before. I don’t care how much cash they skin off the bigger artists, but I do object when they’re stealing food from the lesser acts’ tables. In previous formats an embryonic band could at least have a chance of recouping some of the money spent on recording and manufacture of CDs, etc. Even the couple of quid through downloads helped.

      The system is set up nicely for industry manufactured, big money-marketed brain mush to be sold to a corporately blinkered public.

      I wish you’d used your precious privilege, commanding four hundred words in a major publication, to try and help and further the grass roots cause. Instead we get a “stop whinging and suck it up” piece.

      Ah well, fits in nicely with the current political climate, I suppose.


    • Thanks for your reply. I think the problem was that the piece feels like it’s saying that an average musician can make all these sums of money adding to the misconception that musicians are loaded and that it’s still easy money out there when the truth is the opposite.No musician is foolish enough to think they deserve to make a fortune but I think a dose of reality would have helped. Most people I know who play music are scraping a living at the best of times- maybe a follow up article on the reality of the musicians earnings would be interesting? an average cultish band will make 500/1000 per gig (subtract van hire, driver, petrol, maybe accommodation, ) they will make about 1/200 on merch, their albums will break even after a lot of work, they will not get played on the radio unless they can afford a plugger or play the right kind of music that fits into what is considered either pop or ‘alternative’ (rock bands have no chance of mainstream radio play), getting a TV ad i one in ten million chance and the same with getting a soundtrack…that’s the reality and we accept that but please don’t tell us that we are making big money- if only!

  8. What about the BBC and others commissioning sound-alike songs as theme tunes and jingles for it’s programmes? 5Live’s Fighting Talk had Beastie Boys’ Sabotage for years and now has a sound-alike tune for which band and label get nothing. See also Sigur Ros rip off tracks on TV Ads and the 99p shop’s in-store music (I don’t think the 99p store pay PRS as they seem to only play songs that sound like no singer I’ve ever heard. Smart price shit pop music not even real shit pop music.

  9. 6Music plays a lot more than polished Indie and hipster music. Mark Riley, Tom Ravenscroft, Huey, Craig Charles, Mary Anne hobbs to name just a few play a vast array for music. Lauren Laverne’s show does seem to only play what you refer to and is my least favourite show on the station.

    I download music for free and if i like it I sometimes buy it. I thought it was all about the live shows and merch sales anyways as the money making aspect for musicians and artists?

  10. Forde’s piece was clearly a response to Godrich and Yorke’s statements. To turn it into the unfocussed whine above over why being a rock musician isn’t a viable career choice is utterly disingenuous.

    Being a rock musician has never been a viable career choice. A lucky few make it; for most of us it’s an expensive hobby. Looking down your royalty statement and finding that there’s not enough for “food and rent” or to “split the money up 4/5 ways” is hardly something new. Many of us have been doing that for decades, and it’s always been down to one unarguable fact: not enough people are buying your music.

    That might be because your record company are shit, or your publisher is lazy, or that your band is simply piss-poor. But, do misquote Crass, do we owe you a living? Course we fucking don’t. You can’t roll back digital. It’s too fucking huge. If people aren’t using Spotify, they’ll be ripping it from YouTube or whatever. Quit whining and either a) enjoy making music for music’s sake, b) subvert the system and find ways of making it pay, or c) RETRAIN. Jesus.

  11. Quite an interesting article on the same topic looking it from another angle:

  12. Very few (VERY FEW) musicians make money, very few get to be musicians without having to hold down a day job. If you’re already a very successful musician (which is the type the Guardian article is written about) Spotify will simply make you more money. Spotify is a business, it is a capitalist business, it exists to make money for the people who own it not for the people who provide the content. It is, as such, just a microcosm of capitalist society and business, it rapes the many to provide for the few, (who already have money) It is just another tentacle of the music business which has always lived, like a leech, off the work of those who receive little for their labour of love. The only way round this is for someone like Thom Yorke to create a collective along the lines of the spotify model, by musicians for musicians, not for profit.
    The one thing musos are always guilty of in relation to the music business is laziness, they don’t want to deal with the business side of things. Until musicians band together to cut these greedy leeches out of the loop they will always struggle. Get savvy, get smart and create a life out of your music, not just give a small part of your life to some corporate business fart to fuck you over and live off your efforts whilst you have to go back to a day job after a couple of years.

  13. I have to say I agree with that last posted article. As I agree with Spotify not helping or even damaging sales and not giving a lot of money to the artists (Damon Krukowski said that already in as much detail as it can be given, so almost anything said now feels redundant), I think Spotify has a value that I’m not sure if a lot of musicians have come to grips with or have found ways to make an advantage of it.

    I go to a ridiculous amount of live shows and Spotify is a key element there. I get bombarded constantly by new artists and my way to decide if I go to a show or not is Spotify. I always know there’s something about that artist that I like because it’s what led me to think about going to their show in the first place, but I’m not going to spend my limited amount of time and money seeing an artist live based on a hunch. So I go on Spotify and check. That artist (or even their latest work, which they’ll probably play more of) is not on Spotify? Then I might not bother to check anymore and end up not going to the show. It’s there and I don’t like it? “Next!” It’s there and I like it? I will go to the show (money) and maybe buy merch (money) and records (money). Maybe tell my friends to go as well (money). Maybe get my friends who work in promotion to book them (more money).

    I think as much as we try and think about streams of revenue and how diverse the music industry is now and all that, we still consider records and the money artists make of them as the untouchable pinnacle and we make a massive fuss when we hear a company like Spotify doesn’t pay what we think is enough. Which, as John said, it’s a fair debate anyway. But in the years I’ve got my Spotify subscription I’ve put thousands of pounds into the music business thanks to it. Indirectly, but unquestionably thanks to it. So I think the debate, instead of being about how we can make Spotify go back to the old model and pay artists what we think is fair based on that, should be more focused on the move forward of having Spotify as the first link of other sources of revenue. Maybe an integration with concert listing sites like Songkick. Maybe Amazon or other retailers jumping in. Who knows… But clearly there’s a very positive side to Spotify that is being left out of this debate.

    On the other hand, I think it’s weird for a band like Radiohead (or at least Thom; we haven’t heard from the rest), who did what they did with “In Rainbows”, to come up with this. It’s a strangely timed rant considering most people should already be aware about the pros and cons of Spotify and the fact that quite a lot of bands don’t really make any money out of it and are still fine about it because they’re putting their money on the exposure rather than the royalties.

  14. The underlying problem is that the media isn’t interested in guitar music right now and rebellious rock n rock is out on a limb. That being said, the best stuff is always underground, or behind us, so decent bands have nothing to lose as they aren’t part of the circus. Media friendly ‘new music’ is invariably crap and who cares if they get ripped off by Spotify. Hopefully it will help contribute to the natural short lifecycle of the mediocre fad-band, as opposed to the tortuous flogging-a-dead-horse ritual we suffer as appalling acts like the Artic Monkeys enjoy a pro-longed, endless ressurectrion of a career as the media force feeds the cloth-eared hysterical confirmist masses Mac-indie-pop burgers. Blow up your telly, avoid new Glastonbury types like the plague, burn effigies of Mark Ronson. The Guardian out of touch? Apparently bears shit in the woods.

  15. If your getting into rock n’ roll with the expectation that it will make you wealthy then your naive and doing it for the wrong reasons. You get shafted in most walks of life so why would the music business be any different? Protect your interests, build your own audience, sell your own it yourself. Everything connected to the biz is about the shareholder, not the artist. Set your expectations accordingly and you won’t be disappointed.

  16. Musicians are a funny lot, can you imagine a painter freaking out if someone looked at their work for free?
    And they wish to be paid every time music is played even though theyare not physically playing it.
    And they seemingly wish to be paid forever for it.
    They are all just a whisker away from a busker.
    No one has to listen , they can just walk on by.
    It is only art after all.


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