Caught between Spotify and a hard place.

Spotify artists are caught between a rock and a hard place

Spotify artists are caught between a rock and a hard place


There’s been much talk in recent months about various high profile acts withdrawing their music from Spotify’s streaming service in protest at the ridiculously low payout per stream they are making to the artist. The latest to pull the plug was Taylor Swift, citing that streaming services failed to value her art.  Earlier in the week,  Spotify announced that Ed Sheeran was their top streaming artist of 2014, with a mind boggling 860 million streams.    His latest album ‘x’ was played 430million times.  Sounds amazing doesn’t it, until you learn that he’s ‘only’ actually sold 700,000 copies over the same period.  For comparison, back in 1997, ‘Be Here Now’ by Oasis sold 763,000 copies just in the first week of release alone.  In 2014 not a single album has gone near the 1,000,000 platinum sales mark.

Ed’s record company are probably wondering why only 0.2% of the audience that listened for free on Spotify, actually bought the album, one of the biggest selling albums of the year from one of the UK’s highest profile acts.  This is ridiculously disturbing for anyone concerned with making and selling music, and surely is statistical proof that album sales are effectively dead, certainly in terms of percentage of music consumers.

This grim reading prompted me to check my own figures.  Since 2013 I’ve released two Cosmograf albums – The Man Left in Space and Capacitor.    They’ve been streamed 266,000 times which using the 0.2% figure from Ed’s results comes up with an album sales figure that’s not a million miles from mine.  At the mind bogglingly derisory payout of $0.001 per stream, this has netted me $266.  This is about enough to buy me 1 day of commercial studio time at mates rates…

This is just Spotify, one streaming site.  If you add the countless others, Youtube, Rhapsody etc. etc.  The magic conversion to sales percentage is going to look more like  0.1% or lower.  This is before you even get into the issue of illegal downloads.  It’s not good, is it?

Yes, this is a really simple assessment and there are tons of holes in the analysis not least of which, it doesn’t tell you how many people went on to buy the album from the first stream or just bought the album anyway without streaming it, but the key thing here is that, whether you are a tiny independent musician or the UK’s best selling artist, the probability of selling your album over giving it away for free looks to be depressingly repeatable.  The question is, do we as musicians pull the plug and stop giving it away for free like Taylor Swift?, or do we accept that a tiny pot of money is better than no money at all…?   For the moment I’m siding with the latter.  I’d rather build an audience, and take everything Spotify and Youtube can give me in terms of exposure, in the hope that one day the model will change sufficiently to make it sustainable for all musicians…



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9 Responses to Caught between Spotify and a hard place.

  1. Mark Towers Friday 5th December 2014 at 23:50 #

    I agree that musicians should be recompensed for their work and creativity. I only found the music of Cosmograf through Spotify, but have since gone on to buy all the albums on CD. Without streaming services I may never have discovered this great music.

    • Cosmograf Sunday 7th December 2014 at 20:44 #

      Thanks Mark for your support, it’s good to hear that Spotify is working in introducing a new audience who are buying the albums.

    • Mark Selby Monday 8th December 2014 at 22:40 #

      Agree – just stumbled across Cosmograf today through a ‘radio’ link on Spotify and came to the web-site looking where to buy a download. I would be happy to pay more for Spotify if I knew it was going to the bands.

      • Cosmograf Monday 8th December 2014 at 23:11 #

        Hi Mark, this is great to hear, there is certainly hope and a better solution all the time people value the music like you obviously do. Thanks for your generous purchases too, muchly appreciated 🙂

  2. Douglas Beyer Kaucz Sunday 7th December 2014 at 02:18 #

    I wanted the Spotify had the option to purchase the album. It would be much easier for me to purchase the albums.

  3. Ben Bell Wednesday 17th December 2014 at 16:36 #

    As you say, it’s rock and a hard place stuff. The pretence that it is in anyway a meaningful revenue stream for anyone but Spotify’s shareholders and the major labels is at best dishonest. Spotify is about commoditizing music, not about selling it.

    I’ve tried shunning them in the past, but the way the music industry is you need to be heard in order to sell. When so many places are giving away (pretty much) mass scale, commodity music you can do little to compete against it. Whatever you do you’re drowned out unless you get lucky or have the funds to buy yourself a piece of the pie. Despite the early promise of digital distribution, it’s just ended up as another way for the big corporates to have the majority of artists over a barrel.

    The fundamental problem though is that this has happened because the majority of listeners actually _want_ commodity music. To be honest that’s fair enough. There is an illusion that every stream or illegal download is a lost sale, and it’s not true. For most listeners, if there had been a cost to playing your music, they would have played something else instead. Most people don’t really care that much.

    I do believe there is an audience out there who are willing to pay for the music each artist produces because it “speaks to them” in some way. What we as artists really need is a better way to find those few who really want to hear us and who value our music in particular, and who are willing to pay a premium for it even if they could find it for free. Amongst the crowds of those who would be happy listening to anything, we need to find those who really value us and make it feel worth their while to buy an album, buy tickets to a gig and, in a way, act as patrons helping to fun our future work because that’s the music they want to hear. Then the Spotify question becomes largely irrelevant.

    But I’m speaking as someone who doesn’t make their main income from selling my music, and the way things are currently going I feel sorry for those that are still trying to.

  4. Jan Ove Saturday 27th December 2014 at 18:28 #

    Hi, I know how difficult this is, but I just heard of your band today, in a 2014 best of list at I liked The Fear Created that there’s a YouTube link to, and searched Spotify for more. After listen to half the Capacitor album I bought the bundle with The Man Left In Space. I love it.

    I think/hope you sell more albums by having your music on different online streaming services. You’re in a genre where listeners still buy the physical format on cd/vinyl. But there’s so much music out there to explore, we need to listen to it before we buy and all the small local music stores who used to import this kind of music are gone, years ago…

  5. Eric Benoist Saturday 7th March 2015 at 18:44 #

    Found out today about Cosmograf on I-tunes. Bought The Man Left in Space and Capacitor. This is excellent music! White Car is stunningly beautiful. Have to say without Apple, I’d probably never have heard of you – so I guess, stay on there a little more 🙂 !

  6. Dave Wednesday 1st July 2015 at 02:52 #

    I discovered Cosmograf through Spotify, but because I’m out of physical storage space for CDs AND I refuse to buy lossy music, I purchased your albums from, downloaded as FLACs. So thanks for being brave and putting yourself out there. The music is majestic, and those of us who appreciate it deeply will always find a way to financially reward you for your hard work.

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