Let me tell you a little secret… the reason you’re not seeing streaming revenue is because no one is discovering your recordings.
Every so often, I get contacted by an artist claiming that someone is stealing their music. And this complaint comes in many varieties: “Someone is posting my music on YouTube and I never gave anyone permission to do so” or “My music is up on streaming sites that I never gave my distributor permission for” or “I know my music is getting streamed, but I’m not seeing any streaming revenues.”
I get it. You’ve been working hard on your music. You spent your money on recordings. You think your music is amazing and you excitedly rushed through the distribution sign-up process and now it’s out there. And you’re not seeing streaming revenues, so somebody must be stealing your royalties, right? I mean, it’s just not possible that no one is discovering your music, is it?
Creating demand for your music
Demand for your music is not created by Spotify or Apple Music or by YouTube. It is created by you, and if you haven’t been hustling, making great music for years, performing live, and spending money on promotion to build a fan base, your new song may be on Spotify, but it’s just one unknown new song amid 80 million songs. How’s it going to get found?
Nowadays, play counts on YouTube and Spotify and the like are publicly viewable. If you put your own music out there and there are lots of verified streams and you’re not getting paid, then you may have some kind of claim. But if there are no streams, that’s not Spotify’s fault or the fault of CD Baby or Distrokid or whoever your distributor is. You’re just not getting streams. And you haven’t worked hard enough or smart enough to drive that fan loyalty.
What’s in it for the thief?
If you’re an unknown artist with a limited fan base and not many streams, why would anyone be interested in stealing your music? There’s no money to be made on music from an unknown artist who has not built a fan following. If some crook is trying to steal someone’s music, you’d think it would be Drake’s or Metallica’s or Billy Eilish’s, right?
And why would your music show up on streaming sites that you didn’t give approval for? Most distributors allow you to opt in to be distributed to all streaming platforms, and that’s probably the box you checked when you signed up, which puts your music on over a hundred streaming sites worldwide, most of whom none of us have ever heard of.
And that’s a good thing. The more places you’re in, the more of a chance you have for your music to get streamed.
Now, if you see that there actually are lots of streams and you haven’t been paid or they don’t show up in your distributor’s dashboard, remember that most streaming sites only report their streaming data once a quarter. And then, it may take a bit of time for all that data and the accompanying royalty payments to show up in your distributor’s dashboard.
So, if you recently started seeing some significant streams happen, just hang tight. The data will show up eventually.
Now, what about your music being on YouTube without your permission? Yes, that can happen. In fact, YouTube’s business model is based on this. It’s called UGC or user generated content. And you want people to put your music up there — you should encourage your fans to use your music in their videos, because if those videos get streams and they monetize, you get paid, as long as you’ve registered with YouTube’s Content ID system so YouTube can recognize when your music is played.
It’s all out in the open
One of my challenges with people claiming that someone — or everyone — is stealing their music, is that it relies on a certain level of paranoia or self-delusion. In the past, record labels have earned a really bad reputation for stealing from artists, under-reporting royalties, or just straight-up not paying.
But today, with much greater royalty transparency due to streaming, the record labels are basically pretty honest. I heard a music lawyer once say that, in this day and age, record labels will spell out in their contracts exactly how they’re going to steal from you. And it’s your choice whether to sign that contract or not.
And let’s talk about your digital distributor for a second. Again, that same streaming transparency applies to them, as well. I know the owners and the managers of CD Baby and Distrokid and many other distributors. They’re all honest folk trying to do the right thing for artists. Their royalty reporting is just a straight-up import of what the streaming companies provide them. They pay when they tell you that they’re going to pay. And trust me, they’re not stealing from you.
Streaming revenue reality check
So chill. Your music is not being stolen. What you’re seeing out there, on YouTube, Spotify, or your CD Baby dashboard, is the result of decisions you made and actions you took or did not take. Your streams — or lack thereof — are the result of the work that you have put into your recording career or did not put in.
So next time you worry about your streams, your payments, or your lack thereof, take a good look in the mirror. You are responsible for all the results that you are seeing.
Now go out there and get ‘em.
Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.
Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.
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