Streaming vs. Selling

Korie Burton | Middle Tennessee State University

Let’s face it. The majority of people out there listening to music these days are probably streaming it through a service such as Apple Music or Spotify. In 2020, it’s just not as common as it was even 10 years ago to buy music. While streaming makes it easier and cheaper for the average person to listen to music, it also makes it harder for the artist and especially hard for the non-artist songwriter.

Let’s take a look at some numbers…..

In 2008, if you went to buy a .99 cent song on iTunes, the owner of the sound recording (most likely a record label) would get the biggest chunk, Apple would take a piece, and the rest of the money would be split between the artist and the songwriter. Nowadays, the money is still split up in a similar way, but it takes WAY more streams to make the equivalent of a single .99 cent download (U.S. Music Streaming Royalties Explained [PDF]).

Let’s say the mechanical royalties (which go to the songwriters) are 6.75 cents for a .99 cent download. If you are the only songwriter, then every time a song sells, you make 6.75 cents. If you co-wrote the song with anyone, you would get your set percentage of the 6.75 cents. This number would add up very quickly if you had a big song with lots of sales!

Now…. if your song is being streamed, it would take approximately 75 streams on Apple Music for the label, publisher, and mechanicals COMBINED to equal .99 cents. Not to mention that Apple Music also takes a percentage of that revenue… (U.S. Music Streaming Royalties Explained [PDF]).

So, let’s do some math…
6.75 cents / 75 streams = 0.09 cents per stream

That’s less than a PENNY every time your song is streamed, and that’s only if you wrote it alone! If you co-write a song, and you get 50% of the mechanicals…

6.75 cents / 50% = 3.375 cents /75 streams = 0.045 cents per stream

The more writers on a song, the smaller and smaller the revenue gets per stream. Not to mention that these numbers are BEFORE Apple takes their portion of the cut.

Now, I’m sure we all can tell that this is unfair, but what if I told you that Apple Music actually pays out MORE than Spotify, Pandora or YouTube?

Yep. It may take 75 streams to equal $1 of revenue on Apple Music, but it takes substantially more on any other streaming service. Take a look….

**This image comes from an internet graphic at To learn more about how money is split or to get a visual representation of what I discussed in this blog post, click here for the full Manatt graphic. (U.S. Music Streaming Royalties Explained [PDF])

Although streaming is a lot less than selling, there are people fighting everyday to change the way that songwriters are being paid.

Regardless, write, write, write! Your music can make an impact on the world. Hope this helps!