spotify revenues, ideas about

There has bspotify-genericeen a lot of press about Spotify lately. More specifically about what Spotify pays to artists (or doesn’t). Taylor Swift pulled her album from the music service and some others preceded her or followed suit. I often hear from musician friends of mine, that they receive mere cents for a couple of thousand plays. And if that was their sole revenue, they would have to quit making music professionally.

Now, I compared Spotify to what artists receive in royalties when played on terrestrial radio, and that compares quite favorably. Radio stations royalty payouts are quite complicated, and depend on a lot of factors. But divided by number of listeners the revenue for the artist per track, of she is also the composer or text author is less than a thousandth of a cent.

When you feel that Spotify competes with album sales, their payout seems frivolous.

So what is Spotify? Does it sell music? Or is it a radio station of sorts. The answer is: Neither! It’s something new. Spotify customers often play specific tracks or specific artists. This is an important distinction to a traditional radio station, because people discover less music on Spotify compared to listening consciously to a good radio station.

“But nobody consciously listens to radio”, I hear you say. Hot adult contemporary and other formats have made pretty sure about that. So maybe Spotify is better, in that it really helps people discover new music? Could be!

It certainly doesn’t sell music. Even if you use the offline feature music gets stored in a container, and the minute you stop subscribing, you lose access to the music that is stored on your computer!

So how much should artist get paid for a service like that?

One way to calculate that would be:

  • Take average album price (say 15€)
  • Divide by number of tracks (let’s say 15)
  • Divide by times listened to a song on average

The last point is tricky. How many times does the average consumer listen to the average track on the average CD? Certainly, a 14 year old, infatuated with her new boy superstar will listen to his hit a couple of thousand times. While lesser, so called “album tracks”, get probably skipped after 10 secs for 3-4 times.

But let’s develop 3 scenarios:

  1. afficionado = 200 listens per track
  2. regular guy = 70 listens per track
  3. indifferent = 10 listens per track

So here would be our payouts:

  1. 0,5 cent per play
  2. 1,4 cent per play
  3. 10 cent per play

Here is what spotify does pay: Between 0.6 and $0.84 cents per play. (link here, skip to: “Wait I thought…”) I’d say we’re pretty much in the ballpark for the afficionado scenario, which in my view models the listening behaviour for the average spotify user (young) pretty well.

So do artists make less money then when selling albums? Yes! Because with an album you sell a whole block of tracks in one transaction, and you get all the plays paid up front.

In my opinion artists should stop making albums. That’s just a thing of the past, when physical mediums necessitated this format. With the exception of very few artists, mostly an album is just a bunch of tracks nowadays. Producing only those that an artists finds really promising would reduce his production cost (although not in a linear fashion. producing one track doesn’t cost a fifteenth of an album). At the same time this allows artists to fully concentrate on their strongest tracks. But that is a different topic for a different post.

For now, I’m pretty surprised that Spotify seems to pay as much as I thought made sense it should.


mixing basics, collection of

mixingI’ve been mixing music, film and shows for 14 odd years now, and learned a lot during this time. Recently I’ve been thinking about the basics of mixing. The “how” to mix, and I want to share what I found with you here on my blog.

The most important aspect of mixing is setting levels. For me this is where good can start and end. Have your levels wrong? Your mix will suck, no matter how great the individual sounds are, no matter how much time you spent agonizing over the low end content of your Kick.

So how do you set levels? This was something that vexed me. Nobody seemed to be able to give an answer.

Some engineers pushed the faders up very slowly, 1db more, listen, 1db more, listen. Others threw the faders up, wiggled a bit, and tore them back down if they didn’t like what they heard.

I think the slow approach is great for getting a feel of how the mix changes with a given signal (especially lead vocals). The second approach is very instinctual and makes for bold mixes. Good.

But what do you listen to, when listening while setting levels?

And here is where I found a gem: I used to listen to the signal on the fader I was pushing. “Where’s the bass at, can I hear it, does it sound good?” Then I switched, and that changed the mixes for the better.

When pushing up a fader, I listen to the rest of the mix, most importantly to a signal that gets directly affected by the one I’m pushing.

Let’s say I’m adjusting Bass level. Then I would listen to the Kick, and the Lead Vocals. Is there a level where the Kick sounds better because of the Bass? Usually yes! Is there a level where the whole mix sounds louder or softer? Yes, again!

Now, let’s say I bring up the Guitars. When does the Vocal suffer? I go slightly below that. Now those guitars might sound a bit tame, if it’s a rock song. Then I reach for EQ, and do the same:

I scoop out some mids, let’s say I start at 1,5 kHz. And then I move the frequency, while listening to the Lead Vocal. Is there a frequency where the Lead pops out better? Usually, yes, again! (Warning for plug in users: don’t look at the screen, look away, just listen, you’ll be surprised!)

Great! I push the guitars up, now that I have more space.

Now, let’s say, I have a synth layer that I want to use to create space. At what level does the mix sound most spacious? Can I even hear the synth directly? Probably not!

This brings up another important truth about mixing (and life, hehe): Things come in opposites. For some things to be loud, others have to be soft. A phat mix usally has just one or two sparse signals that have bass; the mix is still pretty flat, frequency wise. The human ear adapts very quickly and adjusts frequency content to “normal”, so if every second signal has a lot of bass, the mix will actually sound flat, muddy, and not phat at all.

So, to sum things up: When mixing, listen to what you’re NOT doing at the moment. Nobody is ever going to hear anything in Solo out there. And everything affects everything else. So account for that.

Comments more than welcome.