Which Music Streaming Service Is the Most Ethical?

Which Music Streaming Service Is the Most Ethical?
Photo: Tada Images, Shutterstock

Following months of controversy surrounding Spotify’s business partnership with Joe Rogan, artists including Neil Young, India Arie, and Crosby, Stills and Nash are pulling their music from Spotify’s library, and users are migrating to other platforms. This exodus raises an important question: If you want to move to a more ethical platform, which platform should you move to?

There are plenty of viable alternatives to Spotify with similar features and song libraries, but while services like Apple Music, Amazon, and YouTube Music might not actively support comedians known for saying racist things and spreading COVID misinformation, most music distribution platforms screw over the artists.

If you’re making the move from Spotify on moral grounds, one could argue the only “ethical” way to decide where you take your money is to find a service that pays musicians fairly (or at least more than Spotify does).

To that end, let’s go over how much money artists make on the biggest music streaming and purchasing platforms out there, including average royalty rates per song stream, revenue splits for album and merch purchases, and even ad partnership payouts and other monetisation options where applicable.

Note that these are estimations based on the most recent payouts averages we could find. These figures fluctuate, and some artists will have a higher or lower payout depending on factors like listener/buyer location, the length of the song, fees and taxes, and more.

How much do artists make on Amazon Music and Amazon Prime?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.004
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 250
  • Other monetisation options: Amazon also sells digital music, which is always a better option for supporting musicians since they get a higher cut of the revenue, even after Amazon’s 27% cut of the purchase. That means every $US0.99 ($1.38) song bought on Amazon earns the musician roughly $US0.73 ($1.02). To put that in perspective, it would take 183 streams to earn the same amount as a single purchase.

How much do artists make on Apple Music?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.007
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 143
  • Other monetisation options: It’s worth noting Apple Music also cuts musicians an ad-revenue bonus, but this is usually just a few cents at most.

How much do artists make on Bandcamp?

  • Average revenue per stream: Bandcamp doesn’t pay its musicians for streaming, but there’s a catch: Users can only stream songs and albums for free a few times before they’re forced to pay. Once they buy the songs, they’re free to stream them on the website, mobile app, or download them DRM free and upload elsewhere
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: N/A
  • Other monetisation options: Musicians can sell digital tracks, albums, and physical merch like shirts, vinyl, and CDs on Bandcamp. The company takes between 10-15% commission depending on the type of sale. So, for example, a $US1 ($1.39) song earns the artist $US0.85 ($1.18) per purchase, and about $US8.20 ($11.42) for a $US12 ($17) CD. You can also tip artists a little extra at checkout if you feel inclined.

How much do artists make on Deezer?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.003
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 333
  • Other monetisation options: Deezer subscribers can opt to give their monthly payment directly to artists on the platform. Deezer takes a cut, of course, but this gives audiences a way to directly support their favourite musicians.

How much do artists make on iHeartRadio?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.017
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 59
  • Other monetisation options: Artists on iHeartRadio also get a share of the company’s ad revenue. However, much like Apple Music, this is a minuscule bonus for the average artist using the platform.

How much do artists make on Napster?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US.019 per stream
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 53
  • Other monetisation options: N/A.

How much do artists make on Pandora?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.00133
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 752
  • Other monetisation options: N/A

How much do artists make on Soundcloud?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.003
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 305
  • Other monetisation options: N/A

How much do artists make on Spotify?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US.004
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 229
  • Other monetisation options: N/A

How much do artists make on Tidal?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.0125 per stream
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 80
  • Other monetisation options: N/A

How much do artists make on YouTube and YouTube Music?

  • Average revenue per stream: $US0.008 per stream on YouTube Music app or website; $US0.00164 per view on the YouTube video app or YouTube.com.
  • Approximate number of streams per $1 earned: 125 on YouTube Music website or app; 610 views on Youtube (on artist’s channel).
  • Other monetisation options: In addition to paying artists for streams and views on the content they upload, YouTube also pays roughly $US0.0007 per stream/view on videos from other channels that use their music. This requires YouTube’s Content ID algorithm to match the copyrighted work, or the song’s rights holder to file a claim on a monetized video using the artist’s song, but it ensures that artists are at least marginally compensated when someone else uses their work. It would take about 1500 clicks from Content ID-match streams to earn $US1 ($1.39).

Which streaming platform is best for artists?

Based on the business models outlined above, buying music through Bandcamp is by far the best way to support musicians. Bandcamp isn’t great for users looking for a subscription-based streaming model, but musicians earn more money per sale and have far more freedom on the platform than on the streaming giants, which might make it the most ethical music service on this list (depending on how you define your ethics, obviously). The next-best option is to buy your music through Amazon — but we wouldn’t recommend streaming through Amazon if you’re worried about how much money bands are making.

Frankly, streaming is a poor way to support your favourite musicians, but if you’re dead set on listening to your music this way, Napster’s pay rate per stream is the highest of any music streaming service at the time or writing. Artists on the platform earn more money per stream than anywhere else — ironic, given the company began as one of the biggest sources of music piracy a couple decades ago.

iHeartRadio has the second highest per-stream payment rate, and even though the ad bonuses are small, those few extra cents make it one of the best streaming services out there in terms of artists compensation.

Then there’s Deezer, which has lower streaming revenue than other services, but the option to give artists a portion of your monthly subscription means they don’t have to rely on streaming alone to make money.

The catch is that Napster, iHeartRadio, and Deezer have less music and fewer users than Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, or YouTube Music. This is why most users focus on these big four streaming services — but from an ethical standpoint, the big four are the most exploitative.

If you absolutely must use one of the major streaming service, Apple Music is probably the “best.” Apple Music has the highest pay rates per stream of the big music streaming services, but not by much. And while kicking artists a chunk of the ad revenue pie is nice, only the most popular acts will see an appreciable cut.

Make no mistake: Pretty much all music distribution platforms should pay musicians more for streaming, but the point here is to showcase which services pay artists more in general, and hopefully help you find better ways to monetarily support your favourite bands.

Comments

  • To be even more ethical – buy the bulk of your music on Bandcamp Friday.
    On the first Friday of each month Bandcamp’s revenue share goes to the artist – which ends up about 93% of the total price (isitbandcampfriday.com).

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