Hamilton band hits 500K plays on Spotify, makes half a cent per stream
Basement Revolver using streaming success more as a promotional tool, less a revenue stream
Hamilton indie rock band Basement Revolver has hit a major milestone on Spotify, soaring past 500,000 plays in just a few months on the streaming service with the song Johnny.
That's a major feat for a relatively new band on a small, independent label — but all those plays don't translate into a ton of cash. In fact, the band is waiting for a payout of around $2,000 to $3,000, which equals anywhere from $0.004 to $0.006 per stream.
That's less than pennies per play (a unit of currency so small we don't even use it anymore). Basement Revolver is an outlier based upon their recent success, but for many small bands, it's a negligible revenue stream.
Huge artists like Beck and Radiohead's Thom Yorke have denounced the relative pittance musicians make from streaming services, and there's been plenty of online discourse debating whether or not Spotify and Apple Music are ripping off artists.
Nobody can grease around record label lounges and hope for the deal that propels them into the stratosphere anymore.- Matthew Woolhouse, director of McMaster University's Digital Music Lab
But should streaming services even be measured as a revenue stream? Or should they be seen as a kind of discovery tool to help musicians garner more fans, and push them towards live shows and products that are more lucrative?
Basement Revolver vocalist and guitarist Chrisy Hurn told CBC News that her band is in no way sour over how much they're being paid. "It does pay off — if not financially, then in other ways," she said.
"I will always probably be in favour of artists getting more money, but it's dangerous if your art just becomes about that."
The band credits "getting on to some really great playlists" for its online success. Now, Hurn says, the trick is getting those people in the door at shows, to make money on the ticket sales and on more lucrative merchandise like apparel or vinyl.
Matthew Woolhouse, the director of McMaster University's Digital Music Lab, says that approach makes the most sense for a band in 2017.
"They know that the money they make is going to be through value-added merchandise, and doing gigs," Woolhouse said. "They're not going to make a living from a streaming service, they're going to make it out on the road.
"Nobody can grease around record label lounges and hope for the deal that propels them into the stratosphere anymore."
It can be stark seeing just how little bands actually make from online streams, but Hurn says the cash is still being put to good use. Basement Revolver is in the midst of working on a full-length album right now, and the cash they've made on Spotify will go towards covering those costs.
In some ways, the industry has been turned on its head, Woolhouse says. While a physical representation of your music was once a primary source of income, now it is used to draw people to other ways for a band to make money.
"The degree to which bands can be discovered is completely changing," he said. "The industry is being totally turned upside down."
Woolhouse says the top-down, "radio station gatekeeper of culture" is a thing of the past. Though, getting placement on the right online streams is integral to success, so there are still some gatekeepers, no matter what.
For her part, Hurn is just happy that people are interested in the music her band makes.
"We just started for fun, and the need to make things," she said. "And even if it's just pennies per play, it's still better than nothing."