The average music consumer doesn't particularly give a shit how much money artists make, they just want the music. And I can't particularly blame them. It's not like I spend a lot of time thinking about how much money architects make, I just walk into buildings.
But for those of us who care about music, and the people who make it, how to make enough money to at least pay your rent in the digital age is a daily topic, and that's why this new report from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) caught me eye when I first saw it on Pitchfork. In that report, they say that vinyl sales reached their highest levels since the late '80s last year, increased more than 30% and are bringing in approximately $416 million. Strikingly, the report also points out that's more revenue than was generated by streaming services, which they reported at $385 million. Those numbers prompted RIAA chairman and CEO Cary Sherman to harshly criticize "technology giants...enriching themselves at the expense of the people who actually create the music" in a statement on Medium.
Except....you knew there was an except coming, right?
First, when coming up with revenue generated by streaming services, the RIAA only factored in ad-supported streaming, not subscription payments. Considering Spotify alone has 30 million paid subscribers to go with Apple Music's over 10 million subscribers (and that's only two companies), leaving out paid subscription revenue is like leaving out french fries sales while calculating how much money McDonald's makes. It's not a small detail. And second, the report also completely neglects to mention how much of that money, from vinyl or streaming, actually makes it to the artist. If we really want to see artists survive in the digital age, we need to be pointing the finger as much at labels as we do at streaming services. But of course the RIAA, who essentially works for the labels, isn't going to issue that report.
Listen, streaming revenue sucks. It just does, they need to pay artists more, and no artist wants to be told that their song is worth a fraction of a fraction of a penny. But treating streaming as the devil isn't helpful either. The CD era isn't coming back, and vinyl's not about to swoop in and solve all our problems either. The real solution lies in embracing both - put your music on every platform possible, go to where the audience is, and then when you have them, give the super fans something to buy, like concert tickets or, say, vinyl. That might not be ideal, but it's the future, and the thing about the future is that it always comes, regardless of how much you might want to go back to the past.