An Open Letter to Fans: Enjoy the Music, but Remember the Artist

An Open Letter to Music Fans – Enjoy the Music, but Remember the Artist

By NationWide Source
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Music has changed more in the last 10 years than in any other time in history. More specifically, how you listen to music has changed. A wave of great new listening experiences has flooded the market, starting with CDs in the 90s, iPods in 2001, iTunes in 2004, and mobile phones that stored and played music shortly thereafter. These new formats allowed fans to listen to music everywhere they went, and we all spent a lot of time and money building our music libraries.

Now, we have progressed to streaming music. In the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in streaming services: Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, iTunes Radio, Deezer, SoundCloud, Grooveshark, and so on. The list keeps growing.

Streaming Was Made For Fans

For many fans, music is uplifting, and it evokes emotions in ways nothing else can. Just like the smell of cinnamon rolls baking still reminds me of Grandma’s kitchen, certain songs take me back to relive some great memories. I know others feel the same way. Music can also be exciting and fun; many fans eagerly anticipate the next musical discovery that blows them away, whether it’s from a musician they already know or from someone entirely new.

As a fan, streaming music is incredible. You can choose from an unlimited library of music and gain exposure to new artists that you would not have found otherwise. Streaming allows you to play music on almost all of your devices—from mobile phones to smart TVs—with just one account. Streaming music also lets you to listen to a huge variety of music without ever purchasing anything, as long as you don’t mind hearing a few commercials. If commercials bore you, then pay as little as $3.00 per month to listen commercial free.

Surely somebody brilliant came up with this idea. It’s an experience designed entirely for fans, and it’s almost impossible for you to say no. I get it, really.

Sound like everything is perfect in the world of music? For fans, it nearly is.

What The Changes Mean To Artists

Not everyone is benefitting, though. Streaming music, digital downloads, CDs—the music you listen to might be the same, but the delivery method is considerably different. That difference has affected how you listen and what you buy, which in turn has affected the musicians that create the music you love and their ability to make even a modest living. I can’t say this about all musicians, but the vast majority of independent musicians—I’m not talking about superstar performers or the kids still in high school, but about professional, independent musicians (like me) who rely on their creative work to make a living and support a family—struggle with this new model of compensation in the music industry.

iTunes began changing the monetary model for musicians in 2004. At that point, fans learned that you could purchase any song you wanted for $0.99. No need to pay $12 for an album. Yes, you’ve downloaded a lot of singles since then, and some albums, too. But because you no longer had to purchase the album for $12 to get the hit single, the value for an artists’ most popular work dropped more than 90%. The typical payment to an artist for a single download from iTunes is about $0.65. Since singles are in such apparent demand, if they’re going to be sold, they should sell at a premium. This would help musicians cover the production costs and still make a living. Sadly, that is not the case.

But things don’t stop there.

Streaming music has been around for a long time, but it was not really mainstream until four or five years ago. Now, it is everywhere, and it seems to be impacting download sales. In 2013, iTunes had its first ever decline in digital download sales of music, likely due to competition from streaming music. That trend will continue. What’s worse is that artists generally make much less from streamed music than they do downloaded singles.

Music is just as creative and demanding of talent as other forms of art, but admirers of sculptures or paintings don’t expect to take their favorite piece home with them without paying for it. That would be crazy. Yet musicians, who put just as much effort into their work, are often expected to give their creations away for free (or practically-free).

I know that you, as a fan, love streaming music. But for me, and for my fellow musicians, the picture is not as promising.

Here’s How You Can Help

If you think you’re powerless to change things, think again.

An artist who had 100,000 streams of his music in a year might make $300 to $400. I don’t know anyone who can live on just $400 for a year, which means that artist would have to find alternate forms of income, maybe giving up on music altogether. But… what would have happened if 50,000 of those people had downloaded a single, or 15,000 had downloaded an album from that same artist? His income would have been $35,000 to $65,000. Wow, what a difference! The income would have been even more if the artist sold CDs, but the price to fans would remain the same.

None of this would matter except that fans streaming music tend to download or purchase less of the music that they stream. Remember what I told you about iTunes sales in 2013? If you don’t buy my music online or at shows, the income I need to make a living is being cut to almost nothing. Streaming music does not pay the bills.

I can’t expect you to give up streaming music. The experience is too good. But you can help your favorite musicians by seeking them out online and purchasing their music. Buy their album. It may sound a little crazy to pay for something that you can get for free, but it’s not. You could also choose to purchase their merchandise online. Better yet, check out their event schedule, attend a show, and purchase their products in person.

If you truly enjoy music and want to keep those memories coming, you need to go above and beyond the norm of streaming. Support your favorite artist. Support music. Support me.

See also: Rethinking iTunes: It’s An Expensive Cash Register for the Indie Artist, Spotify, Pandora, and Streaming Music: Should You Post Your Music?


I think that all musicians should stop giving away their music period! Stop playing for free too. People don’t understand the cost that goes into making a CD or a single. Those costs can be as high as $10,000 or more for one song, that $100k for one CD! And they are expected to “give it away” I don’t think so!
I dont think the oil/gas companies would do business like this, do you? or any other company for that matter.

This makes all the sense in the world! There should be things in place with the radio internet that protects the artist from the community downloading. They have to care enough to protect their artist if we are to continue airing. If it’s songs for a cause…free to the listeners…then a contract needs to be put in place between station and artist. Each stations artist should regulate their code of permission. ‘THANK YOU FOR BEING TRUTHFUL AND CONCERNED.

99 cent downloads are the new 45’s. Most artist I know have almost the full 1,000 cd’s they had made in their closet unless they give it away. Which is the same as streaming. Rawk on and be yer own free agent or sign a record deal. U need money to be in bizzness and u need even more to be an industry or be savy as heck. Figure out where u wanna go with it, how yer gonna do that and see if yer happy or change it so u are happy. By the way I met artist on the plane leaving Austin music mecca events this weekend and I inquire how their merch sales were. Most said they gave it away. One said they sold two albums after a 10 minute mini set which by the way is considered really good. The ones who gave it away I bet only two will actually listen to it. Thus you’ll need a day job to support yer give aways. The point is to break way from the day job and focus on full time music and build yer bizzness up. And yer practicing skills.

Steph, we also know artists who struggle to sell their product. In some cases, the artists have worked hard to make a sale, but consumers weren’t interested in spending when they can get something for free. We’re hoping this post helps change that.

As we mentioned in our reply to David, there’s a fine line to walk when giving away product. While music is an art, there is definitely a business side to it. Establishing a successful music career can take just as much business sense as establishing a career in another industry.

I agree that artists deserve to be paid for their efforts. It only makes sense that when you do a job that you receive payment just like the auto repair, grocer, and so on.

But… What do you do about an artist such as REM that allowed absolutely free downloads from their web page of one of their albums/CDs? It was a few years ago and I don’t remember right now which one, but an article I read claimed that even though they allowed free music downloads from their site, the visitors spent over $50.00 each on the average on band merchandise. The band made more from merchandise that first week than they would have selling their music, because they didn’t have to produce any CD cases, print the album art, pay percentages to the producers or sellers of a physical product.

How do other bands compete with that? The only thing they can do is to follow suit. So… If all artists aren’t on the same page, this argument will continue for some time to come…

David, we agree that artists deserve to be paid for their craft.

To answer your question: from a business perspective, we know that there are times when giving away or discounting a product can help, especially in terms of marketing and building a fan base (ex: a free song download to create buzz around a new album, free ringtone after signing up for a mailing list, or a free album giveaway to a randomly-selected fan at a concert). We’ve also seen studies that show higher profits when fans are allowed to set the price of the items they are buying (although some will pay the minimum price). While we’re unfamiliar with the REM story, it might be that their fans appreciated the gesture and responded by buying additional merchandise. All that to say this: there is a time and a place for it.

However, if an artist gives everything away all the time, their products begin to lose value to fans… and that’s exactly the mindset we’re hoping to reverse. If other bands start giving everything away for free, all the time, the problem just gets worse. Instead, they have to be strategic about what they give away, when they do so, and why. This will help maintain the overall value of their product while still drawing in fans. They also need to educate fans who genuinely don’t realize the extent that streaming and downloads have affected artists or the time, effort, and expense that go into creating the art.

Having played and toured for the past 20 years (and still currently doing so)I think music sales ($) for the immediate future are unlikely to improve in any fashion .. ITunes or via streaming. The future (short term at least) lies in live gigs and direct selling. Thats a tough road in itself, but I think its important to recognise that as the industry and market changes, the artist needs to change too, in some ways its a time of opportunity. Dont worry about whats not working , or diminishing returns from a previously healthy sales system. Figure out what you fans want , and give it to them :o)

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