Fair music? MusicFayre? Play with me…

I respect musicNot going to write much tonight

[yeah, right…]

but as Blake Morgan gets close to launching IRespectMusic.org and #IRespectMusic, I finally decided to play out the little thought experiment that’s been running in my head for the last few months.

See, as I wrote in Is it time for Tip Jar?, I’m all about looking for solutions in the face of the death throes of the music business. If I really respect music then my challenge today is:

What would it take to make streaming work for those who make the music that’s streamed?

Like any good thought-experiment, we have to limit our scope, and put some variables out of play. So, let’s assume:

  1. Profit isn’t the motivating factor
  2. There are listeners who understand what it means to say #IRespectMusic
  3. The bureaucracy of the music business – rights collection, etc. – are waived (voluntarily)
  4. When I say musicians, I’m including the producers, song-writers, etc. who contribute to making the music

So, ladies and gentlemen, our aim here is to imagine a streaming service that works for the musician AND for those listening

[we should definitely all try to use many, many more YES… AND… statements instead of NO… BUT…]

In broad terms, there are two potential payment methods:

  1. Subscription – pay one amount, listen as much or as little as you want – fixed cost to listener [GOOD], non-scaling revenue for musicians [BAD]
  2. Usage – Per play – variable cost to listener [NOT-SO-GOOD but at least FAIR], scaling revenue for musicians [GOOD]

So, given that this is an AND solution, we’ll go with a Usage model

[one of the few times most musicians will accept a Pay-to-Play approach, methinks]

Because we’re entrepreneurs, let’s give our streaming service a snappy name

[not to be found anywhere in the English language, of course]


[see what I did there? Though I do reserve the right not to consider whether listeners and musicians to Music Fayre would be known as MusicFairies…]

There are some  parameters we need to set for the sake of the experiment:

  1. A song unit is 3 minutes long – 20 songs an hour
  2. A monthly billing period is 4 weeks long (28 days, without the fast-moving zombies)
  3. Every stream counts, partial or complete, long or short

[trust me, it gets very complicated very quickly if we try and work an algorithm]

Let’s look at a couple of use cases and see where we end up.

Case 1: Bob


[actually, his name is Robert Paulson, though I’m categorically NOT talking about that]

… anyway… Bob is a pretty hardcore listener. On average, he listens to MusicFayre  for 5 hours every day of every week:

  • 1 hour = 20 songs
  • 5 hours = 100 songs
  • 28 days @ 100 songs per day = 2800 songs

So, Bob listens to 2800 songs.

Case 2: Tyler

[still NOT talking about it]

Now Tyler, on the other hand, only grabs an hour’s worth of MusicFayre on an average day:

  • 1 hour = 20 songs
  • 28 days @ 20 songs per day = 560 songs.

How much might we charge for a song, then?

Well, let’s say that a permanent download at iTunes is 99c – essentially an unlimited single-user license. That’s our upper ceiling, I guess. Though, according to this page

[which is on the internet, so must be true]

an artist gets 9c per song downloaded.

[that’s less than 10% for those without calculators]

Let’s call that our floor then.

Now, being a business, even if it’s one that has placed it’s profit motive on hold, let’s say that MusicFayre runs very, very efficiently and only has to take 20% margin to cover operating costs.

[it’s a thought experiment, remember!]

If we charge 99c per song:

  • Bob pays $2772 per month, Tyler pays $554 per month

Nope – ain’t happening, even if the musicians do make 79c per song.

So, let’s look at the other end of the scale – 9c per song:

  • Bob pays $252 per month, Tyler pays $50 per month

That’s high, even for Tyler – and remember, of that 9c, nearly 2c is going to operating MusicFayre, so musicians are making LESS than they would for a downloaded song at iTunes. With traditional radio free to listeners, and streaming services willing to go much cheaper, simply by starving musicians, the barrier-to-entry for MusicFayre seems just too high. There’s altruism, but it’s a big ask to believe our listeners are THAT altruistic. Bob, especially, is likely to raise a sardonic, cynical eyebrow at least…

You know what? I’m going to make this a series of posts, because this is already getting long

[warned you at the start, right? RIGHT?]

but let’s summarize where we’ve got to, because even with some pretty ballsy assumptions, the thought experiment tells me:

A streaming service that works for BOTH listener AND musician is unlikely to succeed based upon a listener usage model

See you in the next post…

Vince Sig 131x89


3 thoughts on “Fair music? MusicFayre? Play with me…

  1. Vince the face of music is changing, perhaps for better and in my opinion not for worse. I see house concerts and small venues being the winner in the music game. Bars and larger traditional venues are scaling back the music because it does not support itself. Most traditional venues count on bands bringing in a large following with pockets full of money to cover the cost of hiring the band. A bad business plan to say the least, but all to common today. Streaming music while not wildly popular with musicians allows unsigned artists to be heard. In most cases the big labels would never even consider signing these very talented people. The internet gives an artist the possibility that his or her music will be heard all over the world. It gives the little guy a voice and that voice is worrying the big labels…. I really don’t think there is a solution to the problem you bring up…. The “I can get it for free why should I pay” seems to be the norm now. I guess it comes down to how badly do you want your music to be heard and what sacrifices are you willing to make to make it so…. I brings a whole new meaning to the “starving artist ” … Great topic …. Peace Carl


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