Not all estates of dead musicians benefit from streaming and downloads
The anniversary of David Bowie’s death falls on Jan. 10 and, as music and movie fans mourn for recently deceased entertainers, they’re consuming their cultural oeuvre as homage. But due to the rise in popularity of on-demand streaming services, the estates of musicians and songwriters aren’t exactly rolling in the dough.
In a year that saw the departures of David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Leonard Cohen, among many other boldfaced names, recently deceased musicians counted for 1.7 billion streams, 9.4 million song downloads and 5.3 million album sales, according to data from BuzzAngle Music. The music data provider also said that both Prince and Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s alter-ego, were also among the top 10 bestselling artists of 2016 by album sold.
But though customers are paying, the royalties collected are still a pittance. Estimates vary, but Spotify Calculator, an online service, reckons that rights holders get, on average, $0.0072 per stream from Spotify, an industry leader.
So those 1.7 billion streams translate to just $14.28 million in royalties for the estates for the dead. And that’s using an estimate of $0.0084 per stream, the high end of Spotify Calculator’s estimates. “We need to work the pricing models to ensure artists are getting the right amount of money, but we’ve shown that people will pay,” says Jim Lidestri, the chief executive of Border City Media, which owns BuzzAngle.
The industry is finally seeing long-standing declines in revenue bottom out with fans increasingly willing to pay for on-demand audio streaming or using ad-supported services. Audio stream consumption rose 82.6% to 250 billion streams in 2016 according to BuzzAngle, and the RIAA said that streaming services now represent the industry’s biggest source of revenue. Streaming outstripped downloads for the first time in 2015.
Generally speaking, artists who have an older following do a more lucrative posthumous business with fewer streams because their fans are more likely to purchase an album or song rather than stream music.
For instance, fans streamed Canadian singer-songwriter’s Leonard Cohen’s ballads 17.8 million times in the week following his death on Nov. 7, according to BuzzAngle. By contrast, fans of Glenn Frey, who had his heyday in the 1970s as the lead singer of the Eagles, streamed his music just 13 million times in the seven days after his Jan. 18 passing. That said, Eagles album sales were up 597% in the comparable period, whereas Cohen’s the album sales rose by a smaller 374%.
“Leonard Cohen may have a smaller fan base, but many younger fans have discovered him because of his influence on contemporary artists,” says Mark Mulligan of London-based MIDiA Research.
Carrie Fisher’s estate probably did well thanks to the sale of physical products that command higher royalties: Her fans have turned to books to satiate their grief. The 2009 paperback version of “Wishful Drinking,” a memoir from the woman behind Princess Leia, is out of stock on that e-commerce platform. Publisher Simon and Schuster is printing an extra 20,000 copies of “Wishful Drinking,” Entertainment Weekly reported.
Another factor affecting how much rolls into the coffers is when the artists were most active. While the Eagles had a chart-topping album in 2007, their next most recent release was in 1979. Conversely, Bowie released his latest album just two days before his January death and saw 93.4 million streams of his music in the week after he died at age 69. Unless they’re at the level of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, their older fans just don’t spend as much time listening to music, Mulligan says.
Even if fewer famous musicians pass in the coming years, it’s quite possible that we end up listening to more posthumous hits. That’s because gatekeepers like Apple Music and Spotify are likely to create and promote even more playlists marking anniversaries and deaths. According to MIDiA, 68% of streamers report doing most of their listening on curated playlists, a number that’s likely to grow as fans switch away from digital downloads. Streaming and playlists are on the rise, Mulligan says, and “this is a trend I expect to see accelerating.”
This story was originally published on MarketWatch.
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