Math Rock: or why Spotify and Pandora are still bad for musicians

A week ago, a freshly liver-transplanted Lou Reed made an appearance at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Reed weighed in on the quality of digital music, advertising, and, ahem, sharing :

On Advertising:

Unlike people who download things for free, these days things have changed, the advertising people actually pay you for what you did it's a startling turn of events. And people like the ads now..they like the ads, they like the music. It used to be thought of as selling it's the opposite.

On Spotify: have things like Spotify....Spotify you spell x number, you get one 32th of a it's the whole idea that starving artists stay starving artists. meanwhile you have Damien Hirst selling for a gazillion dollars.

Interesting, that first bit. And ironic. I wrote a piece here in 2012 on the topic of selling out that referenced Lou reed's Honda Motorcycle spot. Also interesting Reed brings up the fact the up-and-coming artists are the ones with the most to lose.

Spotify may not pay the best but it hasn't stopped artists like Pink Floyd from signing up.

Pink Floyd, however is not so enthused with Pandora. In an op-ed piece in USA Today they wrote:

It's a matter of principle for us. We hope that many online and mobile music services can give fans and artists the music they want, when they want it, at price points that work. But those same services should fairly pay the artists and creators who make the music at the core of their businesses. For almost all working musicians, it's also a question of economic survival. Nearly 90% of the artists who get a check for digital play receive less than $5,000 a year. They cannot afford the 85% pay cut Pandora asked Congress to impose on the music community.

Staggering economics. Now let's head over to The Trichordist, where David Lowery's article sums up his Pandora feelings in the title: My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale!

But if you bother to read, the article, you'll see during the last quarter (three months), Lowery's song Low was played 1,159,000 times. He goes on to point out that while he doesn't even get a sawbuck from Pandora, Sirius (subscription based) paid him 181.00. And the kicker: terrestrial (AM/FM) paid $1,522. Radio, the media supposedly no one uses, pays the best rates to artists.

The most disturbing thing about Pandora isn't that they're screwing their content providers (i.e. the artists) but the fact they've turned into lobbyists to pay musicians even less than they already do.

Some of the responses to this article on MetaFilter critique Lowery's math, which is hilarious considering he's a trained mathematician, none seem to want to address the fact Pandora may be good for music but is very, very bad for musicians.

I'm no math genius, but I have some problems that need to be solved:

1. If David Lowery, a platinum selling artist, makes the equivalent of five Starbucks cappuccinos after Pandora plays his song a million times, how much will a brand new artist make if they get ten thousand plays?

2. How much less will musicians big and small make if Pandora has its way and lobbies congress hard enough to lower royalty rates?

3. If Pandora is the greatest thing to happen to music streaming, why can't they make money without lobbying congress to lower royalty rates? Furthermore, why did 125 musicians from, from Rush to Pink Floyd to Trisha Yearwood to Cee Lo Green, The Dead Kennedys and Lupe Fiasco write an open letter asking you to stop your bullshit?

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