My name is Patrick Laird and I am an independent musician with Break of Reality, an American cello rock band. Recent articles in national newspapers and magazines have focused on how working musicians are being underpaid by Internet radio companies and streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. While I don't speak for every independent artist, I do feel the need to share my perspective and respectfully disagree with this “underpaid” theory.
Break of Reality is essentially a mom and pop run music group. We self-release our albums, do our own PR, and sometimes present our own concerts. Thankfully, we've recently added a booking agent to help book gigs, but other than that, we have no outside help. We are our own label, our own PR group, our own tour manager, our own accountant, and everything else in between.
While my band could be considered an “under-the-radar” music group, we have a large following via Internet radio, and have nearly 16 million plays a year on Pandora Radio alone.
While Break of Reality’s Internet radio royalties are on the higher end for working musicians, we are not nearly as focused on the $16,000 per year we receive from Pandora. It is certainly nice supplemental income, but we are far more interested in the indirect income we receive (i.e. from digital music sales, concert proceeds and licensing opportunities). In fact, we would be comfortable being paid less in Internet radio royalties if it meant the medium would grow, ultimately providing more exposure (and more indirect income) for us.
To those who argue that Internet radio is killing digital downloads: Again, I disagree. Break of Reality's digital sales have increased dramatically because of Internet radio. In the first year of my band's inclusion in Pandora and Spotify’s catalogues, our digital album sales nearly tripled, and they have continued to climb ever since. In addition, the exposure Internet radio provides helps my band license music for film and TV, and even helps us book gigs. As an example, just last year, a presenter from Alaska discovered our music through Spotify and subsequently contacted our booking agent to hire us for our first two Alaskan performances. The fee alone for these two performances exceeded an entire year’s worth of Internet radio royalty income. We wouldn’t have been hired for these gigs, wouldn't have played for new fans, and wouldn't have been paid this money if not for our exposure on Internet radio and other digital music services.
As a side note, a PR representative from one of the venues shared her confusion with regard to how little she had to do to sell out the venue. When we spoke with fans after the show, it became clear that most of them discovered our music through Internet radio and soon after became followers on our social media sites and supporters via digital and concert sales.
Here’s another way of looking at things. Pandora and Spotify have been painted as very successful companies, and indeed, they have done well. But what people don’t realize is that these companies are outliers. Many Internet radio companies have tried and failed to succeed due to the current royalty system. To me, this means that my band has missed out on hundreds of chances to gain even more exposure. Internet radio is a big part of the future of music consumption, and we need to support the growth of these companies for the benefit of listeners and artists like me.
Since the birth of terrestrial radio, the radio medium has been an outlet for mostly major-label artists to gain exposure. It was never a main source of income for them (or a source of much income at all), but instead provided them with fans eager to buy their music and attend their concerts. Companies like Pandora and Spotify have provided my band exactly that, and what’s better -- we didn’t need a major label contract to establish this relationship.
Let's face it: An instrumental cello rock band like Break of Reality stands little chance to get in regular rotation on terrestrial radio. However, Internet radio companies have embraced bands like mine, helping us to become a little less "under-the-radar," and we’re ever grateful for it.
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