Music in the Digital Age. Who’s Getting Rich?

Remember when Allegaeon launched a crowdfunding campaign on Patreon a while back? The one where everyone completely lost their mind over it? The one where everyone called Allegaeon a bunch of sellouts who need to quit begging for money and ‘just play music?’ Yeah, I remember that, too. And, while I don’t want to write an article encouraging you to stop being an asshole to bands looking for supplemental income, the topic of making a living as a musician has always intrigued me.

During my daily Twitter troll, a Tweet from Chris Barnes caught my eye: ‘….0049 of 1 cent per stream’ was his response to a question about Spotify royalties. I thought it had to be a pot-induced typo, so I did some investigating on streaming royalties-and income sources altogether. It’s insane how very little the average band makes from their art.


Before I begin down this path, know these things:

  • I’m not advocating for- or against- streaming music. I stream all the time. I also, however, do what I can to support the bands I love. Merch, tickets, albums, you get the idea. I often court would-be keepers on YouTube. If I like the band, I’ll buy their stuff.
  • I’m not saying that bands don’t make enough, nor am I inferring that streaming services-or Spotify, specifically, are evil. It’s none of my business. It should go without saying ,though, that Metallica makes more than Mastodon, who makes more than Allegaeon. All three are good, but one end of the spectrum flies in a private jet, the other probably goes Greyhound. It’s all about fan base.
  • I know there is more to a band’s income than cash made from streaming their music. I’m not stupid. But I also think it is a reasonable litmus for how much labels and services can usurp from the band’s balance sheet. There are a million metal bands today, and just as many labels. To say that the competition is fierce, would be a gross understatement.
  • I know nothing about the industry. I’m just regurgitating what I’ve learned. No matter how brutal a band is, they still need to eat. Music can equal business, so relax…


There are so many factors that actually go into this, that it is almost impossible to decode without being a lawyer. I had originally found a Forbes article on the matter, but it gave me a headache at about the third paragraph. Luckily, The Guardian put out a piece that summarizes most of this in an infographic. Information is Beautiful created the visual, and can be viewed in its entirety here:

The visual isn’t completely perfect. As the article states, there are some assumptions about the artists that need to be made. It applies to performing musicians, and does not take into account specifics such as songwriting royalties-but I’m fairly confident that metal bands, or at least the vast majority of metal bands, write their own music. N’SYNC be damned. It also doesn’t take into account the specifics of the contract, but an average will do the trick for the purpose of this article.  The graphic shows how much activity needs to happen for the band to make minimum wage.


This graphic covers album sales. In a nutshell, a signed artist needs to sell 547 albums a month on iTunes to pull down just over a grand. See how the others break down:


The second graphic highlights streaming revenue from Spotify. There are more examples, but since our friend, Chris, was talking about Spotify, we’ll flash that pic. Same gist: for a signed artist to make minimum wage, they must hit 1,117,021 streams ($0.0011 per stream-actually Chris’ contract is above-average). Unsigned artists only have to hit a measly 180,000. And as a side fact: only 2% of signed Spotify artists actually hit the minimum-wage payout. See below:


To make my point and shut up, I think it’s fair to say that many of the bands we love aren’t getting rich entertaining us. I tread very lightly when it comes to tossing around the S-Word: Sellout. I also think it’s safe to say that the love of making music, and the camaraderie of the band-fan interface, keeps these people on stage-or in the studio. I’ve always wanted to be a rock star,  but feeding my family with a desk job seems the better fit for now. Metal is either our friend or it isn’t. Make peace with the fact that these people need to eat after shredding.


Ben Borcher

Ben Borcher

From Powell, Wyoming. Moved to San Antonio, Texas. Married, 3/kids. Faith, family, music, and mountain biking. Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Type O Negative, Opeth, Pantera, Amon Amarth, Metallica, and Johnny Cash!
Ben Borcher