The “cost of living” in Spotify streams

The other day I was considering the purchase of a double LP when a thought crossed my mind – how many times would I need people to stream my music on Spotify to pay for this double LP?

The estimated answer turned out to be 8,459.

Let’s type that out in words: eight thousand four hundred and fifty nine.

Needless to say that put a momentary dampener on my desire to buy the double LP in question.

Trying to make it as a full-time musician

I’ve recently decided to focus my efforts full-time on making music, and whilst I’m enjoying it immensely, there’s a good chance it won’t be sustainable. But I have some savings set aside for this purpose and if things don’t work out I’ll have to take on other work next year. However there is always the question of whether I could ever follow my passion and be a full-time musician with some support from streaming revenues.

So I wondered, what it would be like to view the costs of living in terms of how many streams I need to cover the costs. Walking into a shop, picking up a litre of milk, and the attendant saying “That’ll be 311 streams please”. Stopping into a cafe for a coffee, “Here’s 1,015 streams thanks”

I decided to do up a table of some day-to-day living expenses. I figure it might help to put things into context a bit more, because when you hear that each stream is worth X fractions of a cent, it doesn’t really help visualise what that really means.

Some provisos on the figures

Naturally the below figures are to be considered estimates. Don’t go into a shop with your Spotify Artists statistics open suggesting that the 2000 streams you got this month entitles you to a bottle of wine. The prices for each item are very rough estimates just to give a sense of things and are mostly taken from a set of sample prices for the cost of living in Berlin, Germany. I’ve taken the monthly German minimum wage figure from here – the hourly rate being €9.19 and for someone working 40 hours a week. For interest’s sake I included a few technical tools for musicians, the prices of which come from a price comparison engine or Thomann.

Additionally, the actual amount earned per stream varies hugely, even on a single service. For these calculations I’ve used figures from 2018 from a mid-sized indie label which generates almost 1 billion streams annually – enough of a data set to be considered fairly accurate. The original source article is over on The Trichordist. So for the data below we’re using $0.00331 as the per stream earning, and that’s converted to Euro at today’s exchange rate of 1 Euro = $1.12. So each stream is worth €0.00296.

Finally, if you self-release you naturally get all the earnings (unless your digital distributor is taking a percentage), but if you’re on a label then you’re likely to have a split of earnings. Again this could vary hugely but for argument’s sake we’ll consider it a 50/50 split – and we’ll assume the digital distributor isn’t taking a percentage before that split…!

That’ll be how many streams?!

Still here? Good! Check out the figures below!

ItemEURSelf-ReleaseLabel Release
1 Litre of milk€ 0.92311623
Bread for 2 people for a day€ 1.14386771
Coffee in a cafe€ 3.001,0152,030
Bottle of wine€ 5.972,0204,040
12 x 500ml beer€ 9.96
CD€ 155,07610,151
Double LP€ 258,45916,918
Midprice dinner for 2€ 4013,53527,069
1 pair shoes€ 8027,06954,139
1 month utilities (2 people, 85m2 flat)€ 18562,598125,196
iPad€ 358121,136242,272
Elektron Digitakt€ 635214,864429,728
Month Rent (85m2 flat, “normal” area)€ 1,094370,175740,350
Monthly Minimum Wage€ 1,593539,0211,078,042
Novation Summit Synthesizer€ 2,099710,2361,420,471
Moog One – 8 voice synthesizer€ 6,7002,267,0694,534,139
New car (VW Golf 1.4, no extras)€ 19,5356,610,03013,220,060

It’s certainly been an eye-opening experiment for me. Especially converting things to the costs of living in Germany. Nearly all the charts I see are USA based, and I find myself generally thinking “Oh each stream is worth 0.004” without factoring in the actual rate or the fact that the payout will be in US$ not Euro.

For comparison

It’s worth noting that the payouts vary hugely between services, but I’ve selected Spotify as they account for the biggest share of overall payouts and are fairly synonymous as the service people think of when it comes to music streaming.

That said, YouTube’s “Content ID” system actually accounts for the largest volume of streams. And as you’ll see below, have by far the worst payout rate of all.

Anyway, for reference I’ve compiled one more table with the estimated number of streams needed to earn the monthly minimum wage in Germany (€1,593) on each of the major services. The same sources and calculations as the first table.

ServiceSelf-ReleaseLabel Release
Napster ($0.0111)160,735321,470
Tidal ($0.00927)192,466384,932
Deezer ($0.00567)314,667629,333
Apple Music ($0.00495)360,436720,873
Spotify ($0.00331)539,0211,078,042
YouTube ($0.00028)6,372,00012,744,000

Enlightening no? And somewhat staggering that each YouTube “content ID” play equates to the grand sum of 1/35th of a US$ CENT. If I was getting 12 million plays a month on YouTube through a label, I’d be convinced that I’m getting quite famous and obviously earning well. Not so! Minimum wage for you!

? (the laughing and crying emoticon seems apt right about now)

In closing

I understand that it’s a slightly whimsical exercise, and of course if an artist is getting 500,000 streams a month on Spotify, there’s a good chance they’re also getting live show bookings and perhaps have other revenue streams working for them.

And I haven’t ever done this for the money. Even if I didn’t get a single cent from making music, I’d still be doing it. And without a doubt I spend more on music than I currently make from it (buying downloads, vinyl, CD and paying a monthly streaming subscription for convenience/discovery).

But I have noticed that the vast majority of people have no idea what sort of streaming numbers are required for an artist to start earning a living from their music, and I think it’s a reasonable exercise to put it into context.

So next time you pick up a 12-pack of beer, remember your favourite artist would need you to stream their music 3,370 times for them to do the same. For context, I listen to a lot of music and I might stream that much music over a third of a year. In the course of 13 years I’ve listened to Autechre 7,380 times. Is that much entertainment really only worth 24 beers?

What can you do about it? You could buy directly from them on Bandcamp. Or switch to a streaming service that pays out more than Spotify. Of course going to gigs and buying merch at the show is a great help too!

And please, don’t use YouTube as your primary source of musical entertainment… you’d need to have your favourite artist’s song on repeat 24/7 for 48 years for them to earn a month’s minimum wage…!

About the author

Alex Leonard has been writing and releasing music since 2003 under the name Ebauche, and more recently releasing ambient/drone as “Dronal“. His 2018 album “Mutable” was selected in multiple year-end lists, and was followed in 2019 by “Formic Syntax“. Under his new alias he has just released “Internal Motion“. Click on any of the album titles to check out the release on Bandcamp or your preferred streaming service. He runs a small self-release label called Supple 9.

He also takes photos as a hobby, and spent a long time earning a living as a web developer.