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Starter Pack: Music streaming platform models

July 14, 2023

W&M STARTER PACKS is a free series unpacking essential foundational concepts for navigating music and tech. In each issue, we ground a timely music-tech topic in evergreen findings from our research projects.

Streaming is one of the music industry’s most critical and contentious topics.

The format generated $17.5 billion worldwide in 2022, encompassing 67% of global recorded-music revenue. Since its inception, Spotify has paid almost $40 billion to music rights holders, while Apple Music paid over 5 million recording artists in 2020.

Yet, in an increasingly competitive market, it’s more complicated than ever for artists to make a living from streaming.

We hear consistently from artists and their teams that the basics of streaming payments are still broadly misunderstood. Often, analyses only concern per-stream pay rates, and overlook the underlying payment mechanisms and their consequences for artists’ release strategies.

To close this knowledge gap, several members of the Water & Music community came together in the last year to assemble a high-level overview of the streaming business and its payment models, informed by market data as well as firsthand interviews with subject-matter experts.

We explored themes including:

  • Incentive structures of dominant music streaming services, including the consequences of optimizing for catalog volume and new music discovery.
  • How artists are paid from streaming services, including the consequences of pro rata vs. user-centric models for artists’ release strategies.
  • Macro industry trends impacting artists’ streaming performance, including but not limited to oversaturation, democratization of music creation, and fan listening behavior.

We hope our guide provides a stronger foundational launching pad for artists and their teams to develop better strategic and tactical approaches for navigating the complex streaming landscape.

You can access a free PDF download of the guide below:

Contributor credits

  • Core contributors: Chrissy Greco, Raul Guerrero, Brodie Conley
  • Research & project development: Pat Cupples, Levi Downey, Kristin Juel, Bryan Kim, Syd Sidney, Yung Spielburg
  • Editors: Brandon Landowski, Cherie Hu
  • Visual designer: Ana Carolina