How Many Spotify Streams Are Necessary to Live Above the Poverty Line?


For obvious reasons, the question of “Can bands survive the coronavirus pandemic?” is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now. We all know that these days, artists make most of their money from touring and merch sales. But is there any chance they can persevere when those revenue sources aren’t available to them?

Given that we’re all thinking about this issue, a new article on hypebot.com by James Shotwell, Director of Customer Engagement for Haulix, is really interesting… and really depressing. Entitled “How Many Spotify Streams Are Necessary to Live Above the Poverty Line?”, the piece does the math to answer that very question, and comes with an answer that is, in short, “A lot.”

Shotwell writes:

“According to the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), the poverty line for single-person households is $11,770. If we ignore how that figure would be hard for anyone to live on in a major city (and most mid-size cities), then we can round up to $12,000 and use streaming revenue calculators to figure out how many Spotify streams someone would need to sustain themselves.

“At an average payout of $0.006 per song stream, a musician living in the United States needs 3,000,000 plays annually to have a gross income of $12,000.”

After pointing out that artists with label deals would actually need more streams to live above the poverty line, on account of labels taking their cut before the artist gets paid, Shotwell points out that artists in bands and/ or with families will need an even greater amount of streams, since they’re splitting any income generated from streaming multiple ways:

“But what about people with families? The ASPE puts the poverty line for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) at $24,250. Using the same average royalty rate, a musician would need 6,062,500 Spotify streams to earn that amount of gross income.

“These numbers get much bigger when the musician is part of a larger group. If a band has four members and all four have families where they were the sole source of income, the group would need to generate 24,250,000 Spotify streams to gross enough so each member’s family would be at or above the poverty line.”

In other words: no, it’s not likely that bands can ride out the pandemic on Spotify streams alone.

I know money is tight for everyone right now, but for this reason, it has truly never been more important that you figure out a way to support the bands you love. If there’s a merch item you’ve had your eye on, now is the time to make that purchase.

You can read Shotwell’s entire piece here.

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