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Compensation in Contemporary Creative Industries: Digital Music Streaming & Artist Royalties

Mary Beth Ray (Plymouth State University)
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The way individuals consume, and more generally, experience music in their daily lives is one area in which the implications of technological change strongly impact our contemporary environment. As digital technology continues to evolve, the public is offered new and varied ways to interact with musical media, which has strong implications for artists. The combination of digital accessibility and more consistent mobile access has led to a noteworthy and significant shift for popular musicians, particularly in terms of revenue streams. As more and more people listen online and on the go, as opposed to the more traditional physical compact discs or records, revenue streams shift. Many in the industry have noted that the digital numbers are not a functional financial replacement for the physical sales. For instance, in June 2013 musician and songwriter David Lowery, most notably of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, voiced his displeasure with the current financial structure for digital music streaming. Lowery’s argument centered on the fact that 1 million plays of his song Low on the streaming service Pandora had earned him $16.89. Indeed, the royalty rate for digital streams is low. However, in a world of both mechanical and performance royalties, in both physical and digital spaces, digital music streaming via internet radio is merely one component of a larger economic structure. Consequently, this paper explores how digital streaming technologies influence the distribution of popular music, with a specific concentration on associated artist revenue streams. By examining the logistics of artists’ compensation, this paper addresses questions of value in contemporary, popular creative industries.

About the presenter

Mary Beth Ray

Mary Beth Ray, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. Her research interests include emerging technology, creative industries, co-production, and popular music culture. Her book Digital Connectivity and Music Culture – Artists & Accomplices (2017) from Palgrave MacMillan explores how the rise of widely available digital technology impacts the way music is produced, distributed, promoted, and consumed, with a specific focus on the changing relationship between artists and audiences. Her current research examines popular music, identity, and digital culture through The Adolescentia Project – a digital archive and accompanying book that documents reflections on albums people loved during adolescence (

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