The cover of The Atlanta Issue of The Dramatist
Dear Dramatist - May/June 2022
Illustration of a letter and envelope

Dear Dramatist,

Writers of music theatre who are involved with making cast albums are painfully aware of how the record business has changed as a result of streaming. I just learned of an organization called the Music Workers Alliance. They are activists/lobbyists in the fight for basic fairness in the digital marketplace. They attracted the support of Congressman Jamie Raskin and many others.

Here are some excerpts from their page called “Streaming Justice.” (I added some notes.)

What’s the problem?

Spotify’s average $0.0038/stream is a starvation wage. It would take on average 470,000 streams per month to make minimum wage. The ripple effects of starvation royalty rates are being felt up and down the industry. Recordings cost money and we can rarely even make the money back. [Record companies that specialize in theatre artists usually expect the artist to provide finished master recordings in advance, even promo, artwork, social media, etc. You can hardly blame them since there’s so little income.]

Where did all the money go?

Spotify’s premium users (~165 million) pay a global average of ~$5/month for access to nearly all recorded music ever. That’s a steal! Two decades ago, people used to pay $15+ for a single CD. Even more people (~200 million) pay nothing on Spotify’s free service. Compare that to what people pay for TV streaming services — the average American household pays ~$55/month for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc., while they pay next-to-nothing for music. [Cast album CDs are still offered for that price but it’s not felt by mid-level theatre artists, especially after paying for all the upfront costs to produce an album.]

Why aren’t people paying for music?

Virtually all recorded music is available for free on YouTube. Two billion people (six times Spotify’s ~365 million users) stream their music for free on YouTube. If Spotify raised their price, they’d simply lose users to YouTube. Nobody can sell what anybody can get for free.

Why are streaming rates so bad? What can we do about it?

You can learn more about the campaign for streaming justice on the MWA website. The theatre community ought to be involved. Our work has value.  

Ray Leslee
New York, NY