Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content

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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

My personal website has links to my LinkedIn and Google+ pages and you can send e-mail to david [at] thelayaways [dot] com.

If you enjoy this site, please consider downloading a Layaways track or album from iTunes, Amazon MP3, Bandcamp, or eMusic. CDs are available from CD Baby and Amazon.


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December 11, 2015

Friday Fun: More Cowbell
by David Harrell
Via my bandmate Porter -- someone at Monoprice had some fun with the description of this item:
Handheld Cow Bell - 7-1/2-inch - Black
Don't Fear becoming the quintessential American Band. You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet until you've seen yourself on stage using this 7-1/2" Handheld Cow Bell from Monoprice!

Whether you are on stage or just Down on the Corner, the cow bell sound evokes a positive, upbeat mood, which is the perfect accent or main beat for latin-American style music, Funk, or just good old American Rock and Roll!

This welded steel cow bell measures 7.5" tall, 4.3" wide, and 3.0" across at the opening. The handle measures 2" wide, 0.8" tall, and 0.5" deep, allowing for a comfortable grip with two fingers.

So, add more cow bell to your performances and you'll be on the road to fame and fortune! Just keep an eye out for the Taxman and his Evil Ways. What could be more Logical?


link 0 comments e-mail listen to the Layaways on Spotify

December 10, 2015

From the Band to the Fan
by David Harrell
Wilco is doing something I haven't seen from a well-known act before -- selling its used gear directly to its fans/the general public via an online store.

It appears to be a success. Since launching the store on November 30th, the band has sold more than $100k in music gear and memorabilia, selling nearly item it offered for sale. That's not pure profit, of course, as they had to purchase all of that gear at some point, perhaps for as much or more than what they're selling it for. But in an e-mail discussion with some musician friends, an interesting question was raised -- is some of this gear selling at a premium over its base market value as equipment, due to the association with Wilco?

While the prices for some of the vintage guitars seem in line with standard going rates, one knowledgeable friend (who has assembled plenty of "partscaster" guitars) observed, "When you pay $750 for a partscaster of unknown origin parts, you're definitely just buying 'Pat Sansone's guitar' for that price."

Yet neither of us had a problem with it. After all, if an instrument can command a premium price due to its association with a particular musician, why shouldn't that musician realize it? It's certainly better than a third party purchasing the gear and then selling it at a markup. As my friend noted, "People want to feel connections to their musical heroes, and I'm betting every one of those buyers is totally psyched."

I don't know if Wilco planned this as a one-time event or if it will be an ongoing venture, but given the band's success with it, I'm wondering if other acts will emulate the idea and open their gear stores. If so, will they have similar success? Or is Wilco a somewhat unique act, with a devoted audience that is more likely to seek a connection by buying its gear?

link 0 comments e-mail listen to the Layaways on Spotify

November 17, 2015

Spotify Per-Stream Payments for July 2015
by David Harrell
Spotify Banner

As the music-streaming service takes pains to point out, Spotify doesn't pay a set per-stream amount to labels and artists, as its business model is based on a revenue share, not a set streaming royalty. Yet that revenue share does, on a monthly basis, convert to a number for each stream. (And it appears that Spotify might have a fixed minimum rate in some countries.)

The following numbers are culled from reports from CD Baby, my digital distributor, and have been adjusted to account for the 9% commission it charges. I received the following per-stream amounts for plays of my self-released music in the Spotify catalog during the month of July:
US: .68 cents, .67875 cents, .17 cents

France: .78 cents

Italy: .67 cents

Spain: .515 cents

Sweden: .772 cents, .77 cents

Weighted average for all July 2015 streams: .5867 cents
For the US, it seems obvious that the two larger amounts represent streams from premium subscribers, while the smaller number is from subscribers to the free ad-supported service. The difference between the two numbers is small enough that I attribute it to rounding/truncation of very small numbers in the CD Baby report, but I opted not to average these numbers and am including both for sake of completeness. Ditto for the two different numbers for streams in Sweden.

To put the above numbers in context, the average amount I've received for all Spotify streams since August 2009 (from all countries and subscriptions levels) is .4301 cents per stream. It's also worth noting that the major label groups have ownership stakes in Spotify and may well have negotiated different (i.e. better) revenue share arrangments for their catalogs. Finally, these numbers don't include the smaller payments from Spotify to publishers/composers via performance rights organizations such as BMI and ASCAP.

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October 19, 2015

Confirmed: Apple Music is Paying Two Tenths of a Cent for Streams by Trial Subscribers
by David Harrell
After this summer's backlash over Apple's plan to NOT pay royalties for Apple Music streams by trial subscribers, the company announced it would pay a per-stream royalty of 0.2 cents for such plays.

Our first Apple Music royalties just appeared in our CD Baby account and I can confirm that, for the month of August, Apple paid a per-stream royalty of exactly 0.2 cents. No indication yet on what we'll receive for streams by paying subscribers.

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March 16, 2015

Beats Music Beats Spotify
by David Harrell
In terms of subscribers and market share, Beats Music (acquired by Apple as part of its purchase of Beats in May of last year) is way behind Spotify. But there's one area where Beats Music appears to be ahead -- the per-stream payout to artists/labels.

The first payouts from Beats Music just appeared in my CD Baby account. After adjusting for CD Baby's commission, for December 2014, we received 1.801 cents per stream. For comparison, our per-stream payout from Spotify averages out to 0.428 cents for the past few years:

Beats Music payout vs. average Spotify payout

On its support site, Beats states that its payout rate will higher than that of other streaming services as, unlike Spotify, it has no free option:
We pay higher royalties than the other services because we are a paid subscription-only service (in other words, we have no free version of our service that we have to subsidize).
The payouts we've received from Spotify have varied greatly, as some are coming from premium subscribers and some from free subscribers. For the latter, the payout amount is based on a share of advertising revenue and is very small. However, our initial payout from Beats included two rates -- approximately 1.926 cents for some streams and 1.300 cents for others.

My only guess here is that the higher rate is for listens by monthly subscribers who pay $9.99 a month (or $119.88 a year) and the lower rate for listens from annual subscribers who pay $99.99 a year, though the payout difference is greater than the pricing differential for the two plans.

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December 10, 2014

Free Holiday Music from the Layaways
by David Harrell
My apologies for the light blogging in 2014 -- you can expect more frequent updates in 2015!

If you're in the mood for some holiday music, "Maybe Next Year" from my band the Layaways is available for free download from NoiseTrade:

You can also stream the album at Spotify.

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September 18, 2014

Punching U2's Gift Horse in the Mouth
by David Harrell
Zack Huggins/Flickr

Andrew Sullivan has a good roundup of opinions on U2's "junk mail" (to quote Bono) distribution strategy. It links to a post from Marco Arment, who wonders why U2/Apple just didn't go with an opt-in strategy, instead of the opt-out approach that was used.

However, U2 and Apple actually did that back in February, with a 24-hour free iTunes giveaway of the song Invisible, which resulted in more than 3 million downloaded tracks. My guess is that the band already had a decent idea of how many downloads might result from an opt-in strategy and wanted to go bigger.

There's no going back on that decision, as the mandatory gift horse is already out of the barn. So we're left with the following question: Was this a better strategy, in terms of money and listeners, for U2 than a standard album release?

According to Wikipedia, the band's last album, No Line on the Horizon, sold more than five million copies worldwide. An impressive number, but it's less than each of their three previous albums. We don't know how much U2 and its label received in payment from Apple, but solely from an attention standpoint, it seems safe to assume that Songs of Innocence is receiving a wider listening audience. (And Billboard's Glenn Peoples notes that the band's back catalog is getting a boost as well.) Though given the backlash, it also seems safe to assume this will be the last time the approach is used.

One final thought: Given my age/demographic it seems impossible, but a large proportion of the complaint Tweets about the album listed here are from people who apparently were previously unaware of U2!

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September 09, 2014

U2: It's Free for You, But We Got Paid
by David Harrell
In a post on the band's website, Bono makes it clear that the free album is a giveaway from Apple, not U2:
It's also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers. Free, but paid for. Because if no-one's paying anything for it, we’re not sure "free" music is really that free. It usually comes at a cost to the art form and the artist...which has big implications, not for us in U2, but for future musicians and their music...all the songs that have yet to be written by the talents of the future...who need to make a living to write them.
So did U2 (and Island Records) receive a flat fee for distribution of the album to more than 500 million iTunes customers, or is Apple paying a per-download amount, based on the number of iTunes customers who actually receive the album? Either way, with cash reserves of more than $160 billion (as of June), Apple can certainly afford it.

Update: According to this NY Times story, it was a flat fee:
To release U2's album free, Apple paid the band and Universal an unspecified fee as a blanket royalty and committed to a marketing campaign for the band worth up to $100 million, according to several people briefed on the deal.

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    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs

    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at

    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at or Napster.

    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website