Drop The MIC: Music Industry Conversations

Music Streaming: Tipping Scales and Sales

April 27, 2021 Season 2 Episode 8
Drop The MIC: Music Industry Conversations
Music Streaming: Tipping Scales and Sales
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we chat with Stanford alum Jose Serrano who manages emerging artists like Emery Kelley and Sybyr and rising artist Heidi Rolph-Statt about the role of streaming platforms in artists' careers. We discuss imbalances in pay, streaming and gender. 

Jay:

Welcome to the Drop the MIC podcast where we'll dive into conversations with some of the music industry's most established professionals. Like all of our episodes, what you will hear today has been created and curated by Stanford students who are breaking their way into the music scene. I'm Jay LeBouef and I lead Stanford University's music industry initiatives. Whether you're aspiring to launch your career in the music industry are already a music industry pro, or just curious to learn more. We've got you covered.

Ugur Dursun:

Hello, and welcome to Stanford University's music industry podcast. My name is Ugur and along with my friends, Tilly and Gala, I will be hosting this episode of Music Industry Conversations. In this episode, we're going to tackle how the streaming business impacts the artists in the music industry. In today's lineup, we have Stanford alum Jose Serrano, who is an artist manager based in Los Angeles, and Heidi Rolph-Stott, who is a 19 year old up and coming artist hailing from United Kingdom. Up first, you're going to hear my friend Gala's interview with Stanford alum Jose Serrano, who has worked at Warner Music Group and is currently a manager for artists like Emery Kelley and Sybyr.

Gala Coello:

Tell me a little bit about your story. You know, coming from Stanford into the music

Jose Serrano:

I started off as a musician, I guess like most people in this industry. Um, I like learned the flute as a kid. And did that for about five years. And once I got into high school, I was like, Hey, I need to like grow. And I guess I taught myself how to play a guitar and started there and then went into college and started deejaying, learned that my passion for music is something that I can monetize in a way. So started off deejaying, you know, my dorm parties freshman year to then doing opening up for like DJ Khaled and then playing some gigs, uh, you know, In the Bay area and then got to like perform in the Philippines when I was there. So I got to like play around and see what the industry was kind of liking. You know, I noticed that this is my passion. You know, this is what I want to do down the line. I decided to fully pursue that my. Junior year by interning at Warner, it was a Stanford in Warner program. And, um, I did more of the business end during that program. I was consulting and helping them. And then afterwards I landed a gig with Warner Warner records and ended up working there for a good year as an a and R coordinator, which I loved. But. Also noticed that, Hey, I don't want to be sort of a cog in the machine, not to say that that's anything wrong with the industry. Um, but I do see the independence side as something more beautiful. So I went into management, um, and that's what I've been doing for the past year. I work at a management firm, private management firm, and I also manage my own artists. How do you make the transition? Yeah, it's actually quite interesting. Because one of the reasons that really drew me toPoliSciwas understanding the way the world works. Right. And how structures are set in different, in different capacities, whether it's like a political structure of business structure. And one of the beautiful things about PoliSci is that. It's easily transferrable into music because music and its industry as a whole is sort of a structure. And if you want to think about it too, right? Most things are political, right? There's a lot of negotiating that goes on there ends up being sort of a system that is built. And so that's what I think I really got out of that degree and kind of being able to transfer it into music was like, okay, there are all of these different systems. For different career paths or like for the world to actually move and work. And so music has its own system. And I just dive deep into that while studying policy. So I did all of like my music learnings completely, completely solo, you know, the system of music or the way that it works there. So many different pieces, right? There is the live, the touring side of things. There's the recorded music side, there's the actual publishing of it. So these have all been built. And as a manager, you have to understand how or what it takes for an artist to actually break or make money. You're not really taught that at all. Like there isn't anything online. That's basically like a book to say to, Hey artists. Well, there's one book called all you need to know about the music industry, which I think is a fantastic book, but there isn't sort of somebody to guide and hold your hand.

Gala Coello:

No formula. Like if you blow up on social media or like on a streaming platform from one day to the next, you could get a contract or something like that. And it's just, there's

Jose Serrano:

no formula. Yeah. And because of that, you have to be on your, a game in a way as an artist or a manager, whoever you are independently, you have to understand, like there isn't just one way of making money. Like some people will think like, Hey, I need to get onto Spotify. Right. And that's it. That's only one piece of the pie. Like there are mechanical royalties, there are publishing royalties. Then their list kind of goes on and you have to understand that you need to have every piece to the puzzle to actually make. Money. So if

Gala Coello:

it's it's, uh, a pie chart, what percentage would you say is like streaming

Jose Serrano:

on Spotify? Oh, so, okay. Yeah. Okay. So there are two pie charts here, right? The first part pie chart being total money made by an artist which is recorded music and the live piece. The live element to it. Then you could say the publishing and sync element to it. Um, merchandise go goes on, right from like, you know, if you break big and you're a Brittany Spears, you're going to be on TV. You're going to have brand deals. All of those things, if we go into just the music, say you're an independent artists, you don't perform live. There's a pie chart. Right. And I don't have the specific numbers, but like for every dollar that is made by the artists. A certain percentage is collected by Spotify. Then you have to sign up to BMI, a performing rights organization in order to collect that piece of the pie, then there are others. And even then say that companies say you signed up to BMI to collect your publishing side of the money. That's only collecting in the U S. So then you have to also open up another account and then pay more paid to also say there's a company called song trust, which kind of collects throughout the world. So like little do artists know that just having a distributor like distro kid doesn't really make you collect. Or it doesn't help you. It's not their job to collect all of this money for you. And nobody's teaching you and telling you that, Hey, you actually need about four services, like a BMI, a distro kid song exchange, and then sung trusts, sung trust is that company that collects, um, throughout the,

Gala Coello:

okay. So of the percentage that an artist. From their streams on Spotify. Is there a gap between what smaller artists make and say an artist like Taylor Swift, who didn't want her stuff on Spotify for a really long time? And then like now she does. Does she get a higher percentage than say like an indie artist?

Jose Serrano:

Yeah. So that's, that's an interesting, yeah. That's all right. So two answers to that question. First, let's start off with how, like, Spotify Apple and like YouTube system works. So they, so streaming will make about, say a hundred dollars, say everyone's streamed. And for the month, a hundred dollars was made that will then be cut out based off of the percentage that the, the label at the top. They're artists, the percentage of that pie that they've made. So say Taylor Swift and all of the big artists are under one label since everyone's streaming them. The most, that $100 is mostly going to go to that label. And then they take the smaller percentage and divvy that up into the independent artists. So right now, the way the game works is that there are three major labels. Sony universal and Warner. And so for every stream that's made by Drake or something, it's going into this larger pie, every dollar that's made. And then at the end of each month, let's say they're taking it and saying, okay, well, Sony accounted for about 40% of the streams. So 40% of the money goes to them and then they can go into beat that up and then same goes. For the other labels. And then the independent artists have their little cut in terms of artists getting more money for their streams. That's more so a thing to deal with labels. So the artists and labels will create like deal structures when you get signed. So if you're a smaller artist, Um, and you get a $100,000 advance from a label. Most likely they're taking about 70 to 80% of your royalties for a very say, five, six years, who knows how long that deal is. Right? However, if you've become a Taylor Swift and you've made more money for the label and your contract has expired, you can go ahead and renegotiate because they're going to still want you on that label. You're a moneymaker to them. So then you can renegotiate and make more. For, um, the music that you release. So your percentage then increases in terms of like streaming laws. I think they've grown pretty strong and are pretty not, I don't think they're pretty fair to be honest, but they've done a good job of, I mean, the music industry has done a good job now of like really tackling that problem. Um, I think once again, it's not fair, um, to this day, but they've been able to maneuver and get the best, right? Like the, before I don't know what the number is for last year, but the industry was growing at a pretty strong rate. It was like at a positive growth rate for five years straight after, you know, the whole. You know, CD or like bust that occurred. And then the digital boom that occurred back in like 2005, like the industry was losing a ton of money, but then bounced back. I think the new problem now is all of these new social media platforms that come out and like similar to tikt-, or it's not similar to tiktok itself. They're like Twitch streaming. That's where the new battle is. How do we monetize that because they're using music and not licensing yet, so

Gala Coello:

what do you think would need to happen for it to be more

Jose Serrano:

balanced, a huge one. Um, I mean the balancing really comes when it's, when you value the art for what it really is. You know, so I think I, we weren't really around for that CD era, you know, to grow up and really see sort of we did, but we got the tail end of it because we grew up in this age where we had Limewire. Like I had friends when I was a kid that, you know, they were just downloading tons of albums. And I think, I don't know if you could say there was a balance before. I know a lot of them, a lot more money was being made because for every album, in order to listen to a song, you had to buy an album. I love this one song believe by Cher, right? If I'm going to want to listen to that, I need to buy the album and then play it in my CD. So with streaming, it's become a game of subscription. I'm only paying $10 a month and I have the whole world of music. So there, there is a world where obviously I liked my $10 a month, but if you do think of the artists, their arts should be valued for more, you know, they're putting time into this. This is their job. So it's not balanced the way that I do see it becoming balanced is honestly within the label system, in which they should be paying their artists. More for the music that they make or giving better, uh, royalty splits in that sense.

Ugur Dursun:

Thank you so much for the interview gala. That was really insightful. So I wanted to bring up an issue that I think is a very much relevant and also important for us to talk about in the music industry, which is the gender gap in music consumption preferences. According to data from Spotify, based on the sample of 5 million subscribers, male users listened to 94% male artists, and they only listened to 3% female artists. While female listener habits were a bit more diverse, still women happened to favor men over women in their listening habits, as they listened to 55% male artists and only 30% female artists. What we're going to talk about today is whether it is going to be a psychological phenomenon or a result of streaming services influencing their users. So a researcher by the name of Brett Miller at the Macquarie University in Australia did a study on undergrad students and found that male musical artists are four times more likely to be listed as favorite artists than their female counterparts. And in this research, they also found that the pro male bias is significantly higher among males, but it is also still present among females. I find this very interesting. Obviously this study is from 2008 and that's important to note, and it's from a university in Australia as it can't be really applied to everyone. However, it is very interesting to see that the pro male bias does not only apply to male listeners of music. in fact it actually influences even female listeners of music. There are obviously several things that influence what we listen to, one of them being, which songs are actually more popular. And according to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, out of the 600 most popular songs from 2012 to 2017, only 22% were performed by female artists. And in that case, it becomes harder for female listeners, to actually find music by female artists that they can listen to. As well as male listeners who might just ignore the 22% easily and continue listening to their favorite male artists. I have also come across several articles online that discuss and associate listening to female artists with being in the LGBTQ community. This kind of association could actually be really harmful and hurt female musicians in the long run. I believe that association could create a stigma around listening to female musicians and cause male listeners who do not identify with the LGBTQ community to actually shy away from listening to female artists, even if they like them, but the listeners and the general public are not the only ones to blame for the male bias in music listening habits. In fact, the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative actually finds that during the first half of the 2010s, more than 90% of Grammy nominations actually went to male artists or mixed groups that included male artists. This kind of disparity from the Recording Academy actually upholds the male biases in the music industry in designating who makes better music and rewards way more male artists than female counterparts. You may be asking yourself, how does this all relate to streaming services? Well Liz Pelly from the Baffler actually studied how Spotify upholds these male biases through their algorithms. She was inspired after seeing in 2017 that none of the top ten Billboard charts at the end of the year actually included any female artists. Yes that's that's right. No female artists in the top ten songs, top ten albums or top ten artists of the year. To find out how Spotify algorithms actually reinforce the male biases that we talked about in people's music listening preferences, Liz actually made a new Spotify account and used it as a blank slate to listen to whatever music Spotify recommended her. And over time, Liz found that most of the music Spotify recommended a new user ended up being music from predominantly male artists. She also analyzed Spotify playlists, the bigger ones, especially that shape a lot of people's music listening preferences. For instance, over the course of one month, she found that Spotify's most-followed playlist actually featured only 20% women and more than 65% male artists. She finds that more than 85% of the tracks included male vocalist, while only 45% of the tracks included female vocalists. The contrast is even starker when she looked at Spotify's prized RapCaviar playlist, which is the prime hip hop playlist that influences a lot of hip hop listeners' music preferences. And after analyzing the playlist for four consecutive weeks, Liz Pelly found that Cardi B's "Bartier Cardi" featuring 21 Savage was the only song led by a woman to be included on the playlist. Beyond that, there were only a couple of more women on the playlist that were featured on songs by male artists, like "Lemon" by N.E.R.D. Featuring Rihanna and "All the Stars" by Kendrick Lamar featuring SZA. In short, over the course of these four weeks, the biggest rap playlist on Spotify did not include any songs that were performed only by female artists. When the most influential playlist in hip hop actually leaves women behind, how can we expect listeners to find those women and uplift them. Liz also recorded her discover weekly playlist that Spotify compiled for her, which is a playlist that Spotify personalizes based on your listening preferences, and everyone actually gets one of these playlists each Monday. After looking at the data, Liz found that her Spotify discover weekly playlist actually consisted of 79% male artists and only 12% female artists. Now Liz Pelly's study is a very anecdotal study, but it really speaks to how Spotify actually does not foster a diverse music listening experience for the regular user. Now, if you looked at my personal discover weekly playlist, I'm pretty sure we would find that most of the artists on there are either women or queer artists, but that is my own personal preference. And that's something I have over time built for myself. And I think at the end of the day, we need to realize that female artists should not be recommended on an opt-in basis. Now I will be passing the mic to my friend, Tilly, who will be interviewing Heidi Ralph-Stott, a 19 year old up and coming artist from London, United Kingdom, who released her debut single "Better Off Now" on March 19th on all major platforms.

Tilly Griffiths:

Tell me a little bit about yourself. It's a very broad question, but if we can just start there.

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

I'm Heidi. I'm 19. And I started singing. I started singing like all my life, but I started taking my music seriously around this time last year. And that's when I started doing gigs. Obviously when gigs were saying and performing, then I turned to doing live streams and everything, and I just kept writing music and really enjoying it. So I thought. This year, I'm going to, I'm going to release something and that's what I'm doing now.

Tilly Griffiths:

That's so exciting. So if it was this time last year, how did you get started? What were those first steps to break into this?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Well, I started off by singing some covers and I went to my local recording studio and got one recorded and he was like, you've got really good voice. You should think about writing your own stuff. I was like, nah, it's okay. And then a few months later I was different writing every day. And I think it's just because I'm a writer as well. So I'm working on a novel and some short stories and stuff like that. So I just. I love writing. So I was like, might as well write some songs as well. And it just sort of went from there.

Tilly Griffiths:

Wow you're obviously really creative. So the pandemic has put a stop to a lot of what you've would have been doing with gigs and everything. But have you been able to use this time to work on ideas?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Oh, definitely. I mean, it's actually given me more time to write more music because the thing with gigs, as well as how good they are, you do find yourself singing the same things. So it gave me a chance to really sit down and just concentrate on creating some new work. And for me, I've really enjoyed doing that. I mean, I'd love to be able to leave my house, but, you know, while I am at home, it's given me something productive to do

Tilly Griffiths:

I'm glad you've been able to make the most of a very awful situation. So you have your debut single coming out next month, March 19th. So what's that process been like?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

So I got on a artist development program with something called Mass Records and they, they work all over the UK, but my center is in Birmingham. And when I started on that program, they were like, we'll help you release your debut single during the time on the course. So I was like, that's amazing because I didn't have a clue how anything worked? I didn't know. How to even set off as an artist or anything like that. And I showed them a song that I'd written, which is the debut single hope that off now. And they were like, Oh, this is really good. He should release this one. And then we just set up with a music distribution service through them and that's called Spinnup and they send my music to the stores and yeah, I also shot a music video for the song as well. And that was in between the two lock downs that we had. So that'll be coming out on YouTube probably a couple of days after the song. So that's something exciting as well.

Tilly Griffiths:

That's amazing. So in terms of the music coming out, the topic of this episode is streaming. So it will be coming out on a number of different platforms where, you know, most people stream the music now. So from your perspective, as someone just starting out, has that changed your approach at all?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

I mean, if it wasn't for streaming, then. Not much music would get sold at the minute. You know? So it's, it's like a really important thing right now. And for me, I'm really excited to be an artist on a streaming platform and not just listening to other people's music, which obviously inspired me to make my own, but it's going to be really exciting to be on the other side of it and to experience it that way, because I think it's so helpful right now that it can just come straight to your house. And it's the only way that musicians can be creative right now. I think it's the only way that I can think of that you can really reach out and build a fan base, get to know people and share your music. And I think it's a really, it's a really good thing that I'm excited to be coming apart of it.

Tilly Griffiths:

Absolutely. I totally agree. This. Especially in this time, it's very important that on the other side of that, some people are concerned that artists aren't fairly compensated for their work when it goes onto streaming platforms. But do you have any thoughts on that as someone just starting out or is that not really something that you've gotten into yet?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

To be honest, I haven't really thought about it yet. I probably will. When it's my second or third song and I know more about how it works, but I do know a lot of people have said who've released stuff before, they're like you don't get much money from it and like, you know what? It's okay. It's okay for now. We'll see how it goes.

Tilly Griffiths:

Definitely. I think it you'll stage as well, this is about getting your name out there, getting people, listening to your music. So, the fact that it's on streaming, does that change the way you think about how you're going to market your music and how you get people to hear about you?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Yeah. I mean, definitely because if it weren't for streaming before I was releasing this song, I was just, you know, posting videos on stuff like Facebook and YouTube and things like that. So this is completely another level. It's something that I can share a full song with and be able to have people listen to it and hopefully enjoy it. So it's definitely going to change the way I market it. So it'll be a lot of trying to rally people around and to get the streams up. But yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

Tilly Griffiths:

So I guess that's the next step really? But, what are the next few months gonna look like for you. So the single comes out, what's next?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

I'm working on a couple of other songs. I have, like, all the instrumentation down and I just can't get to the studio to record my vocals. So hopefully soon I'll be able to go and get those songs down and then it'll just be, keep releasing and hopefully making some more music videos and seeing what happens I guess.

Tilly Griffiths:

So going back a little bit, just kind of to you, what does your creative process look like? Like how do you write those songs?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Wow. Well, it's kind of different every time to be honest, but I always start off with an idea that I've been thinking of. I can move on to little notebook and I just jot down ideas and any inspiration that I get because I find to get inspiration in like really random in places like on a train or just in a cafe or something. And I'm like, I need to jot that down. So I start there, then I always write on my acoustic guitar. So I always just try and find chord patterns that I like then just play around with words and see what sticks and then go from there. Yeah.

Tilly Griffiths:

Sure. That makes a lot of sense to me. Just getting back to the pandemic again, you said you were just starting out before this happened. So how have you been able to keep connecting with your fans, I guess, and the people that want to hear your music? How's that been for you?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

I've just found live streaming to be actually really helpful for that. You know, like just before I was doing some gigs and I was on a live streaming program where we went and filmed it in person, and then obviously everything went online. But what I did find was I was able to do gigs for people in different areas. Like I did a gig for someone in Manchester called Matt Phredd's and I did the Basement Door, which is a London-based music center. So maybe I wouldn't have been able to do that if it was in person. So it was really helpful to get to do that online. And that way, I suppose I got to meet new people and, hopefully, have people hear my music and enjoy it.

Tilly Griffiths:

What is your favorite aspect of being an artist? Is it that creative process or performing, or what do you enjoy the most?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

I obviously love all of it, but my favorite thing still is to go from nothing to a song. So definitely the songwriting process for me, because I just think of, like, each song as like a little story. So it's like a story just with a melody, I guess, and music. So for me getting to write that to then have people hear it, that's definitely my favorite part. So I'd say it's that, but then obviously getting to perform what I've made is also really fun. And definitely since the gigs haven't been going ahead, it will be so much fun when they do, but recently it's definitely been just writing and getting things down.

Tilly Griffiths:

And then that whole process of creating the songs, how much of that is all you, cause I know you're a musician, like an all-rounder pretty much, so in terms of, like, instrumentation, do you do all of that or do you work with other people?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Yeah, I do it all. I write it all and then I take what I've got my guitar and vocals and any ideas that I have, I take it to the studio, but then they like helped me build a for track, but I always record all the, I record the piano and the guitar all myself, and then they helped me with the last little bits and bobs.

Tilly Griffiths:

How long does all of that take? Like you say, sometimes songs come you right away, but what is the general timeline?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

From writing the song to getting it finished? I mean, it depends how many times I go per week, but I know I've done one in three weeks, which was quite quick, then one that took, like, two months. So anything between that sort of timeline, I'd say roughly from first idea to final mix would be about a month on average, maybe.

Tilly Griffiths:

That's quick. You must have a lot in store ready to release. Are there particular artists right now that inspire you and influence your sound?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Yeah. So, so many. Taylor Swift is like the biggest, because she just keeps dropping albums out of nowhere. And I'm like, that's just, I don't even know. That's a whole nother level. I'm like that songwriting is just insane. And so she's definitely my main inspiration, but I love Lana Del Rey and London Grammar and any singer-songwriter, to be honest, I love musicians who write their own music.

Tilly Griffiths:

I'm also just thinking now about how there are so many different ways that artists can get their music out there. Like the recent example of Olivia Rodrigo with Driver's License and how that was a TikTok sensation. Have you thought about that and how you could be creative with these different platforms to get your music out there?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Yeah. I mean, I'm willing to try anything I guess. And definitely there were so many different ways and there are so many people, like you say, doing so well with these streaming platforms right now. And, maybe if it weren't for that, then we wouldn't have even heard of that song, which is actually crazy. So yeah, it's really, it's really good.

Tilly Griffiths:

Okay. Well, I think this is my last question but I want to know, where do you see yourself in say five years' time? I was going to say a year, but everything is so crazy right now, we're going to go with five years. What is the big goal?

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Wow. Okay. Um, I definitely say to just keep creating as much as I can. And obviously, because I do writing as well as music and I also act, it's just to try and work hard at everything I'm doing and hopefully earn money doing what I enjoy and get to earn a living, being what I want to be. So hopefully in five years, that's what I'll be. But we shall see, we shall see.

Tilly Griffiths:

And just to finish off, remind me where we can listen to your music and when we can do that.

Heidi Rolph-Stott:

Okay. So my debut single is 'Better Off Now' and it comes out on 19th of March on Spotify, Apple, Deezer. Just all major music streaming platforms that you can find. Yeah. So be sure to check out.

Ugur Dursun:

Thank you, Tilly, for that interview. And that will be a wrap for this episode of Drop the MIC: Music Industry Conversations. Thank you for tuning in and come back next week for an all new episode of Drop the MIC, Stanford University's music industry podcast.