Digital Apples

Digital Apples

Recently, an article appeared in Digital Music News ( about Ellen Shipley, a Grammy award winning writer, and that her popular co-written song “Heaven Is a Place On Earth”, was streamed 3.1 million times on Pandora, and she received a check for only $39.61.

Sounds outrageous, right? But let’s dig in a little to the details.

Pandora is a non-interactive streaming provider. That means that the user is basically listening to Pandora as one would listen to a traditional, or “terrestrial” radio station. You select a station and sit back to hear what plays. While you are able to skip a limited number of songs, you cannot “control” what you hear.

Further, each “stream” can be compared to one person listening one time to a song on their personal radio, which is one “listen”. If a terrestrial radio station in a major market of over 10 million people broadcasts the song one time, it could receive hundreds of thousands of individual “listens”. So, accumulating 3.1 million “listens” could happen with very few single broadcasts.

With all that said, would $39.61 in airplay royalties to a co-writer of a song that was broadcast a handful of times on one terrestrial major market station in the U.S. really be outrageous?

Now, to be clear, I am on the side of having writers and publishers fairly compensated for their works. And I believe many areas need to be increased, including Pandora. (Pandora’s 2011 Annual Report showed that while they paid almost 50% of revenue to artist and labels through SoundExchange, only 4.1% of revenue was paid to songwriters and publishers through the Performing Rights Organizations. I believe that is unfairly unbalanced).

But let’s compare “digital apples” to “digital apples” in making our arguments. Comparing the number of digital streams to terrestrial broadcasts is misaligned. Rather, we need to be focusing on the proper balance of the value of the song compared to the recording.

John Barker

“Every story has three sides to it – yours, mine, and the facts.” – Foster Meharney Russell

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