Do digital music streaming services rip off artists? Taylor Swift thought so, asking that her stuff be removed from Spotify. Now pop stars like Jay Z, Madonna and Rihanna reckon they have a fairer alternative, Tidal, which just happens to be owned by Jay Z.

Could lesser-known musicians, struggling even to make minimum wage, afford to drop streaming and make a living selling downloads and CDs? Our own 2010 visualization on the subject, inspired by an article from The Cynical Musician, triggered a massive debate (see comments).

Now here’s our original classic with the latest figures & key places where people purchase and stream music in 2015.

Unsigned “DIY” artists hold on to the majority of income when they sell their stuff online, but signed artists get more marketing, which is a prerequisite to getting more plays on streaming services. Spotify might pay less than Tidal each time your track is played, but Spotify has many more users – making it more likely that someone will play your music in the first place. What’s your analysis?


(10th April 2015) Thanks to new data and information coming into from our readers, we’ve been able to further hone our calcs. Plus fix a few miscalculations. Thanks everyone!

» Album download via distributor unsigned changed from to 10/90 split to 33 / 66 split
» iTunes album download via a distributor unsigned changed from 182 units ($6.93) to 210 ($5.99)
» Retail album CD signed changed from 818 units ($1.20) to 457 units ($2.76)
» iTunes album download signed changed from 1,126 units ($1.11) to 547 ($2.30)
» Amazon single track download signed changed from 11,364 units ($0.11) to 5,478 units ($0.23)

» Beats – users updated to 300,000, per-play income from $0.0029 to $0.003, %age of users to 140%
» Rhapsody – tweaked play rate from $0.0112 per play to $0.0019


BBC, Rolling Stone, CD Baby, Tunecore, Trichordlist, Music Streaming Index, Digital Audio Insider


Design & concept: David McCandless
Research: Ella HollowoodMiriam Quick
Additional design: Fabio Bergamaschi


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