Top 1% of Artists Earn 77% of Recorded Music Income, Report Confirms

Fans are overloaded with musical choices, tend to act like sheep.

Ultimate Guitar

A new report titled "The Death of the Long Tail: The Superstar Music Economy" shared some interesting and somewhat depressing data regarding the state of music industry, confirming that top 1% of all artists are earning whopping 77% of all recorded music income today.

As Midia blog post reads, the given situation is caused by the industry's current state and the drastic changes brought by the internet era. As the income fell by over a billion dollars from 2000 to 2013, the artists' share rose from 14% to 17%.

However, the consumer behavior possibly has the biggest impact, as the fans haven't actually embraced the vast array of choices given by the modern time, but "have actually been completely overloaded by it."

Blatantly comparing the music fan behavior to sheep, the report reads, "The concept of the long tail seemed like a useful way of understanding how consumers interact with content in digital contexts, and for a while looked like the roadmap for an exciting era of digital content.

"Intuitively the democratization of access to music - both on the supply and demand sides - coupled with vastness of digital music catalogues should have translated into a dilution of the Superstar economy effect," the article continues. "Instead the marketplace has shown us that humans are just as much wandering sheep in need of herding online as they are offline."

The report adds, "In fact digital music services have actually intensified the Superstar concentration, not lessened it (see figure). The top 1% account for 75% of CD revenues but 79% of subscription revenue. This counter intuitive trend is driven by two key factors: a) smaller amount of 'front end' display for digital services - especially on mobile devices - and b) by consumers being overwhelmed by a Tyranny of Choice in which excessive choice actual hinders discovery."

Focusing on streaming services as one of the key culprits, the article insists that massive changes need to be made ASAP. "Action needs taking urgently to make sense of 25 million songs, not just through discovery and editorial, but also by taking the brave decision to keep certain types of content, such as sound-alikes, outside of music services' main functionality.

"Until labels, distributors and artists come to together to fix the issue of digital catalog pollution - sound alikes and karaoke especially - the Tyranny of Choice will reign supreme, hiding 99% of artists under a pervasive shroud of obscurity and giving the Superstars another free lap of the track."

The report still stresses that streaming services aren't a bad thing, adding, "Ultimately it is the relatively niche group of engaged music aficionados that have most interest in discovering as diverse a range of music as possible. Most mainstream consumers want leading by the hand to the very top slither of music catalogue. This is why radio has held its own for so long and why curated and programmed music services are so important for engaging the masses with digital.

"Music has always been a Superstar economy and there will always be winners and losers in music sales, with the big winners winning really big," the report concludes. "Over time the improved discovery and programming in digital music services should push the needle for the remainder artist tier but a) it will not happen over night and b) it will still have a finite amount of impact."

59 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I would be curious to see how the distribution of sales looked for each of the 60s/ 70s/ 80s/ and 90s. It could give insight into what this "new" info tells us about the state of music sales in 2014, instead of just being a statistic with nothing to compare it to.
    Aaaaand in other news, water is wet, the sky is blue, etc...
    How do you know that water is wet? Or that the sky is blue?
    How do you know he knows?
    What is real? How do you define 'real'? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. That's me done for the day
    Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
    So wait... Popular artists make more money than obscure bands that nobody has heard of? NO WAY!
    That's not what the article is saying. It's saying "superstar artists" get a bigger cut from their record sales than other artists. Also, just because a band isn't "superstar", doesn't mean it's obscure.
    Who the **** cares about record sales, LIVE SHOWS are where artists actually can earn money, look at iron maiden strategy. They actually used internet on the favor allowing fans to download their last album, then checked the areas that had most downloads and focused their tours there. Result? complete sucess.
    I wouldn't be surprised if Tom Morello was one of them while he is picketing wall street.
    Irrelevant for at least a couple reasons. 1. Tom Morello & his band made their money well before the internet helped to concentrate more income among "superstar artists", as this article calls them. 2. If he wasn't already immensely charitable with his time & money , and didn't practice what he preaches, then you could probably call him a hypocrite. 3. I don't think anyone here is faulting actually good, deserving artists of being paid well for their work & years of struggle on the backend. This article is about musicians who are undeservedly at or above Morello's pay grade.
    Don't mean to sound like a d*ck but jokes and/or snarky comments regarding the irony of RATM becoming one of the biggest names in rock music despite their bandname + message are about as old as the band itself In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that sh*t predated the whole "MTV doesn't play any music"-blabla by at least a couple of years...
    "Ultimately it is the relatively niche group of engaged music aficionados that have most interest in discovering as diverse a range of music as possible. Most mainstream consumers want leading by the hand to the very top slither of music catalogue. This is why radio has held its own for so long and why curated and programmed music services are so important for engaging the masses with digital. This right here. People do not understand that to some people, if it is not played on the radio it can't be good. I have a friend like this. The industry needs to understand that this is what is hurting album sales because with digital it makes it easier to buy that ONE song you heard on the radio, no need to buy the album. But how is this unexpected. This is also the same reason that the craptacular entertainers from radio win emmy's every year. But again, like it has said, music afficionados, like myself, are more than happy for the internet. I have found so many great bands just by digging around on youtube and what use to be napster.
    solution - convince the big name bands that being multimillionaires is ruining music by not putting the money back into the "music economy" in such a way that smaller bands are given a chance to grow... in other words, there is no solution, good luck getting rich people to give up their money for a good cause! And yes I realize plenty of rich people do this, but hardly ever to help out the fellow musicians.
    Psycho Pigeon
    inb4 all the liberals cry about inequality. I think Metallica should give me a percentage of their earnings, because, you know, we need things equal even though I didn't do anything to contribute to Metallica.
    Yeah that's DEFINITELY how liberalism works...
    Psycho Pigeon
    seems to be, it's call they cry about.
    The joke being that with topics like this, I only ever see right wingers crashing in crying about a predicted liberal hissy fit that never comes.
    The joke being that with any political topic, I only ever see right wingers/left wingers crashing in crying about a predicted liberal/conservative hissy fit that never comes.
    @guitarist5477 - your point doesn't work (in this article at least) as when I wrote that comment there were only like 4 comments in here and the guy on the right had already come in before anyone even started talking politics to bash the left. They seem to love the anticipation of being offended by the left so much that they cant help getting offended before anything is said. And having skimmed through the comments section just I cant actually see a liberal outcry for equality, just some ideas for solutions no matter how good/(mainly) bad.
    We would say Metallica should be taxed and that the other musicians should make a living wage. That's just basic economics and human empathy bro.
    human empathy? this is the real world buddy, not everyone is equal. if you want to be "equal" go back to grade school where everyone gets a trophy for mediocrity
    I think musicians making a living wage should be something with the way the general industry works, and maybe abandoning the current model for one that better utilizes new technologies that can bring more profit to the actual artists. I never liked the idea of just taxing the bigger earners as it's a very synthetic way of getting around a problem without actually fixing it and creates reliance on the regulator.
    I think taxing people more that make more is just a general way to make money for the government to support other products, but I agree. With musicians specifically a large part of the problem is the industry, but I don't think the industry is going to change in the way it needs to. Instead, I think we are going to start seeing more local/regional acts who have jobs on the sides, which I think is totally fine. Really, I think we should move to a negative income tax type of system where everyone is given enough money to live on. I'll be the first to recognize it as being far too idealist to really work, but it would be nice to allow, say, an artist to do what they want without having to worry about having enough to eat or a place to sleep.
    Or you could say that this evidence bears out the fact that the younger generations are more concerned with computer gaming and other time wasting issues and just aren't producing any new material/music worth listening will see this brought to light with the various comments that will either miss the point or intentionally skirt it.....
    I know a lot of avid video gamers who are also incredible musicians, just because we aren't all dropping acid and stumbling around a Phish concert doesn't mean we can't create good music.
    I swear most of your comments are overgeneralized unbased criticisms about the "younger generation".
    Yep, because listening to music is so much more productive than gaming!
    LOL, are you saying the it is not?
    I am, not because gaming is worthwhile (though learning to code games here), it isn't worthwhile. But when you are treated like dirt until you become that top 1%, it is less worthwhile then gaming. I face the fact that I play bass and make games. But both are just entertainment types with terrible industries that reject the smaller guys. Enjoy what you will and support them where and when you can. edit: btw people can do both
    You always seem to ignore the fact that the idea of music worth listening to is entirely subjective.
    As a gamer and dedicated musician, i very much put the effort into making the best music possible i can. Why do people assume all people who play games dont have any other interests or care about quality?
    Ok, my science fiction solution. There should be a board of National Publishing that must approve an album before it can be released. This would avoid the massive song pile up. They would also have great tastes in music. Basically, we need fascists that like rock music.
    It's better than the income gap in the wider economy, what's the problem? *shrug*
    No Way - Southpark
    Those graphs genuinely illustrated less than nothing..
    losing battle
    Let's assume that there are 25 million songs in the world (we know there are more) and each artist made 10 albulms with 10 songs ok. Now we are still left with a quarter million artists so let's calculate the how many choices we have in the one percent shall we.... We are still left with 2500 artists to choose from! TLDR this article is dumb..
    All this article really tells us is that the consumer is fickle. You DON'T say!
    Oh no, the "industry" doesn't get paid as much anymore for not making music! The horror!
    This article is somewhat incomplete. They need some stats on what demographic is buying music. If you were to factor in that most of people buying music are of a specific demographic of people and that the music marketed to that demographic is of the pop superstar genre, there would be a lot more clarity into why the graph above looks the way it does.
    losing battle
    This accidental double post still has more relevence than this article.