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Hit Songs, Hidden Earnings: A Closer Look at Music Royalties

2023-04-28– Music pays. But not always to the degree that we think. As #MusicFans, it's common for us to assume that the people who make hit songs that are listened to by millions of people around the world make the big-bucks. Many of us have been told that our childhood desire to be the one to rock the stage was a one in a million dream. If that were true, we'd be right in assuming that being the one who actually did it would make us rich, wouldn't we? Couple this with social media empowering people like us to see the behind the scenes of music's biggest stars, in their private jets and luxury cars, and it feels like a certainty that being one of the most involved people in the creation and production of a hit song is a guaranteed financial win. This often is not the case. In this case study, we at T.D.T Entertainment & Media will examine the story of a rising artist who received pennies on the dollar after writing a hit song for music legend Usher. We'll then talk about the dichotomy between the financial expectations and realities of making music and examine some of the biggest lessons to be learned by music artists, fans, and professionals alike.

SAINt JHN (pronounced "Saint John'') is a Brooklyn-born rapper with over ten million monthly listeners on Spotify. Before releasing his first project, JHN started in the industry by using his musical talent to write songs for other artists' who were already established such as Usher and Beyonce. JHN was essential in the creation of Usher's song "Crash" which had over seventy million streams on Spotify. According to the rapper, the song earned around $210,000 USD. Even though the song would not exist if not for JHN, when the money from the song had been paid out, he earned a miniscule amount of the final take-home. A mere $1500 or 0.7% of the song's revenue. Check out the clip below of JHN breaking this story down on the I Am Athlete podcast.

This is not a rare occurrence in the music industry. Far too often, writers', producers', and other creatives are written off as cheap labour despite being instrumental in the creation of the world's favourite instrumentals. There are very few other industries in which somebody can do half of the work in developing an asset that generates hundreds of thousands of dollars and be credited with a month's worth of minimum wage.

The expectations that many have when entering the #MusicIndustry stray so far from the realities they experience after spending some time there. This is because behind all the glamor and bright lights lies an oligopoly of music distribution and streaming service giants. As business professionals, we and likely many of you understand that there is nothing wrong with compensating oneself for providing value to a certain party. The issue in this case presents itself when the value being generated is often not being created by the parties being compensated. In fact, it's being created by individuals like SAINt JHN who deliberately have their passion and emotion used against them.

The primary lesson to be learned here by all parties is the importance of music business education for creatives. In speaking to hundreds of artists' throughout the GTA, we at T.D.T have found that many are unaware of the complexities that come along with making music as a career. Artists' need to learn how to strategically negotiate, recognize bad deals and bad faith industry players, and market themselves effectively. Fans of aspiring musicians who are well-versed in business should put the onus on themselves to convey to artists' the importance of being educated in this industry. Music business professionals have an ethical responsibility to effectively teach artists' about the ins and outs of this industry so that they avoid career-damaging experiences.

By fostering a new era in the music industry; one in which artists' are fairly compensated for their creative contributions in the space and are educated such that they can navigate the space without unnecessary harm, we can create a music and cultural ecosphere that encourages more players in the music industry. This will give us more #Opportunity to bring people together. Be sure to share this and follow us if you are a fan of music and want to know more about the future of the space. We would love to know your thoughts about the issues prevalent in the music and entertainment industries right now.


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