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Mastodon: Music streaming could put bands out of business

(Image credit: Jimmy Hubbard)

Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher says that unless action is taken to give bands a fairer cut from their music being streamed online, many will go to the wall.

In 2016, figures claimed that a songwriter would need 288 million streams of their work to earn the average salary of a Spotify employee (opens in new tab), with Van Halen manager Irving Azoff (opens in new tab) and Metallica manager Peter Mensch (opens in new tab) having spoken out against YouTube in the past.

And while Kelliher says that he thinks music streaming services like Spotify, Apple and Pandora are “amazing” he fears for the future of music.

He tells Let There Be Talk (opens in new tab) (via Ultimate Guitar (opens in new tab)): “I use Spotify all the time. It's so simple, it's so easy, it's a no-brainer, you can download as much music as you want on your phone and listen to it anywhere.

"But the problem is that there hasn't been any legislature to compensate the artist since 1972. That's why myself and Brann Dailor – being members of The Recording Academy and The Grammy Academy – were asked to lobby for the Music Modernization Act. We just did that a couple of months ago and it passed unanimously.”

The act, which paves the way for improved digital royalty payments to songwriters and artists, was just last week approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will now go before the full Senate who will consider the issue. 

Kelliher cautions: “In my opinion, if this continues, the artist is going to disappear because we cannot afford to go out here. There's so many people behind those songs you hear on the radio. I can only speak for my genre and the people who know how we do it.

“When it comes to us doing a record, sometimes that means paying a producer over $500,000. That comes out of your pocket. The record company fronts you that money.

“This is how it works – they give you the money up front, they say, ‘Here's $600,000, you're going to make a record that’ll cost $575,000.' So there's that money. You owe that money back to the record company and they own your music. Why, I don't know.

In my opinion, if this continues, the artist is going to disappear

Bill Kelliher

“I guess they're lending you the money to make a record, but once it hits the internet and it goes out there for free and people just download it, where’s the money to be generated to make that money back? There is no way to make that money back.

Kelliher adds: “I could live a thousand years and if Spotify played all day long, I’d maybe make a couple of thousand dollars. It's miniscule. The only way to make any money is to get out here on the road and tour constantly."

He goes on: “Record companies are desperate. They have no idea what to do because they've completely given up the keys to the kingdom, to Apple and Spotify and Pandora.

"So now they're trying to talk bands into giving them part of their merch. A lot of people say, 'Why are your t-shirts $50?’ Well, the venues take up to 30% of that right off the top.

"So our $50 t-shirt, we're only getting $30. But that $30 has to be split up between management, lawyers, taxes, everything. Tour buses, just to rent for a month, are $60,000. It's ridiculous.

"Don't get me wrong, I chose this field because all I know to do is play guitar and write music and I love doing it. But if you could see behind the scenes, there's a lot of people with their hands in the musicians' pockets. You just have to be smart, because they're trying to rip you off at every freaking corner.”

Back in April, Mastodon released an animated video for their Emperor Of Sand track Clandestiny (opens in new tab) and they’re now on the road across the US with Primus and All Them Witches (opens in new tab).

Scott looks after and updates Louder’s online buyer’s guides and also scouts out the best deals for music fans from every corner of the internet. He's spent more than 28 years in newspapers and magazines as an editor, production editor, sub-editor, designer, writer and reviewer. Scott joined our news desk in the summer of 2014, where he wrote extensively about rock, metal, prog and more, before moving to the eCommerce team full-time in 2020. Scott has previous written for publications including IGN, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record and The Herald covering everything from daily news and weekly features, to video games, travel and whisky.