The way we buy music has changed a lot over the years, and never more than in the recent days of downloading and streaming.

Today, millions of listeners use streaming services to get music that is advertisement-supported or subscription-based. According to Nielsen research, U.S. listeners spent an average of 32.1 hours per week listening to music from a streaming service in 2018, up about an hour in 2016.

But musicians need their songs played an enormous number of times before they make it big. Spotify pays about six-tenths of a cent per stream to the holder of music rights. The “holder” can mean a variety of people and entities, including the record label, producers, artists and songwriters.

For example, Taylor Swift’s song “Shake It Off” had a whopping 46.3 million streams in 2017 and earned between $280,000 and $390,000, according to one report. Swift, one of the world’s biggest pop stars, will generate more streams with one song than most musicians can accumulate in a lifetime.

Another study by Digital Music News found that Pandora had the highest per-play royalty rate. At Pandora’s 1.68 cents per play, a musician would need about 114,149 plays to earn the U.S. monthly minimum wage ($12 per hour) of $1,920.

YouTube had the worst per-stream payouts. At .07 cents per stream, musicians would make $1,920 after more than 2.59 million plays.


In 2018, Apple Music paid about .78 cents per stream. At that rate you would need more than 12.7 million streams to make $100,000.

While a massive audience and millions of streams are helpful, the modern modes of music listening present other avenues to success. The multitude of streaming services offers greater variety of exposure, and musicians can gain greater control of their royalty rights worldwide.

Big streamers

According to Spotify, here are the top streamed musicians of 2019:

Post Malone: 6.5 billion

Billie Eilish: 6 billion

Ariana Grande: (Total not listed, but she has 51.5 million monthly listeners.)

At .6 cents, Malone’s 6.5 billion streams would amount to about $39 million.

Sources: Music Watch, Recording Industry Association of America, Nielsen, IFPI,, Edison Research, The Recording Academy