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by Gareth Shute

Gareth Shute is a writer and musician, who writes regularly for pop culture websites such as Audioculture and The Spinoff. He has also published five non-fiction books about music and the arts, including Hip Hop Music In Aotearoa which won a national book award.

Cover photo: The Beths at Auckland City Limits 2018. Photo: Gareth Shute

Over the past decade, streaming has come to dominate the revenues of the local music industry, making up 75% of the overall total in 2019 (as calculated by Recorded Music New Zealand). This has been a boon for music labels with a long back-catalogue, since they can now generate streaming income on old albums that would’ve been prohibitively expensive to re-press in the CD era.

It has also allowed a small number of New Zealand acts to be picked up worldwide in a big way - for example, an act like Benee whose tracks can go from TikTok popularity to millions of streams. Even in the late 00s, this would’ve required getting physical products into shops across the world and hence would’ve meant a large financial outlay, whereas streaming removes this upfront cost.

However, the benefits of the streaming era have been far less clear for many musicians, especially new artists who don’t immediately manage to have a viral hit or whose music doesn’t fit the major playlists. The essential problem is that the income musicians are able to glean from streaming is notoriously tiny. While a single play on a premium account within New Zealand might be worth almost half-a-cent, free accounts generate far less. Fortunately within New Zealand, there are a higher proportion of paid accounts than overseas, partly due to the cheap or free registrations that are provided by some mobile providers. 

The trouble is that to reach a substantial number of streams on a service like Spotify usually relies on gaining listeners overseas where the proportion of free accounts is far higher (unless you are an act like Six60 or The Black Seeds with a huge local following). Even at half-a-cent per stream, a million streams would only generate NZ$5000 and in most cases it will be considerably less. 

So what is a young artist supposed to do?

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