How much royalties do musicians make selling music? If sold via iTunes, almost not enough to live on

32GB iPod
32GB iPod

Previously, Web Watch has written about how little money artists receive from music sales

While that post was about the best band in the world and how they are still in debt to Warner Brothers even after millions of albums and downloads sold, new information has come to light regarding more current and popular artists and how they are affected by music royalty payment calculations… or lack thereof.

Lady Gaga, for example, was reportedly PAID JUST $167 FOR FIVE MONTHS WORTH OF STREAMING (totalling over 1 million plays) of the song “Pokerface” on the streaming service Spotify.  Of course, SPOTIFY DISPUTES THIS, and says that the payment that was reported was for a tiny timeframe, represents just one country, and was still when they were a lesser-known streaming service.  Web Watch thinks that even with those caveats, since the streaming totals or dollars paid weren’t updated in the counter-discussion, that Gaga’s low payment number still stands.

Referencing other EMPIRICAL DATA ABOUT HOW MUCH ARTISTS GET PAID for each type of distribution method, David McCandless put together a phenomenal graphic that VISUALLY SHOWS HOW MUCH (or little) MONEY ARTISTS ARE PAID, specifically looking at how many items in each distribution model need to be sold in order for the artist to make a monthly living minimum wage.  Let’s take a look at what David’s graphic is trying to tell us:


The Ugly Truth about Music Royalties from TOO MUCH JOY’s Tim Quirk

Too Much Joy - Cereal KillersTOO MUCH JOY was a band in the early 90’s that not a lot of people knew about, although they had a reputation for being one of the best live bands around.  Web Watch knows this first-hand, having been lucky enough to have the chance to see them play more than a few times over the years.

If you’ve seen the film SHAKES THE CLOWN, then you’ve heard TMJ’s song “CLOWNS” (which also was part of a lawsuit brought by Bozo the Clown).  Web Watch recalls that “CRUSH STORY” was used on some television special about teen idols in 1992 or so.   And fans of magicians Penn & Teller should know about the band, as Penn as praised TMJ repeatedly in print and has sat in with the guys in the studio, and Teller directed one of the band’s music videos.

In other words, Too Much Joy has been around the block a few times.  They’ve released a few albums, made national news covering other people’s songs, had some radio play, have celebrity fans, and have done pretty well for themselves in the subsequent years.  They’ve even been called “sell-outs” by some of their fans.  What’s not to love?

Tim Quirk, lead singer of Too Much Joy and now an executive at the music streaming service Rhapsody, knows the answer to that question:  the music royalties.

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How to Calculate Music Royalties with this Album Sales Calculator

Beatles for SaleA few years ago, Web Watch posted a piece on using a MUSIC ROYALTY CALCULATOR TO DETERMINE ALBUM PROFITS, and we thought that it was a good time to revisit that topic.


Because many things have changed in the music industry since we we wrote that original piece.  That music royalty calculator link is still valid, but we found another one that you might want to look at as well.


Music Royalty Calculator

Calculating the money made in a record deal can be overly complicated.  Does the artist make a ton of money as soon as they’re signed?  Not necessarily.

Check out the MOSES AVALON MUSIC ROYALTY CALCULATOR to see if you’re getting screwed before you sign your band away.

All you need to know is:

  • Advances
    • how much the advance is
    • retail price of the record. CD pricing averages to around $11.98 apiece, and indie record deals expect that 80% of your sales to come from CDs.
    • What the royalty paid to you is
    • How big a promotional budget will you have?  This is monty that is coming directly out of your pocket, so spend wisely.
  • Producer’s payout.
    • Royalty
    • Producer paid from record one
  • Label costs
    • Packaging deductions
    • Breakage
    • Percentage of Sales royalties are calculated on

The calculator will determine, based on the info you’ve provided, how much money is made on each actual sale and how many sales you need to have before you start making money.  Of course, this is only going to be a rough estimate – your actual successes may vary.