Even when you’re the definitive metal band of your generation, it’s not easy making a living off music. Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher recently guested on the Let There Be Talk podcast, explaining how “if this continues, the artist is gonna disappear.”
Plenty of musicians have criticized the way streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music pay artists. As of this posting, Apple Music pays artists roughly $12 per 1,000 streams, while Spotify gives up $7.50 and YouTube offers just $1.50. Unless you’re cracking a billion streams, nobody is getting rich through the platforms, which especially affects underground musicians.
"If this continues, the artist is gonna disappear, because we cannot afford to go out here,” says Kelliher. “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... The record company fronts you that money. They say, 'Here's $600,000, you're gonna make a record that's gonna cost $575,000.' So there's that money. You owe that money back to the record company and they own your music."
Kelliher continues, "I could live a thousand years and if Spotify played all day long, I'd maybe make a couple of thousand dollars. The only way to make any money is to get out here on the road and tour, tour, tour constantly. A lot of people say, 'Why are your T-shirts $50?' Well, newsflash, the venues take up to 20-25-30 percent of that right off the top. So our $50 T-shirt, we're only getting $30. But then that $30 has to be split up between management, lawyers, taxes, everything. Plus everything. Tour buses, just to rent for a month is $60,000. It's ridiculous... everyone has their hand in your damn pocket when you're out here."
Earlier this year, Kelliher and Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor made a trip to Congress to support the Music Modernization Act, which would update how music rates are set and how songwriters and artists get paid. The act has passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee, now only needing a vote in the Senate before landing on President Trump’s desk.