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Artist’s Guide to Music Streaming Services

Learn all about the major music sites and how they work.

Last Updated: December 2023 | Article Details: 4421 words (25 – 30 minute read)

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As an aspiring music artist, you need to be sure your material is on ALL of the various music streaming sites out there. Simply put, that’s the only way music is consumed nowadays. So being accessible to your potential audience is an obvious must.

In this guide to music streaming sites for artists, we’ll go over how it all started, how it works and all the major players you need to get your music on.

We’ll also get into each company’s market share, basic features for artists, royalty payouts and more.

We’ve also got an entire step-by-step guide on how to get music on Spotify if you’re interested.

Let’s dive in…

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The Major Music Platforms to Know

There are a lot of digital streaming platforms (DSPs) out there, but only a few major ones. The majority of traffic and attention is concentrated only with a handful of giant players, though.

You can get your music on these site through digital distribution companies – check out our Tunecore review (read now), Distrokid review (read now) or our comparison between the two to learn more.

Here’s a list of the main music platforms out there, with a brief description of each:

Related Content: Performance Rights OrganizationsWhat They Are and Why You Need One

  • QQ Music
    • Launched in 2016
      • Owned by Tencent Music (TikTok’s parent company)
    • Free + Paid Account
    • No High-Resolution Audio
    • Track “downloads” allowed (+ track/album purchases)
    • 17 million songs available
    • 660 million active users
      • 42.7 million paying users
    • Caters to mostly Chinese market, but available in most countries
      • Banned in India
  • Spotify
    • Launched in 2008
    • Free (Ad Supported) + Paid
    • No High Resolution Audio
    • Track “downloads” allowed (no purchases)
    • 100+ million songs available
    • 500 million active users
      • 205 million paying users
    • Caters to Western markets, but available in most countries
  • Gaana
    • Launched in 2010
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • No High-Res Audio
    • Track “downloads” allowed
    • 45 millions songs
    • 201 million active users
      • Unknown number of paying users
    • Caters mostly to Indian market, but available globally
  • SoundCloud
    • Launched in 2008
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • No High-Res Audio
    • Limited number of track “downloads” available
    • 200+ million songs
    • 175 million active users
      • 1.7 million paid users
    • Available globally
  • Apple Music
    • Launched in 2015
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • High-Res Audio
    • 100+ million songs
    • 88 million active users
      • 88 million paid users
    • Available in most countries
  • YouTube Music
    • Launched in 2015
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • No High-Res Audio
    • 100+ million songs
    • 80 million active users
      • 80 million paid users
    • Available in most countries
  • Anghami
    • Launched in 2012
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • No High-Res Audio
    • 30 million songs
    • 70 million active users
      • Unknown paid users
    • Caters to Arab World, but available in most countries
  • Pandora
    • Launched in 2005
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • No High-Res Audio
    • 30 million songs
    • 58 million active users
      • 6.3 million paid users
    • USA only
  • Deezer
    • Launched in 2007
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • High-Res Audio Available
    • 90+ million songs
    • 16 million active users
      • 9.6 million paid users
    • Available in most countries
  • Tidal
    • Launched in 2014
    • Free + paid Accounts
    • High-res audio available
    • 100+ million songs
    • 4.2 million active users
      • 3 million paid users
    • Available in most countries
  • Melon
    • Launched in 2004
    • Free + Paid Accounts
    • No high-res audio
    • Unknown number of songs
    • 4-5 million active users
      • unknown paid users
    • South Korea only
  • Napster
    • Launched 2001
    • Paid accounts only
    • No high-res audio
    • 60+ million songs
    • 1.2 million active/paying users
    • US, Canada, Europe
  • Qobuz
    • Launched in 2007
    • Paid accounts only
    • High-res audio available
    • 100+ million songs
    • 200,000 active/paying users
    • Caters to French market, but available in most countries
  • Boomplay
    • Launched in 2015
    • Free + Paid accounts
    • No high-res audio
    • 58+ million songs
    • Unknown active/paid users
    • Caters to African market, but available globally
  • Yandex.Music
    • Launched in 2012
    • Free + Paid accounts
    • Unknown high-res audio availability
    • 40+ million songs
    • 20 million active monthly users
      • Unknown paid users
    • Caters to Eastern European + Russian markets, but available in most countries
    • Launched in 2015
    • Free + Paid accounts
    • No high-res audio
    • 2 million songs
    • Unknown active/paid users
    • Caters to Classical Music market, available globally

Microphone Month at Sweetwater

Other Music Sites

Here are some other, lesser known and not-as-popular music services out there:

  • JioSaavn
  • TuneIn
  • Music Choice
  • NetEase Cloud Music
  • LiveOne
  • hoopla
  • AccuRadio
  • 8Tracks
  • Jango
  • Joox
  • KKBox
  • Line Music
  • Moov
  • Patari
  • MyTuner Radio
  • StingRay Music
  • Naver VIBE

Music Streaming Services Market Share

Now that you have a lay of the landscape (which is always evolving and changing), let’s dive a little deeper and talk about market share – which company REALLY dominates the market.

In short, and as you can tell from the numbers above, Spotify is the dominant player in the music streaming market. They have the largest number of paid users of any service out there.

But having said that, it does NOT have the largest amount of active users – both free and paid users. That distinction goes to QQMusic.

Here’s the breakdown of the current (2023) market share leaders, as reported by the International Music Summit’s annual business report.

  • Spotify – 30.5% market share
  • Apple Music – 13.7% market share
  • Tencent Music – 13.4% market share
    • parent company of QQMusic and TikTok
  • Amazon Music – 13.4% market share
  • YouTube Music – 8.9% market share
  • NetEase Cloud Music – 6.1% market share
  • Yandex.Music – 2.2% market share
  • Deezer – 1.5% market share
  • All other services combined – 10.2% market share
    • Includes Tidal, Pandora, etc.

What this means is that your best bet is to focus on the services above. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect other platforms like BandCamp (which wasn’t listed) or SoundCloud (which isn’t exactly like these other services).

As mentioned earlier, as an artist you want your music to be available EVERYWHERE you can possibly get it.

Music Streaming Payouts

When your music is streamed on a platform, you are owed a royalty payment – which is a fee for the commercial use of your copyrighted work.

Each platform, however, has different payout structures and models. We’ll get into some of this below, but the one thing you need to remember is that you’re only paid for a stream if your music is actually streamed by people. You don’t get paid just for participating in the market. You have to actually have listeners.

And for a stream to be considered a “monetized” stream (i.e. one you get paid for), the listener has to listen to the song for at least 30 seconds. Anything shorter than that, and it isn’t counted as a stream.

Further, if a user decides to “download” the track to their device to listen “offline,” and not stream it directly from the cloud, that stream may not count as a monetized one, unless the user goes online once every 30 days.

Music Streaming App Icons

Types of Payouts for Streamed Content

There are essentially three types of payouts made by streaming services for the use of a copyrighted work.

Master recording royalties are payouts made to the owner of the copyrighted work. This is the largest chunk of money paid out by DSPs, but because of the ways major label deals are structured, most of the money likely doesn’t go to an artist – unless they’re an independent artist.

Remember, these royalties are entitled to the owner of the copyright of a musical work. In the major label world, this often means the label or distributor of the music. They often own the copyright of the work, and only give the artist a small portion of this. If you’re an independent artist (or on an independent label) you will probably receive much more of this royalty type.

Mechanical royalties are paid out for the reproduction and use of a copyrighted work. This royalty payout is usually paid to songwriters and composers of the music. Again, in the major label world, this is not always the same as the artist performing the song. However, if you’re an indie artist, then you’re likely the songwriter/composer of your music as well.

Finally there are also public performance royalties which get paid out to songwriters and music publishers as well. Publishers are companies that literally “publish” the musical work for consumption by the public. This payout is made for the right to publicly perform the work/song – i.e. for the song to be streamed by an individual user.

When we’re talking about “how much do artists get paid for a stream” what’s being referred to is the master recording royalty.

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How Music Streaming Payouts Work

The way royalty payments work is a bit convoluted. But let’s try to break it down in an understandable way.

Every music platform will take a few different variables into account when determining how much money is paid out to rights holders (i.e. owners of the musical copyright).

  1. Total revenue (ex/ subscriptions and ads)
  2. Global payout percentage
    • The portion of revenue that has been agreed to be paid out to rights holders
      • Every company has operating expenses and a profit motive, they can’t pay out 100% of the revenue they make.
  3. Total number of streams for an individual artist
  4. Total number of streams on entire platform, as a whole

With those 4 things in mind, let’s break down how payouts are calculated.

To determine how much you’d get paid for a particular track (assuming you’re the recording owner) you’d set up an equation like this:

  • ((Total Revenue x Payout %) x Artists Streams) / Total Platform Streams

So if Spotify made $1,000,000 in revenue and the payout percentage is 70%, they’d pay out $700,000 to the rights holders of the music (both owners AND publishers). If you as an artist get 100,000 streams, but the total number of streams on Spotify was 100,000,000 here’s what the payout would look (assuming you’re the owner AND publisher of your song):

  • ((1,000,000 x 0.7) x 100,000) / 100,000,000 = $700 total payout
    • Then you divide 700 / 100,000 to get your per stream payout
      • That’s just $0.007 per stream – not even a full penny. Feels bad, man…

Those are obviously not real numbers, but just an example of how the math works.

But things get even more complicated than that…

For example, publishers will often get a cut of that total payout for their efforts. Further, if you’re signed to a label that owns the copyright of your music, you’ll only be paid a fraction of that payout, while the label keeps the rest (and that’s only if you actually make back all the money the label spent on your song/marketing/etc).

Beyond that, streaming payouts are different for different tiers of service. For example, an ad-supported, free tier user will generate less of a payout than a premium subscriber who pays for the service.

AND, services charge different monthly fees depending on the country they are operating in.

It’s a tough and complicated world, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles in the modern music market.

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Payouts Per Stream for Major Music Streaming Services

Now that you know how the math works, let’s quickly talk about how much each of the major streaming services actually pays out to rights holders.

Remember, these are average rough estimates and can fluctuate heavily based on the type of stream (free/paid) and the territory the music is streamed from

  • Spotify: $0.0033 – $0.0084 USD per stream
  • Apple Music: $0.0078 USD per stream average
  • Amazon Music Unlimited: $0.012 USD per stream
    • Amazon Music Prime: $0.004 USD per stream
  • YouTube Music Premium: $0.008 USD per stream
    • YouTube Music: $0.002 USD per stream
  • Deezer: $0.0064 USD per stream
  • Tidal: $0.0128 USD per stream
  • Napster: $0.019 USD per stream
  • Pandora: $0.0013 USD per stream

It’s important to note that the above numbers are not exact. And different outlets have reported different payouts. And none of the companies have publicly disclosed their exact payout structures.

So take all those numbers with a HUGE grain of salt.

How Music Streaming Works

Music streaming is a fairly straightforward concept to understand – it’s a way of accessing a library of music on-demand from anywhere in the world without having to physically own or “carry around” the music with you.

So your music is “streamed” through the “cloud” – both of which are abstract concepts that don’t really exist in physical form.

Streaming basically means instantly accessing data/information on-demand, while the cloud is essentially a bunch of interconnected computers all around the world that allow people to connect to them to access that information/data.

Visualization of Streaming Content from the Cloud

So, your music is stored on servers (i.e. networked computers) owned by the platforms. Music fans can then connect to those servers and access your music anytime they want.

They don’t own physical copies of your music (like with vinyl or CDs), and they cannot “download” digital copies of your music (like MP3s or FLACs) either. That’s a much different way of consuming music.

With streaming, you’re given access to the music, but you do not own a copy of it.

An Important Distinction

It’s important to point out that all of this can mean various things. For example, technically you could also call things like SiriusXM or Internet Radio stations “streaming” services, but there’s one key difference between those services and services like Spotify, Apple Music, etc.

SiriusXM and Internet Radio are not on-demand services. They are curated and programmed. You cannot choose what specific song you want to listen to. You can tune in to certain “stations” or “channels” but then you’re left to listen to whatever that channel/station decides to play.

With actual music streaming services (the ones we are most concerned about with this article) you get to be the DJ. You can choose exactly what you want to listen to, how many times you want to listen to it and more.

Implications for Artists

What that means for artists is that even though your music MUST be on all the services to compete in today’s market, it’s not the only way you can promote/market your music (learn more). Die-hard fans will likely want to “own” a copy of the music they love as well as pay for instant digital access via music sites.

Music streaming provides convenience and selection to consumers, while physical/digital copies of music offer nostalgia, flexibility or a sense of “fandom.”

You shouldn’t hate on either of those ways of consuming music – it’s just the way the market is. Embrace it.

Convenience always wins. So give your potential fans what they want in terms of access to your songs. In today’s attention economy (where attention is scarce, and also the main currency of business), any “hurdles” you put between your product and your ideal customer is a handicap to your career.

Get your music on ALL of the platforms and sites out there. Make it easy to access, even if you want to bitch and moan about royalty payouts, the value of music, how unfair payout is, etc.

The unfortunate reality is… no one cares, and there’s no turning back from the world of on-demand streaming.


Sweetwater Deals

How Music Streaming Started

People think that sites like Spotify are the reason that musicians can barely make a living off of their music today.

But in all honesty, music has NEVER really been a “cash cow” type of business throughout most of history – at least for the creatives/artists.

The things that really exploded the music business’ revenues were first, the ability to record and playback audio and second, the cheap manufacturing/distribution of Compact Discs (CDs) – and their relative convenience for music fans.

That’s why the 90s are seen as the “golden era” of the music business. Money was coming in hand over fist via CD sales. The quality was amazing AND they were extremely portable.

Music Sales Dried Up

With the dawn of the digital age, however, people STOPPED buying music. They started stealing it (downloading MP3s for free) with apps like Napster, KaZaa and LimeWire.

Obviously music revenues crumbled during this time and the music business was facing certain death. iTunes came along and helped restore some of the music market by selling digital files.

But the cat was out of the bag – people loved the revolutionary convenience of the MP3. They no longer had to buy a $20 album to find out there were only 2 songs they liked on it. They could download the whole thing for free, listen to it and if they liked it, they could choose which song(s) they wanted to keep in rotation.

Sorry, but even the ability to buy a digital file of a song for $0.99 was no match to that level of access and convenience.

Technology – like it always does – disrupted the industry and changed history again. But that wasn’t the only disruption that was going to take place.

The Industry Fully Recovers

Enter Spotify – who completely changed the game. They were the first company that was able to successfully bring to market a way of consuming music that was even more convenient than the free MP3s of Napster.

Not only could you access music anywhere, anytime, you also had access to a massive library of it. All at your fingertips, thanks to the smartphone.

People started to realize that it was MUCH better to pay a small monthly fee for unlimited access to a metric f**k-ton of music, on-demand, than to risk downloading a virus to their computer via a peer-to-peer site like Napster.

More and more people started to sign up to the service. And more and more artists wanted their music to be accessible this way.

Soon enough, every major label realized this was the way to go if they wanted to stop people from stealing their artists’ music. They all made deals with Spotify for access to their immense catalogs of music and eventually streaming became the main way music was consumed on the planet.

And guess what? Because of sites like Spotify the music business basically recovered fully in terms of revenues and profits.

Do artists get most of that money? Not always, but that’s not a royalty problem, that’s a label deal problem. The labels get the royalty revenue generated by streaming. And then they pay out the artists’ shares. So if an artist isn’t making any money from music (learn more) but is getting a ton of streams, there’s a good chance they signed a financially not-so-great contract with their record label.

If you’re an independent artist, however, you get paid ALL of the revenue your music generates (minus the company’s operating expenses).

Music Streaming Resources for Artists

All of the music platforms out there (at least the major ones) will have certain tools and resources for artists to help them make the most of their presence on a DSP.

Some of them offer playlisting opportunities, advertising opportunities and more.

The 2 big dogs – Spotify and Apple Music – both have a “…for Artists” hub on their sites that offer a wide range of tools to help you promote your brand and your music.

Quick Note: You can’t use any of these resources to upload your music directly to the streaming site. You have to use a company like TuneCore or Distrokid.

Spotify for Artists

Spotify for Artists is a fantastic resource for independent music artists around the world.

The company is taking this resource seriously, keeping it updated and adding new features. It’s an invaluable resource and it’s an absolute must to sign-up for it.

You can use Spotify for Artists to do the following:

  • Submit new songs for editorial/algorithmic playlisting opportunities
  • Sponsored recommendations to users + audio/video advertising to users
  • Profile tools to keep your bio/photos/etc updated, share updates with fans
  • Monetized links (fundraising, merch, etc)
  • Video/Static visuals (artwork) for tracks and albums
  • Create audio shows (like a talk show with your music)
  • Social media promo graphics
  • Full analytics/stats to show your performance on the platform
    • includes streams, monthly listeners, playlists, etc.
  • Tutorials (audio/video/written) for making the most of your Spotify profile

Apple Music for Artists

Following in Spotify’s footsteps, Apple Music also introduced it’s own artist “portal” with tools and resources to help you make the most of your presence – it’s called… wait for it… Apple Music for Artists.

Again, it’s highly recommended you sign up for this resources if you have your music on Apple Music.

Here’s a bit of what the platform offers it’s artists:

  • Promotion tools for music and videos
  • High performing artist interviews/tutorials to make the most of your profile
  • Personalize bio/photos
  • Add lyrics to songs/tracks
  • Full stack analytics/stats for your performance on Apple Music (includes streams/listeners/playlists/etc).

Tidal for Artists

Of course, Tidal also has a small portal for their artists to take advantage of resources and tools.

Here’s what’s on offer at Tidal for Artists:

  • Claim and customize Artist profile on Tidal – bio/images/social links/etc.
  • Networking with other artists
  • Tidal RISING – resource for new artists – collaborate, gain knowledge and industry connections
  • Tutorials on growing your music career and maximizing your Tidal presence
  • Tools to increase fan base and offer them deeper experiences
  • Access to music business opportunities

YouTube for Artists

And of course, there is also YouTube for Artists – a similar platform to all the ones mentioned above, but this time for your YouTube Music presence.

Here’s what the platform helps you with:

  • Setup an official Artist Channel on YouTube
  • Tutorials and videos on Best Practices and how to make the most of your presence on YouTube and YouTube Music
  • Detailed performance analytics/stats
  • Monetization tips/control
  • Access to YouTube charts to stay on top of trends
  • Tools for YouTube Shorts

Amazon Music for Artists

Finally, let’s quickly mention Amazon Music for Artists – the artist portal for Amazon Music Prime and Unlimited.

This is probably the least robust platform for artists in the music streaming world.

Here’s what you get:

  • Detailed stats/analytics on your performance on Amazon Music + Alexa
  • Tutorials + guides on getting the most from Amazon Music
    • How to setup Alexa skills, promoting your tracks
  • Print-on-demand merch
  • Twitch integration for live streaming
  • Pitch tracks for increased visibility
  • Customize artist profile

Which Streaming Platform is Best

Admittedly, the Spotify for Artists platform seems a little more robust than the other major players out there, but they’re all very valuable to aspiring independent artists.

You should be learning the ins and outs of all of the platforms, and using them to their full advantage. The best way to do that is to sign up for each of the “for Artists” hubs/platforms.

Read the guides, customize your profiles and use the tools they offer to promote yourself to new and existing fans.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Music Streaming Services Profitable?

The short answer is, no, streaming music services are not very profitable – neither for the artists involved, or the companies themselves. It’s a tough business. Companies like Spotify and Netflix often operate at a loss because of the amount of money they spend on content rights. And artists make very little because of the number of users vs. the amount of content available to be streamed.

Are Music Streaming Services Unfair to Artists?

This is a subjective question and depends on what you feel is “unfair” to artists. In reality, the major streaming services pay out a large majority of their revenue to the rights holders of the content they stream. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean artists get a majority of that money. Whoever owns the copyright (oftentimes, the labels or studios) is entitled to the majority of the payouts. Artists with bad deals, may end up making very little money. And artists without a lot of traction (i.e. attention/fan-base) don’t make much either. But is that unfair? It’s arguable.

How do Music Streaming Services Make Money?

The majority of music streaming services make money through 2 ways – advertising revenue and subscription revenue. If a user has a “free” account, then they are served advertisements between the songs they listen to. This is paid for by the companies that want to advertise directly to the service. On the other hand, if the user has a premium account, then they pay a monthly fee directly to the service to get the content without needing to view/listen to advertising.

What Music Streaming Service Pays the Most?

The music streaming service that pays the most amount of money per stream is Tidal. They pay an average (estimated) $0.0128 per stream (1.28 cents). Unfortunately, Tidal is also one of the least popular services because of their high monthly cost and late entry into the market. The company only has a few million users, so even though they pay out the most per stream, you may not make as much as a site with hundreds of millions of users, but a lower per-stream payout.

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    Final Thoughts

    Let’s be real about one thing – in today’s music business you have no choice but to be on ALL of the platforms out there.

    You may think the payout structures are unfair, but it’s how the economics work. The market has spoken, and people want unlimited access to the world’s music.

    They’re willing to pay for it, but gone are the days of selling $20 CDs and making millions.

    And with the number of artists out there and new songs being uploaded daily, this is a difficult grind/hustle.

    But if you’re an artist, then this is your calling and it’s the single best way to get your music out there to the masses.

    Unfortunately, you can’t just upload your music directly to these music services. You have to work with a distributor, for that.

    If you have music that’s ready to be released, I highly recommend you use TuneCore to do it – they’re an affordable way to release unlimited music to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more!

    Thanks for reading this guide! I hope it was helpful.

    Deviant Noise Top Pick Recommendation:

    Unlimited Distribution

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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.