Bette Midler, whose career in the music business has now spanned nearly 50 years, says she can’t make a living as a songwriter anymore because internet radio screws the people who make the music that forms the core of their business.
In a Twitter posting last week, Bette Midler added her own distinctive voice to what in recent months has been a growing chorus of songwriters and musicians, including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke among other big names, who say that online radio stations such as Pandora and Spotify pay unfair royalty rates — sometimes ridiculously unfair.
In the Twitter post, The Divine Miss M, as Bette Midler has been known since early in her career singing in a New York City gay bathhouse, claimed that while her songs have streamed on Pandora for the previous three months and been played more than 4 million times, the online radio station paid her barely enough to cover a monthly cell phone bill.
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) April 4, 2014
In 2013, Pandora, whose publicly traded stock goes for $368 per share, claimed revenues of $638.9 million — but paid out, by its own accounts, $342.9 million in royalties to artists, more than half of its income. With other expenses, the company claimed, that added up to a $40.7 million loss for the year, which was even worse than 2012 when the company dropped $35.6 million.
But by the rates stated by Bette Midler, she would need her songs to be streamed more than 13 million times just to be able to buy a single share of Pandora’s stock, as the Vintage Vinyl News pointed out.
Pandora responded to the Bette Midler accusation in a correspondence with industry bible Billboard Magazine just two days after Midler posted her tweet, saying that the actress and songstress got her math wrong. That $114 figure should be more like $6,400.
“We must clarify an important fact: Pandora paid more than $6,400 for those 4+ million plays, based on our 2014 rates which are published publicly,” Pandora told Billboard. “In terms of compensation to the creative community Pandora remains by far the highest paying form of radio. Pandora pays songwriters a greater percentage of revenue than terrestrial radio. And Pandora paid 48% of our revenue in performance royalties to rights-holders in 2013 – more than $300 million — while terrestrial radio was required to pay nothing.”
Bette Midler has not yet responded to Pandora’s revised numbers.