For decades, going platinum has defined “ultra-successful” musicians. But does it pay the bills? With platinum in the name, it makes sense that it would bring in some money.
But how much does a platinum single make? It completely depends on the contract between the artist and the record label. A platinum single usually makes anywhere between nothing and $500,000 dollars for the artist. The record label, distribution fees, and copyright costs take a sizeable portion of revenue.
But $500,000 is a monstrous range. Indeed, there are many variables that affect how much money an artist ends up getting. Read on to learn all about them.
What is a Platinum Single?
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) gives a clear-cut answer. A platinum single is a song that has sold at least 2 million copies.
Let’s look at some examples:
- “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
- “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
- “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
- “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
- “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
- “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X
It’s no surprise that these songs have been RIAA platinum certified. Most of us have heard at least five of these six – on the radio, in the supermarket, or on a friend’s playlist.
However, there’s a notable difference between the first and last entry.
“White Christmas,”(1941) for example, achieved platinum status the old-fashioned way. Millions visited record stores to pick up a vinyl copy of Crosby’s iconic hit.
Meanwhile, “Old Town Road” (2019) went platinum 16 times without even reaching 2 million sales. Instead, this renowned rap/country blend received billions of streams through Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube.
Platinum Single vs Platinum Album
Going platinum isn’t just about singles. A platinum album, like a single, is a sign to the artist that they did something right – something that resonated with fans.
Examples of platinum albums include:
- Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi
- Even Now by Barry Manilow
- The Wall by Pink Floyd
- Purple Rain by Prince
- Like a Virgin by Madonna
Unlike singles, albums must only sell one million copies to receive platinum status. This doesn’t make it any easier, though. Albums take several times the effort to produce as singles, after all.
Thus, many artists – especially pop musicians – prefer to release their music as singles.
Can a Song Go Platinum Through Streaming?
Album sales have been declining for decades. Millions of songs are instantly accessible through streaming platforms. A small monthly fee of $10 for a world of music is more palatable than a $10 album with eleven songs, for example.
Thus, going platinum is more about how many streams you get because going platinum through sales alone is harder than ever.
Fortunately, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has revised its guidelines in response. Now, artists can go platinum through streams. However, the requirements are steep and unfortunately for musicians, one stream doesn’t equal one sale.
A platinum single requires 150 million streams. Meanwhile, a platinum album needs a massive 1.5 billion streams.The math is as follows:
150 streams = one sale.
Long answer short, yes. Songs can (and do) go platinum through streaming. Nowadays, this is the norm rather than the exception.
Determining How Much a Platinum Single Makes
How much a platinum single makes and how much an artist gets paid are two separate figures. Let’s say you release a hit song that goes platinum. You’ll be sitting pretty, but how pretty you sit depends on:
- If you’re signed to a label or independent
- Your distribution contract
- Cost of song production
- If there is an advance to be paid back
- If you’re a solo artist or in a band
- How you’re credited in the song.
Indeed, there are many variables that determine revenue. With streams and sales existing in tandem, it’s even harder to answer now than it was a few decades ago. This is because different platforms pay different amounts.
Let’s look at some popular music distribution platforms for a clearer picture:
- Tidal: $0.01250 per stream
- Apple Music: $0.00735 per stream
- Spotify: $0.00437 per stream
- Amazon Music: $0.00402 per stream
- YouTube: $0.00069 per view
With this information and a calculator, we know that a platinum single makes about $655,500 (0.00437 x 150 million) through Spotify. But this number could also be as low as $103,500 for YouTube or as high as $2,580,000 for actual sales.
Who Gets Paid What?
An independent solo artist that goes platinum can make enough to live comfortably for a few years. A band with a record contract, on the other hand, might not be doing as well as you’d think.
First and foremost are mechanical royalties. These constitute a portion of all streaming fees and are owed to whomever own the rights to a song plus the listed songwriter.
Frequently, a record label will have ownership and take a cut of the revenue before the songwriter gets paid. But it isn’t uncommon that the songwriter is the rights’ owner. In fact, this is quickly becoming the norm.
With self-published solo musicians, the answer to “who gets paid what” is as straightforward as can be. In these cases, the $103,500 to $2,580,000 from going platinum goes straight to the artist. Of course, we’re not touching taxes here – that’s another topic.
How Platinum Status Effects Your Revenue
Chances are if you have a platinum hit in your hands, you’re no small-time act.
Major artists land good deals when creating the right agreements with distribution companies. These secure a decent revenue – between 15 and 30% of the net brought by a platinum single.
While this isn’t the highest figure, such contracts certainly make it easier to achieve platinum status in the first place. It is ridiculously difficult (and takes incredible luck) to go platinum without any help.
Beyoncé helped herself by having her own label, Parkwood Entertainment. It accounts for distribution rights and solid arrangements with different groups. With this setup, she continues to harvest the results of her work as a performing artist.
But nobody doubts that Beyoncé is a ludicrously wealthy musician. What about smaller, middle-class songwriters? This raises the question: are streaming services wiping out the middle-class?
Making Money as a Non-Famous Musician
Canadian cellist Zoë Keating, who’s been an advocate for data portability and a reviewer of copyright law at the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary had this to say:
“In the recent past it might have been possible to make a middle-class living on your music. In the current streaming economy, the only way to survive is to be huge.”
—Zoë Keating, The Ringer
While there are ways to break through the digital ceiling, experts predict a reduced musical elite for the new decade. This concern spawns from the streaming stats, with numerous established acts becoming Diamond Certified Songs from 2017 to 2022:
- “Roar” by Katy Perry
- “Royals” by Lorde
- “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor
- “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5
- “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd
Such mega-hits are concentrated around a handful of artists. The diamond status milestone represents going platinum ten times – over 1 billion streams. Unfortunately, this takes a sizeable chunk of the streaming pool away from smaller artists.
Example: while getting 1 million Spotify streams takes a lot of hard work a musical talent, it only amounts to $4,370. That’s not a lot of money if it took you two years to get there.
Choosing Your Distribution Platform
Accessibility is at the core of the modern music industry. Nowadays, it’s a must to post your music on every major streaming service and social media if you want recognition. But giving your music away doesn’t make for a sustainable career.
This is why you must ask yourself, “which distributor suits my needs?”
CD Baby, TuneCore, Landr, Ditto — all of these and many other platforms enable you to upload and promote your music across different services. However, be wary of fees and approach these services with caution.
Ultimately, getting your music heard is about more than simply putting your music on Spotify, Apple Music, etcetera. Publishing entails that every time your song is used somewhere, be it YouTube or Instagram, the money comes straight to you.
As for promotion, be sure to research your options to decide which will be the best investment for you and your music. Take a look at the video below for a helpful guide on making the right decision.
A platinum single can make anywhere between $103,500 and $2,580,000. Of course, this depends on a variety of factors unique to each artist and their record contract. It also depends on whether a song goes platinum through sales or streams.
Unfortunately, musicians rarely get the full amount of what a platinum song (or album) brings in. Independent artists are a rare exception.
Needless to say, “going platinum” isn’t the easiest path to paying your bills.