Collaborations were big in the eighties.
In a typical month, seven of the Billboard Top 100 songs featured a collaboration. As opposed to maybe one or two in the 1970’s.
Some favorites from December 1981 are:
- Under Pressure — Queen (feat. David Bowie)
- Endless Love — Lionel Richie (feat. Diana Ross)
- Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around — Stevie Nicks (feat. Tom Petty)
This year? On average there are THIRTY-THREE (!!) collaborations in the Top 100 every month.
Why is this happening?
…and where does money flow in this mess?
At DistroKid, we analyzed over 1.2 million songs that were uploaded to us over the past four years. These are primarily new songs — we’re a service that artists & labels use to get their new music into stores & streaming services (like iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, and more).
According to our calculations, the number of songs that feature a collaboration more than doubled over the past two years, from 5% to 11%.
And it’s just getting started.
Note: For the purposes of this article (and online music service style guides), a collaboration is when the collaborator primarily works separately, but appears on another artist’s track.
Example collaboration: Queen (feat. David Bowie). Both artists were working separately when they collaborated on Under Pressure.
NOT a collaboration: Huey Lewis and the News. The News is not a standalone group (at least, not a notable one).
NOT a collaboration: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. They do have independent careers. But came to prominence as a group.
There are a few reasons why collaborations are on 🔥
Hip-hop is really collaboratey. Ever since (for example) Dr. Dre put then-unknown Snoop Dogg on a track in 1992 that launched Snoop's career, rappers have been teaming up nonstop.
At DistroKid, it’s not unusual to see a hip-hop album with 3 collaborators listed in each song. So a 15-song album might have 45 different “featuring” artists.
DistroKid has distributed over 152,000 hip-hop tracks. An astounding 42% of them feature a collaborator in the song title. That’s up from 20% just two years ago.
Compare that to the small number of rock collaborations at around 2%.
“Producer” means a lot of things. But for this, we’re talking about a solo musician who uses computers to make music & beats.
What was once “Gloria Gaynor” (with a 9-piece studio band) singing I Will Survive, is now “Rihanna (feat. Calvin Harris)” singing We Found Love.
That last bit in parenthesis is important.
Calvin Harris is the producer — he made all the music on the track except vocals. He’s a one-man “The E. Street Band” — but isn’t tied to any single vocalist. So almost every song he makes is a collaboration.
DistroKid works with the most prolific YouTube musicians in the world. YouTubers all know that the most effective way to increase audience is by collaborating with other YouTubers. There’s an entire lesson on YouTube’s “Creator Academy” (see here) that teaches YouTubers how to do collaborations.
So this all begs the question: with up to 45 collaborators on an album, and 500 albums uploaded every day, how does everyone get paid?
How does the artist (or label) accurately split earnings amongst collaborators?
Without an automated solution at the distributor level, they don’t.
It’s nearly impossible.
It’s easy to figure out how much an artist made. But if you want to figure out how much each collaborator is owed from each stream… now you’re looking at millions of rows in hundreds of royalty reports from dozens of sources — every month.
Payments are paid in fractions of cents.
Did I say fractions? I meant 20 decimal places.
Did I say cents? I meant 30 different currencies.
Did I say 30 different currencies? I meant a 350-row exchange rate lookup table. “Customer currency: Swedish Krona, royalty currency: Ukrainian Hryvnia” is a thing (and so on, and so on).
Did I say a 350-row exchange rate lookup table? I meant a different table every month — from every streaming provider.
But wait. A featured artist might be due 20% of one track and 18% of another — but how does it get split when someone buys the entire album (as opposed to a single track) from iTunes?
But wait. Some countries withhold tax, some don’t. Gotta calculate that.
You get the idea.
DistroKid is the first distributor in the world that can automatically split payments amongst collaborators.
All an artist needs to do is specify who’s featured on which track, and what percent of earnings each collaborator should earn.
So a 5-piece band could split earnings equally 5-ways. Or a rapper could carve out 20% of a track for the guest rapper. Or a YouTube musician could give her cameraman & makeup artist a cut.
Or if you want a glimpse into the future… a producer could give a cut of his earnings to the owner of the drum beat he sampled. Or a remixer could give a cut to the original artist who made the song she’s remixing.
With DistroKid, it’s automated.
And it’s accurate.
To 20 decimal places.
We’ve all heard of record labels ripping off artists. I don’t know much about that. But I do know that it’s practically impossible (and un-fun to attempt) to calculate splits accurately — unless you’re able to do precise split calculations on millions of rows, for every stream, in every currency, at the distributor level.
Which your distributor doesn’t do.
Unless your distributor is DistroKid.
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