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43 million Pandora streams of “Happy” earned Pharrell Williams a measly $2,700

on December 19, 2014, 10:55am

Photo by Cathy Poulton

Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” was one of 2014’s hottest, most ubiquitous singles. It not only set charts and radio stations ablaze, but its corresponding music video went on to spawn countless parodies and even earn the R&B singer a coveted Grammy nomination. One would assume that a song of such caliber — one that so heavily defined the year in pop music, as well as Williams’ own mighty comeback — would have raked in millions from a streaming service like Pandora, right? Think again.

As Digital Music News reports (via Fusion), an email from Sony/ATV head Martin Bandier tells quite a different story. According to the CEO, a whopping 43 million streams of “Happy” on Pandora yielded only a measly $2,700 in royalties. This translates roughly into $60 for every one million plays. Take a minute and let that data sink in.

The numbers, which come from the first quarter of 2014, paint a dark, dark picture for Pandora. And as Pandora is currently the most used music streaming service on the market, these “Happy” (or unhappy, really) figures cast an even more daunting shadow on the streaming music system itself. For comparison’s sake, a 2013 report noted that Spotify paid a paltry $0.006-0.0084 per stream.

While Bandier’s email is a shocking revelation, it’s one that likely won’t surprise artists like Dave Grohl, Pink Floyd, Thom Yorke, David Byrne, and Beck, all of whom have recently publicly slammed music streaming services. The most prominent voice against such services perhaps is Taylor Swift, who pulled her entire catalog from Spotify last month as a way to protect the “inherent value placed on art” — a move that caused a fluster of backlash from critics and fans alike and reportedly cost the pop star $6 million in lost revenue.

In the same email, Bandier later said that the $60 per one million plays rate was a “totally unacceptable situation and one that cannot be allowed to continue.” However, only time will tell just how Pandora will rectify things and whether other similar streaming services will follow suit.

Below, revisit the video for “Happy”.