The question of if and when to stream is something we strategize for each and every release. It’s certainly not an exact science, and reasonable people in our business disagree on this important decision. The issue at hand is that the average Broadway cast album costs between $300,000 and $500,000 to produce. Spotify pays between $0.001 and $0.007 per stream. So an average Broadway cast album receiving average revenue from Spotify would have to receive 100 million streams to cover its production costs. That doesn’t including paying for distribution, the songwriters royalties, the show royalties or anything beyond just the creation of the album. Given that there are approximately 320 million people in the United States, your cast album has to be extremely popular to recoup it’s production costs from streaming alone. Of course, repeated listens and international fans help rack up the streaming numbers. The Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen‘s of the world can do it, but not many others.
This is why when using the current music business models, CD and digital download sales are still so important for cast recordings. Luckily, they still represent the lion’s share of our sales. Broadway is a unique niche within the music business in that a Broadway cast recording is still considered an important collectible or keepsake of the musical experience. We always make sure that our cast recording packages are chock full of photos, lyrics, essays and more to help enhance the fan experience. For those fortunate enough to see their favorite Broadway or Off-Broadway musical, the cast album is a cherished remembrance. For those who live further from New York City, the cast recording is their way of discovering all of the amazing shows that are difficult for them to see in person. At any one time, there are around two dozen musicals running on Broadway. Of course, there are thousands of musicals in the theatrical canon that can also be discovered and embraced through their cast recording, as well as through Off-Broadway, regional and licensed productions.
Whenever we work with a Broadway show, an Off-Broadway show, or a solo artist, we have the streaming conversation. Most often, with Broadway shows, we wait a minimum of 6 months to a year (and sometimes longer) to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, etc. This is to allow the recording time to reach its audience amongst CD and digital download buyers. The aforementioned high expense of Broadway cast recordings frequently necessitates this approach. However, if the marketing and wide exposure of the show’s score are deemed more valuable for a particular production than the financial considerations, then early streaming may make more sense. Part of this decision depends on who financed the recording. If the show financed the album via its marketing budget, it is much easier to justify prioritizing the marketing needs of the show. If the album was financed by direct investors expecting to make their money back, then the financial considerations must be given more weight. Without investors supporting the cast recordings, these important preservations of a show’s score and performances will become less and less common.
Off-Broadway recordings and solo artist recordings are far less expensive, so the pressure on streaming to deliver financially is less. Streaming is excellent for getting more ears on an artists’ work, so early streaming is very attractive if the artists’ primary goal is wide exposure. However, since many solo artists finance their own albums, we have this streaming conversation with each of them so that they can make the decision regarding the balance between exposure and financial return.
The next phase in cast albums will require innovative use of social media and streaming, collaboration with the unions to make the finances more efficient, and collaboration with creators and show producers to evolve with the changes in the industry and technology. Continued love and attention to quality and detail will be essential in the preservation of the art form that we have made our life’s passion. The ability for future generations of theater lovers to discover new musicals, as well as rediscover the classics, depends on our industry’s ability to keep the cast album business strong for the foreseeable future.
Van Dean is President and Co-Founder of Broadway Records. He is also a Tony Award-winning Broadway Producer of 12 musicals and plays and is a Grammy Award-winning producer of The Color Purple (New Broadway Cast Recording). Broadway Records has released 150+ albums including the Grammy-nominated Matilda, Once On This Island, My Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof as well as Anastasia, Groundhog Day, Bandstand and also created the popular “Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below” album series and the Tony Award Season series. Van’s philanthropic work includes being a producer of “Broadway For Orlando: What The World Needs Now is Love”, “Broadway Kids Against Bullying: I Have a Voice”, “From Broadway With Love” benefit concerts for Sandy Hook, Orlando (Emmy Award winner for sound design) and Parkland and his work with NewArts in Sandy Hook/Newtown, CT. www.BroadwayRecords.com