Dec 18, 2014 · 4 minutes

Featuring your music on Spotify is the ultimate devil's bargain.

On one hand, it allows artists to capitalize on one of the most powerful distribution platforms in the world, making their music available to millions of fans around the globe at the click of a button. On the other hand, the royalty payments doled out by Spotify, often determined by opaque agreements with record labels, amount to mere fractions of pennies per play, stoking the ire of performers both big and small.

But BandPage, the four-year-old startup that powers profile pages for over a half of million artists including Beyonce, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake, has found a way to squeeze more cash than ever from Spotify, and it has the numbers to prove it.

Four months ago, BandPage made it possible for artists to promote T-shirts, posters, and concert tickets directly on Spotify, along with a host of other platform partners like YouTube and Rdio. All a band had to do was feature these items on their BandPage profile, and the goods would automatically appear when a fan listened to that band on Spotify. The idea is that millions of people use Spotify everyday while very few hang around a band's personal website. Now, BandPage has revealed some early numbers on how the partnership is panning out -- and the results are enormously impressive.

Thanks to the reach of these platforms, artists receive ten times more impressions when selling through BandPage's network of partners than they do on their own sites. Meanwhile, clickthrough rates are five-times higher and conversion rates are up to three-times higher, with some artists making as much as $1,000 a day. Compare that to, say, the $149 royalty check the band Pomplamoose received from YouTube for the entire month of May, 2014 after racking up 3.5 million views.

"Streaming services are incredible marketplaces to sell more tickets to your shows, to sell more experiences," says BandPage CEO J. Sider. "We don’t facilitate streaming royalties, we facilitate everything else a musician sells."

This runs counter to the theory that the best way for an artist to get paid is to sell music directly to consumers, forgoing big platforms and often-predatory record labels. Hip-hop artist Ryan Leslie, for example, sold 180,000 copies of his major label debut through traditional channels, but didn't even bring in enough royalties to cover his $100,000 advance. After going it alone for his last album, Leslie sold only 12,000 copies but made $160,000 in revenue off of album sales alone, and another $240,000 in ticket and merchandise sales.

What makes BandPage so attractive, however, is that it allows artists to bring in meaningful revenue while still capitalizing on the reach of major distribution platforms. And it's not just streaming services that partner with BandPage. Those tour dates you see on the right-hand side of Google when you search for a band? Those are powered by BandPage, too. In this way, the startup is like an ad agency that expands a bands' presence and selling power on some of the web's biggest platforms, all while helping it project a unified message. But unlike traditional advertising models, BandPage only makes money when bands make money, taking home 15 percent from goods sold through its network. And if the increase in impressions, clickthroughs, and conversations touted by BandPage are to be believed, that's no "devil's bargain" -- it's just smart business.

But while merchandise sales have always been crucial to artists' bottom-lines, there's an argument that musicians should be paid not just for swag, but for their music -- after all, that's what they should be spending the most time on anyway. This is the theory behind direct-to-consumer platforms like Gumroad and Patreon. Artists can and do sell physical goods on these sites, but the platforms also place a bigger emphasis on selling and making money off of the art itself.

Yet sadly, as musicians like ex-Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin have observed, the sense of "disposability" that is felt when songs live only in the cloud and not on your shelf -- or even your iPod -- has turned music into a commodity, which nobody wants to pay for on a song-by-song or album-by-album basis. At best, fans will pay for all-you-can-eat subscription packages, and even that can be a hard sell.

Some even argue that this same cultural disposability also makes it harder for bands to sell merchandise -- merchandise that BandPage is banking on to help save the music industry. When talking about the pre-Internet days -- back when fandom required a greater buy-in from the listener than merely hitting "Play" on Spotify, Chamberlin says, “If you wanted to participate in the culture, you had to have the T-shirt, you had to see the video. Nas, Eminem, Beastie Boys or Flavor Flav… those people had cultural components that still drive the culture today.” There's surely some truth to that. But based on BandPage's early findings, many fans are still willing to pay for these ancillary goods, even if they won't pay for the music.

When BandPage launched, it felt like a glorified Myspace. Who needed an online network dedicated to bands when it's easy enough to have a web presence on existing mega-platforms like Facebook and Twitter? But now BandPage has built itself into something much more interesting: A layer of commerce and publicity for artists that sits atop some of the web's biggest music platforms. And whatever the future of the music industry looks like, I will surprised if BandPage -- or something similar -- doesn't play a key part in it.

[illustraion by Brad Jonas]