Pharrell made less than $3,000 in songwriter royalties from 43 million Pandora streams of “Happy”

Shawn Ahmed

Update: The original headline of this story has been revised to reflect that the $3,000 amount only refers to Pandora’s songwriter royalty payments, and did not include its performance rights payments. Pharell’s take on 43 million “Happy” plays from those payments likely totaled approximately $25,000.

This week, The Recording Academy announced its nominees for the 2015 Grammy Awards.

Among those up for Best Pop Solo Performance are”Happy (Live)” by Pharrell Williams…

And “All of Me” by John Legend.

Through the first three months of 2014, “Happy” was streamed 43 million times on Pandora, while “All Of Me” was played 55 million times on the service.

But how much money did all those streams make for the artists involved in creating the tracks?

According to an email from music publisher Sony/ATV head Martin Bandier obtained by Digital Music News’ Paul Resnikoff, “Happy” brought in just $2,700 in publisher and songwriter royalties in the first quarter of this year, while “All Of Me” yielded just $3,400 in publisher and songwriter royalties. The songwriter himself or herself usually sees around 43 percent of those amounts; the rest goes to his or her publishing group.

Those figures do not include performance rights royalty rates, which tend to be larger than publishing ones. According to industry analyst Michael DeGusta, Pharrell would likely have earned approximately $25,000 from the 43 million plays.

At current publishing rates, Sony’s Bandier said, one million plays of a song on Pandora typically translates to only approximately $60 in publishing royalties, which then gets shared between the songwriters and publishing corporations like Sony.

“This is a totally unacceptable situation and one that cannot be allowed to continue,” he wrote.

A Sony rep confirmed the accuracy of the email. Full-year data for those songs, and Sony’s other nominees like Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”, or “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea, was not yet available, he said.

Pandora did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The debate over streaming royalty payments to artists has reached a crescendo this year. In October, Taylor Swift removed all her music from Spotify in the run-up to her new album’s release.

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music,” she told Yahoo. “And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”

Her album went on to sell 1.3 million copies to become the first and so-far only platinum album of 2014.

Last month, Aloe Blacc, the artist who co-wrote and sings lead vocal on the hit “Wake Me Up!”, wrote an op-ed for Wired in which he claimed Pandora has paid just $12,359 in songwriter royalties for the 168 million times the song has played on Pandora. That amount does not include performance royalties.

aloe blacc

Early next year, the federal Copyright Royalty Board is expected to issue new royalty rates for online radio services (Spotify would not be affected), an event that Billboard’s Glenn Peoples writes will have far-reaching consequences for the digital music industry.

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