Ex-Apple Music exec and Nine Inch Nails star Trent Reznor slams streaming services, claims they "make being an artist unsustainable.”

Trent Reznor
(Image credit: Getty Images / R Diamond)

Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has some choice words about the streaming landscape and how it's affecting smaller artists. 

Given that Reznor was previously an Apple Music executive, having been part of the Beats Music team that Apple would eventually consume, his words hit truer and sharper than most — especially when he says that "the terrible payout of streaming services has mortally wounded a whole tier of artists that make being an artist unsustainable."

That's not all he had to say about the state of the streaming landscape during a wide-ranging interview with GQ, and it's likely that his ex-colleagues at Apple Music might not be too happy reading it.

Trent goes in with teeth

“It’s great if you’re Drake, and it’s not great if you’re Grizzly Bear”, Reznor states, illustrating the core of the issue — big artists are able to do well from streaming, while young, upcoming artists struggle more with finding an audience and getting paid for their music.

“Those boats rise. These boats don’t,” he says, taking the argument further. "They can't make money in any means" Reznor continues, lamenting the difficulty of making music through streaming.

He thought that Apple Music could be better, with “influence to pay in a more significant way”, giving artists more for their work. He then goes on to admit that a lot of it is restricted by label politics, with “everyone trying to hold on to their little piece of the pie.” As much as he might have wanted Apple to make a difference, it wasn't as easy as he'd hoped, with a multitude of different pockets to keep topped up with small amounts of revenue.

Most sadly, Reznor recognizes that it’s on the listener as well. They don’t care how much an artist is paid (for the most part), and they “just want to turn the faucet on and have music come in.” There’s little concern for “all the romantic shit I thought mattered.”

To Trent Reznor, music streaming has been a failed experiment for artists — but given that there are some very, very rich people making money out of it and customers getting an extremely convenient service, it’s unlikely to go anywhere soon.

According to Producer Hive, Apple is only second to Tidal when it comes to streaming royalties, giving some credence to the idea that Apple wants to make things better for artists. That still amounts to just a fraction of a dollar per stream though ($0.0008 to be exact), so even if you stream your songs a couple of thousand times, that's only just a dollar. Trent Reznor has enjoyed a long and storied musical career — and he seems to want the same for up-and-coming artists. Unfortunately, even when played on those platforms that pay the most, that's becoming less and less possible.

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Tammy Rogers
Senior Staff Writer

As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.