PÄR SUNDSTRÖM Explains How SABATON Has Managed To Make Good Money From Its Music In Digital Era

April 8, 2023

SABATON bassist and co-founder Pär Sundström, who also serves as the group's manager, spoke to Forbes about how he and his bandmates have managed to not only survive but thrive as fans choose to stream songs online rather than purchase them.

According to Sundström, ownership of the SABATON brand has always been key, with the group owning its masters and publishing, a viable revenue stream for a band that has eclipsed two billion streams regardless of the state of physical album sales.

"I know bands who signed contracts in, let's say, the pre-digital era," he said. "And they signed contracts where they have a royalty rate based on physical sales. In short term, the contract would cover the universe and beyond and give them the same royalty no matter what kind of format for a lifetime. When that translates into the digital era, it doesn't matter if you have millions of listeners on a song because you get almost nothing out of it.

"It's not a secret that the digital platforms pay very little per stream," he explained. "But it makes a huge difference if you are on the higher scale or lower scale of keeping that percentage for yourself as opposed to all of the other labels and publishers who take their cut. So, when we own it, we can decide where we want to be on the scale. And when it bumps up to the billions, yeah, that bumps up pretty nicely."

According to USA Today, Spotify doesn't pay the artists directly but instead pays the rights holders, who pay the artists. Roughly two-thirds of the Spotify revenue from music goes to rights holders. Rights holders are the licensor the artist pays to represent them and upload their music to Spotify — often record labels or distributors. This money is divided into recording royalties (paid to the artist via licensor) and publishing royalties, which goes to the songwriters or owners of the song. Artists are paid different amounts depending on the contracts they have with their rights holders.

According to Business Insider, Spotify pays artists and rights holders on average between $0.003 and $0.005 per stream. On average, one billion streams on Spotify can generate around $7.8 million in revenue for the artist. As stated above, however, it's important to note that this revenue is typically split between the artist, their record label, and other stakeholders involved in the production and distribution of the music.

Back in 2016, Sundström spoke to From Hero To Zero about how the digital music revolution has affected SABATON. He said: "You know, I think we came in the right time for this, 'cause we came in a time when we were interested in that too. I was a lot into computers before starting the band, so I was following the development of the Internet and stuff like that. At the age of 13, I was building servers and connecting them to Internet and writing my own software for that. And that was that time. And a couple of years later, the Internet started to provide, like, 'Oh, you can actually download some music here.' I found it very interesting, even though at that time I was buying tons of CDs all the time and stuff, but it was still exciting to see what you could do with it. So I was following the scene very closely."

He continued: "SABATON was never a big band before this whole thing changed, the music scene, so we have only seen the possibilities of using this, and we have used it. So while we have a lot of colleagues who have lost sales and no longer see their hundreds of thousands or millions of sales that they had in the past, we never had that. So every album for us is better and better. So I've seen the change, I've been part of it, and I find it very exciting. There's no way to change it. I think the most stupid of all things was the people who tried to fight against it instead of evolving towards it. 'Cause if this can be seen as one of the biggest revolutions that ever happened in the world, you have billions of people who want something, and then you have only very, very few who try to stand against it, try to prevent people from getting what they want. And since when [does] that happen? You need superior a lot if you wanna be just a few people who try to control billions, you know. It's not gonna work. So I think that a lot of labels and a lot of managers and a lot of people, they were too old. If they would have been growing up in times, seeing things… being part of this thing as we were, the music industry would have adapted much quicker and learned a way to earn money from it, 'cause there should be."

Last September, SABATON announced a new EP trilogy titled "Echoes Of The Great War". The trilogy features new songs specifically about World War I, coupled with topically related catalog music.

SABATON climbed the international charts with its tenth studio album, "The War To End All Wars", securing No. 1 positions in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Poland, Hungary and Finland. Having achieved the top position for the second time in Germany, Sweden and Finland, the album peaked at No. 1 in Poland, Hungary and Austria for the first time in the band’s career. This and additional outstanding results in other territories have made "The War To End All Wars" SABATON's most successful album so far.

Photo credit: Tim Tronckoe

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