Eventmath/Lesson plans/Comparing streaming service pay rates to artists

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Lesson plan overview
TitleComparing streaming service pay rates to artists
Assumed knowledgeBasic arithmetic
ActivitiesStudents will make sense of a tweet about streaming service pay rates for artists, by using proportional reasoning and making a graph. They will also craft alt-text for sharing their graph on social media.
Class time15-30 minutes
"Would you like another reason to switch to a music service that is NOT Spotify?". Twitter. 2022-02-07. Archived from the original on 2022-03-05.
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Activities[edit | edit source]

The main idea is to help students make sense of very small/large numbers and compare them using appropriate units of measurement.

Initial discussion[edit | edit source]

Provide students with the tweet and ask them questions as if they were just seeing it. Consider using polling software, or maybe give a mock quiz and then ask students to swap papers and compare. See below for suggested discussion questions.

Would you like another reason to switch to a music service that is NOT Spotify?

This is what services paid me on average per stream in 2021

Amazon - $0.0107463

Tidal - $0.007981

Youtube - $0.007795

Apple - $0.006040

Deezer - $0.0045861

Spotify - $0.003661

(I am my label fyi)

Zoë Keating, https://twitter.com/zoecello/status/1490817801552027651

  1. How many streams would this artist need (on average) to earn $1 on Amazon? What about Apple? Spotify?
  2. What would 1 million streams pay on Amazon? What about Apple? Spotify?
  3. How many Spotify streams are needed in 1 year to amount to the same pay as $15/hour for 40 hours/week?
  4. How do the pay rates of Amazon and Apple compare? Write a sentence that expresses a numerical comparison between those two. Do the same for Apple and Spotify.

(I had success with posing these questions to students on paper as a mock "quiz" for a couple of minutes, and then asking them to compare answers in groups of 2 or 3 to see if any questions arise before the main task.)

Main task: create a graphical representation of the data[edit | edit source]

The central activity of the lesson asks students to present the given information in a graphical form instead, and then write appropriate alt-text for sharing the graph as an image on social media.

Units: $/stream or streams/$[edit | edit source]

The original Tweet expresses the pay rates in the units of dollars per stream. While you discuss the solutions to the "quiz" questions, steer the discussion towards the idea that perhaps streams per dollar might be a more useful unit, for the sake of comparing the various platforms. From the point of view of an artist, it's probably much easier to compare the numerical values of "How many streams are needed to earn $1?", as opposed to comparing the tiny decimal numbers expressed in the original Tweet. Or, as hinted at by one of the possible questions above, students may want to express everything in the units of yearly streams needed to make annual minimum wage, which would essentially be a multiple of the streams per dollar unit.

For your convenience, here is a table with the information from the original Tweet, as well as the corresponding value expressed in the Streams / $ unit. (To obtain the yearly streams needed to make annual minimum wage value or something like it, simply multiply the Streams / $ value by the annual wage you want to consider.) Aligning decimal points makes the sizes of the numbers easier to compare.

Platform $ / Stream Streams / $
Amazon $0.0107463 93.1
Tidal $0.007981 125.3
YouTube $0.007795 128.3
Apple $0.006040 165.6
Deezer $0.0045861 218.1
Spotify $0.003661 273.1

Graphical representation of the data[edit | edit source]

You might also steer the discussion to considering whether the original Tweet is engaging or informative for a reader scrolling through their timeline. For example, you might ask students to reflect on what they would do if they encountered this Tweet in their feed or someone shared it with them. How would they process this information? What calculations, if any, would they do to make sense of these numbers? Through this discussion, students may realize that a visual data display, such as a bar graph, could be a more engaging way of presenting the underlying information.

Ask students to resume discussion in their small groups and make a "mock up" of a graphical representation of this data. In other words, just ask them to think about the key features of their data display -- the labels and scales on the axes, the order of the categories, a title, etc. -- and make a quick sketch of what it might look like. They may also decide whether they want to use $/stream or streams/$ (or something else) as the unit of measurement.

After a short while, reconvene the class-wide discussion so that students can learn from each other's ideas. Then, each group can create a more polished version of their graph during class time or as homework, depending on the classroom context.

Writing alt-text[edit | edit source]

Whether the students create a graph in class or for homework, they should also write appropriate alt-text for sharing that graph as an image on social media. Here is a prompt you might use on a worksheet or assignment description:

Create ALT text for the graphic so that it's accessible to more people (e.g. people with visual or cognitive impairments, people who are searching with a search engine, or people for whom the image fails to load). According to the Twitter Help Center, "Good image descriptions are concise and descriptive, helping people understand what’s happening in an image." If the graphic conveys certain insights better than the numbers alone, an image description might convey those same insights verbally.

You may also consider sharing the POET Training Tool with students, or assigning them some practice examples from that site about how to write image descriptions.

For students that are specifically learning techniques for data analysis or how to create data visualizations, you might ask them to read the guide "Writing Alt Text for Data Visualization" by Amy Cesal.

Concluding discussion[edit | edit source]

Finally, have the students share their creations with each other and discuss them! Perhaps you create a slideshow of each submission to view together during class time, or perhaps the students must share and comment on each other's submission on an online discussion forum, or... Whatever you do, it's important for students to see each other's work and share feedback. This will emphasize the point that there is no "right answer" here, and that there are many decisions to be made when sharing numerical information visually and in writing.

Here are some questions you might use to spark some discussion. You might even use these as prompts for a follow-up survey or short writing assignment, too.

  • Look back at the original Tweet and then at your graphical representation of the data. How do they compare and contrast? If you encountered one of them for the first time in your social media feed, how might you react and process the information?
  • Which unit of measurement did you find most helpful when thinking about this topic: $/stream or streams/$? Or, did you find it helpful to go back and forth between the two?
  • Based on your work in this lesson, what advice do you have for yourself and your peers about how to process numerical information, especially when it involves small numbers (like the original Tweet)?
  • Reflect on the discussions you had with your group and the decisions you made regarding the alt-text for your image. Were there any challenges you faced in translating the data display into words? Did you gain any new insights into this topic or the underlying data by creating the graph and its alt-text?

Assignments[edit | edit source]

  1. Homework prompt: Find another example of an artist sharing their average pay rate for at least one streaming service. Express any information you find using both the Streams / $ and $ / Stream units, and compare/contrast with the original source for this lesson.
  2. Homework prompt: If you have an account on one of the streaming services considered in this activity, identify an artist you have listened to a lot. How many songs have you streamed from them in the last month? Year? (Perhaps you can find this information in your user profile or stats, or perhaps you'll need to do some estimation.) Using the rates provided in the original Tweet here, how much have you personally contributed to that artist's earnings on that platform this month/year? (But then, how certain can we be that your artist has the same pay rate per stream?)
  3. Essay prompt: One issue raised by the original Tweet is that different artists likely have different pay rates per stream because of contracts with record labels. Do some research into this issue and share what you discover. Are the pay rates per stream shared in this lesson likely representative of "most artists" or not?
  4. Essay prompt: Investigate how, for example, Spotify actually decides how much to pay an artist. It is not quite as simple as "(# of streams) X ($ rate per stream)." Do some research and share at least two new ideas you discover about what goes into deciding the amount an artist is paid. (You may wish to share this detailed explanation of how streaming works from the Soundcharts blog.)
  5. Exploratory project: A new player in the streaming marketplace is TikTok: a recent article in Music Business Worldwide investigated just how much the company may (or may not) be paying to record labels and their artists. You might ask students to read this article and then come up with a relevant topic to investigate. For example, a student may choose another recently viral hit song -- like the article using Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" -- and estimate how many streams it may have received on TikTok and how much money went to the artist.

Resources[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

There is almost no prerequisite mathematical knowledge for this lesson plan. However, the activities and ensuing discussion may bring up issues of social justice and information/media literacy. In case it is helpful for you, here is some information about those ideas.

Artists and labor[edit | edit source]

  • There is an ongoing conversation about pay rates of streaming services. Some prominent musicians recently removed their catalogs from Spotify. Initially, this was done in protest of how the platform spreads misinformation (especially through podcasts), but some have also cited the poor compensation for working musicians, as well. There have even been protests by musicians and songwriters at various Spotify corporate offices, including the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers’s “Justice at Spotify Day of Action.”
  • Students may notice that the original Tweet begins and ends with some comments about the context for these numbers. Consider preempting the discussion by explicitly asking students to respond to these prompts:
    • Why did the Tweet start with "Would you like another reason to switch to a music service that is NOT Spotify?"? What framing/context does that provide for the rest of the information? How might you have interpreted this information differently if that sentence were not included?
    • Why did the Tweet end with "(I am my label fyi)" at the end? What additional contextual information does that provide, and how might it change our interpretation of the quantitative information in the Tweet? (Answer: Artists typically split the profits from streaming services with their record label, according to whatever contract they've signed. In this case, Zoë Keating operating as her own label means that she does not have to split profits in that way. Accordingly, an artist who is not their own label would likely have noticeably smaller pay rates.)
    • Does the Tweet specify where this information came from, or how the numbers were calculated? (Answer: Yes, she addresses this in a reply to her own Tweet and implies that she took her annual earnings from each platform and divided by the number of streams she earned on that platform. This further emphasizes the idea that different artists may obtain different values from these calculations.)

Alt-text for images[edit | edit source]

Below are some guides about alt-text for accessibility. You may consider sharing some relevant portions with students as part of the main task of this lesson plan, or else ask students to read portions of these articles as part of their assignment.

Feedback[edit | edit source]

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  • I used an early version of this lesson plan with my class for liberal-arts students as an activity on numeracy in social media. The students were surprised to learn just how little artists are paid on these platforms and found the ensuing discussion helpful and engaging. I was also pleased to find that students actually wanted to do calculations with the numbers in the Tweet to better understand what the data is telling us. I have not yet tried the "create a graph and alt-text" task, but I'm looking forward to doing that next semester! -- Professorbrendan (discusscontribs) 16:41, 13 July 2022 (UTC)