Critiquing the Infographic: “How Much Do Music Artists Earn Online”

As a research analyst and “data” guy, I am a big fan of Infographics and Data Visualizations.  But like everything else you can find just as many bad examples as good ones.

The following infographic was designed by David McCandless for the blog Information is Beautiful.   Since its publication in early April, the graphic has made its way around the Twittersphere with several thousand retweets.  It reached an even larger audience after being picked up by Mashable (  But popular does not a good Infograhic make.

Looks pretty doesn’t it?  But it misses the boat in three very important ways…

1)  Data Errors:  The first thing you might notice, if you take more than a casual glance at the data, is that there is at least one visible mistake.  The stream for Rhapsody shows the artists’ share at $0.0022 per play, which somehow equates to 849,817 plays per month to reach a minimum wage salary of $1,160.  The stream for shows the artists’ share at $0.005 per play, which according to the graphic equates to 1,546,667 plays per month to reach a minimum wage salary of $1,160.  So in other words, a stream that pays more per play (.005 > .0022) takes more plays per month to reach the salary level.

Ok, lets check the math:
Rhapsody $1,160 Monthly Salary / $0.0022 per play  = 527,272 plays per month $1,160 Monthly Salary / $0.005 per play = 232,000 plays per month

Weird, neither of those numbers comes close to what’s presented.  Luckily, they provide the underlying dataset, take a look.
Ok, looks like there was a mistake made entering the musician revenue but as anyone who works with data will tell you, typos can kill the legitimacy of a table.

2)  Simplifed Data not Complex Data Simplified:  For this table the designer took 18 rows of data and 20 variables then simplifed it to 11 rows and 8 variables.  The table itself is not complex and you don’t need a degree to understand most of what’s going on.  There is little need for a graphic to tell the story.

3) Meaningless Story:  The major piece of data the designer seems to be pointing out is almost totally without meaning.  The big pink circles, that may be trying to describe how rough a life musicians have, show a silly metric not based on reality.  The idea that a musician would strive to earn minimum wage using any single one of these options is a bit ridiculous.

The biggest reason the metric is silly is that most struggling musicians have always been unlikely to make the bulk of their money selling music.  Instead, it comes from selling their performance of the music.  Another reason is that all of these funding mechanisms drive one another.  Radio play, CD sales, MP3 sales, and live performances are linked in many ways.  No artist would ever make a living solely on one.


  1. d-nnis on July 27, 2010 at 1:58 am

    This info-graphic displays the hypothetical case that a musician lives off only selling music. To learn more about that perspective I find the way of telling the story quite informative (apart from the diameter problems you had found).
    It is probably true that the selling mechanisms drive one another. But this is the case in most non-theoretical situ-ations. If one was to consider the heterogeneity info-graphics would probably not be as half as simple to design. In this case it is about getting an idea of the means between the different media.

  2. Chris Lysy on July 28, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I would disagree, it displays the hypothetical case that a musician lives off of only selling music using only a single method. It’s a hypothetical really far away from reality. Want to add value, create a comparison group for pre-web. Did artists 20 years ago, pre-web, make any more money selling their music. All this graphic says is that for the everyday artist you make very little money selling music, even less money selling downloadable tracks, and far less money from streaming sites. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

    Good infographics are not often simple to design. There is more than just diameter problems. The data was mis-transferred and the actual numbers are off as well. This infographic was popular because it hit on a story that people wanted to hear not because it told a good story or offered anything that could not be displayed in a small table.

  3. sockbot on July 30, 2010 at 5:42 am

    I have another critique to add that you didn’t address. The infographic makes a comparison between earning active minimum wage income to earning passive income via an asset. This is purposely misleading in order to exaggerate the point that the original graphic is trying to make: that musicians don’t make a lot of money.

    While that may be true, the income generated by music sales and licensing is passive. That is, once the musician has created the asset, it can generate income for the musician independent of the musician’s time. The musician’s earning capacity is not a simple function of time. I hope the reader can see how earning “minimum wage” passively is a hell of a lot harder than earning it by spending 40 hours a week flipping burgers, and rightly so.

  4. Chris Lysy on July 30, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Interesting point sockbot. To expand on it, live performance would be a form of active income, which would make it a more ideal method by which to earn income as a working class musician.