Spotify is losing artists; what would the great classical composers have earned from streaming?

4 February 2022, 10:09

Bach Spotify
Bach Spotify. Picture: Spotify

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

If streaming had existed in these classical composers’ lifetimes… would they have actually made any money?

Composers like Bach, Handel and Chopin top the most listened to classical composers on Spotify, raking in millions of plays from fans across the world.

But with the current controversy over how much podcasters are paid compared to artists on Spotify, just how much would these composers have earned from ‘plays’ if the music streaming giant had existed in their time?

New research by Leipzig.Travel, the official tourist website for the musical city, has uncovered these figures compared to modern-day pop stars.

Using the estimate figure of $0.0037 (£0.0028) in earnings per stream, and calculating for inflation, the website revealed the following ranking of classical music’s highest paid Spotify composers.

Read More: Spotify Only You: What would classical composers have as their unique combinations?

Top 10 classical composers based on 2021 earnings

  1. Bach: 6.7 million monthly plays, $299,329 (£222,327) annual earnings
  2. Beethoven: 6.5 million monthly plays, $286,353 (£212,689) annual earnings
  3. Mozart: 6 million monthly plays, $266,649 (£198,054) annual earnings
  4. Chopin: 5.4 million monthly plays, $238, 290 (£176,990) annual earnings
  5. Debussy: 4.6 million monthly plays, $204,259 (£151,713) annual earnings
  6. Vivaldi: 3.6 million monthly plays, $159,975 (£118,821) annual earnings
  7. Schubert: 2.9 million monthly plays, $127,017 (£94,342) annual earnings
  8. Brahms: 2.6 million monthly plays, $113,871 (£84,578) annual earnings
  9. Handel: 2.519 million monthly plays $111,832 (£83,063) annual earnings
  10. Liszt: 2.516 million monthly plays $111,746 (£83,000) annual earnings

Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach's Cello Suite No. 1

The top spot

Johann Sebastian Bach tops the list as the most streamed classical composer on Spotify, making him the highest earner.

With 6.7 million monthly listens on Spotify, the late Baroque period composer would have been earning around $300,000 (£219,868.80) per year from these streams alone.

This is a stark contrast to his annual salary of £28,000, which he earned as a school master in Leipzig between 1723 and his death in 1750.

It’s also 180 percent more than Vivaldi, whose salary during his lifetime equated to a meagre £10,200.

Pianist creates mesmerising visualisation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

Highest streamed works

Bach’s most listened to work, the ‘Prélude’ from his Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, has been streamed more than 162 million times on Spotify.

Taking the estimate of $0.0037 (£0.0028) and adjusting for inflation, this work would have earned the composer an unbelievable $24.7 million (£18.4 million).

In comparison, Ed Sheeran’s most popular song on Spotify, ‘Shape of You’, made less than half of that, at $10.4 million (£7.7 million).

Chopin almost matches these earnings with a hypothetical $9.6 million (£7.1 million) for his biggest hit, his Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9 No. 2.

Beethoven’s most popular work on the streaming service, the ‘Adagio’ from his ‘Moonlight’ Sonata No. 14, comes in at a streaming revenue of just under at $8.9 million (£6.6 million).