In the old days, it was much easier for pop stars to keep up with how much they were getting paid. Somebody would buy a CD at a Tower Records for $15 and a few dollars would appear months later on the star's royalty sheet. Then iTunes took over the record business, and it was even easier (if not more profitable) – every time somebody bought a 99-cent track, a few pennies went into the artist's bank account.
Those were such simple times. Today, music fans play free music videos on YouTube, stream songs for free on Spotify, MOG or Rdio, customize Internet radio stations on Pandora or Slacker and consume music a zillion different ways. The fractions of pennies artists make for each of these services are nearly impossible to track – at least for now. "People like to simplify this and say, 'There's no money in it,'" says Jeff Price, founder of TuneCore, which charges artists to place songs directly into iTunes, Spotify and others. "But it's complex, it's complicated and it's still being worked out."
So you're Adele, the year's biggest pop star. Your songs stream on Spotify – or MOG, Rdio, Pandora or YouTube. You still sell downloads through iTunes and Amazon, and you still sell old-fashioned CDs in old-fashioned record stores. How much do you get paid?