It’s been a long time. So long since posting here, I honestly don’t know where to start.
So much has happened in music – and not happened – that its hard to piece it all together. Some things will have changed by the time we emerge from the pandemic; other things may be strikingly and frustratingly the same – or will they?
If you’ve not been following it, one of the most important behind the scenes conversations about the music industry has been happening over the past couple of months in the shape of Parliamentary Enquiry into the economics of streaming.
Key to its setting up was the #BrokenRecord campaign founded by Gomez guitarist Tom Gray, with support from musicians across all known genres. His reasons for coining the hashtag are all here in a column he wrote for website Music Business Worldwide (it is a pragmatic and very sobering picture of how the industry’s finances work and what that means to anyone trying to make a ‘living’ out of music). I think anyone and everyone interested in music should read this:
Between them #BrokenRecord and the resulting enquiry have opened not just one can of worms; it’s like it’s found a whole wormery. For instance, we all know how poorly streaming pays (this was brought home in another article I read recently which stated: it would take over 3,000 streams per hour on Spotify to earn the equivalent of the UK minimum wage, and over 1,600 plays on Apple Music.)
But if you read Tom’s piece he adds that if you’re signed to a typical major label deal, you’re even worse off (your cut of each stream is around 30 per cent). And yes, I know, major record deals have always been mean, but I was daftly hoping with all the streaming cash sloshing around, things may have changed slightly. I can’t remember when – last year some time – but I definitely saw a headline saying that Universal Music Group were hoovering up $11million a day from streaming. Well done to them and their heritage artists who probably account for much of that figure – and certainly will have done over the past year with ‘nostalgia’ listening apparently rocketing upwards – but how much do you have to earn before someone starts questioning your business model?
In front of the enquiry the bosses from the three remaining UK majors were quick to stress that they have all the usual overheads and that they invest significant sums of cash in A&R every year. But that’s their business. A&R is not a philanthropic gesture. That’s what they’re meant to do.
Of course, as Tom points out, many musicians will never be signed – and a lot probably don’t want to be. They just want to be paid fairly: which brings us to one of the central points of the #BrokenRecord campaign.
Again, you’re best off reading his explanation in full, but in brief, how many of you thought that if you listened to a track on Spotify, the artist would get the money for the play of that track. I certainly did till last year. It was Gray who explained that all the Spotify revenue goes into a big old wallet, to be shared out to all artists, based on their percentage popularity on the platform. For instance if Dua Lipa accrued 40 per cent of all the total steams on Spotify last month, she would get 40 per cent of the money paid out.
What #BrokenRecord is seeking – among other things – is a fairer, more artist-direct payment system. One which would also provide a more honest assessment of an artists genuine popularity and not what you get when you happen to be top of every DSP playlist in the known universe.
And that’s just some of the stuff that’s been debated. It is an odd, dislocated time for this to be happening (would the campaign have sounded louder if artists were shouting about it from the stage every night on tour? If the representatives from the Streaming Services and major labels had faced the enquiry in chambers, rather than sat in their deluxe home offices? Who knows).
But this potentially watershed moment in music shouldn’t be overlooked.