In her latest digital column for Music Week, Deviate Digital CEO Sammy Andrews grapples with the complex war of words over streaming rates – and looks towards a solution that can work for everybody involved...
I am a streaming advocate. Always have been, always will be, until something equally incredible revolutionises our industry. But the last few weeks have seen a war of words break out in relation to the current case in the USA involving Google/YouTube, Pandora, Amazon and Spotify and the US Copyright Board. In the fallout, the NMPA stated Spotify were effectively “suing songwriters”. So, firstly, let’s clarify that they are not. They, along with Google/YouTube, Pandora and Amazon, are appealing the case.
I have always argued the rates per stream from certain services (not least Google/YouTube who arguably generate the most streams but consistently pay the least) are on the whole far from OK and far from equal. And when you take a global view that’s even more varied. The case in question at the moment is USA-related only, an important note in an increasingly globalised streaming economy. For this month’s column I thought I’d look at some of the big questions arising...
Let’s look at the main issue: do songwriters need to be paid more?
The short answer is yes. But the longer answer is far, far more nuanced than this and requires an industry-wide push to resolve long term.
Are songwriters making money from streaming?
Yes… but that’s based on a series of complex variants including the volume of streams, the label deal, the publisher deal, the distributor deal, freemium or premium, territory, discount/bundle or straight sub and any deal with the service itself if you’re going direct.
Why does all this matter?
Because this is not a one-size-fits-all issue, for years we’ve tried shoehorning an old rusty remuneration model into a shiny new pair of custom-made stilettos. I work with some artists making millions from streaming (and you all know how much money labels are making), I also, sadly, work with new bands who can’t afford their rent if they were to rely on streaming income alone. I work with some acts who are in archaic deals with greedy labels and I work with some who make a fortune because they took control and fought for fair deals.
What can the industry do?
There are many arguments for raising the price of streaming subscriptions. We’ve seen various platforms outside of our own industry take this route, but for fans to agree with hikes the services would need to offer unique content… something I’m sure we can all agree we are finally starting to see them go for hard right now. I am overjoyed that this is the case; for too long streaming services failed to offer anything but to stream content they hadn’t invested a penny in to make. That’s changing. We have services left, right and centre falling over themselves to make unique and engaging content. I would, though, warn against album exclusives, they’re awful for the consumer. What we need here is a heady mix of spoken word, music recordings/renditions (think BBC Live Lounge), sound quality, artist tools, curation and video content that actually makes users flock to that service in the same way they choose Netflix or Amazon right now. What we don’t need is artists locking their tracks and albums with services their fans don’t want to use. Please, please, please music industry stop doing that – you are driving us back to piracy every time you do!
Some artists need to look at their contracts before jumping on the bandwagon. Some labels need to stop ripping their artists off (you all know who you are). And some streaming services need to address both their rates per stream and their sub rates.
What’s stopping services raising their prices?
Aside from the USP side of this, we need to take a look at who we are talking about. Our streaming services range from some of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world who have other revenue streams to fall back on (Apple, Google/YouTube and Amazon) to standalone services, who, if they increased prices risk the giants not doing the same. Anyone who thinks giving power and unfair advantage to the few here are off their fucking heads. What we need to do is make sure that songwriters and artists are at the heart of these discussions, but not at the risk of destroying the streaming economy we have taken a decade to build. The amount of boycott social posts I’ve seen from artists directed at one service specifically worries me greatly. Where are the boycotts for the services who have paid you fuck all for a decade?
Where does this leave us?
The music industry needs to get around a table. Slinging mud at each other right now could be a race to the bottom. What we need is positive and transformative change from all services, not vilification of Spotify who have done more than their fair share to bring our industry back from the brink. And I do mean the brink. So before you all RT those sensational headlines, have a think about what you’re actually achieving by doing that. Let’s move forward and grow the pie for everyone, not chuck it in the bin whilst it’s still cooking, with some services adding more flavour and value than others.