Dozens of artists, musicians and songwriters have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging the government to address “exploitation” of creators in the streaming era.
It follows the conclusion of the DCMS Committee inquiry into the economics of streaming, which heard from labels, DSPs, trade bodies artists, songwriters and more.
In a letter to the PM, 156 music makers – including Annie Lennox, Paloma Faith, Chris Martin, Gary Barlow, Paul McCartney, Rebecca Ferguson, Robert Smith, Bob Geldof, Boy George, Noel Gallagher and Kate Bush – have written “on behalf of today’s generation of artists, musicians and songwriters here in the UK”. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, they have asked him to update UK law to “put the value of music back where it belongs – in the hands of music makers.”
While independent artists have made the case for the impact of streaming, the letter will have a greater impact thanks to the presence of some household names and popular acts on DSPs – including members of Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay and Oasis – who question the current system of remuneration for all artists, songwriters and musicians.
While streaming now accounts for around 80% of consumption, the artists and songwriters point out that “the law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio,” with most featured artists receiving tiny fractions of a US cent per stream” and session musicians receiving nothing at all.
The letter coincides with a letter to artists and labels from Apple Music that on average it pays a higher streaming royalty rate than rivals such as Spotify, although as Music Week has consistently reported there is no fixed streaming rate but rather a market share system for dividing up DSP income. However, the tech giant has partnered with the Ivors Academy and shown its support for songwriters. Trade bodies welcomed the fact that Apple Music did not join the appeal in the US by other DSPs against increasing publishing royalties.
The letter issued today from the artists suggests that “only two words need to change in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act…so that today’s performers receive a share of revenues, just like they enjoy in radio” – a change which “won’t cost the taxpayer a penny but will put more money in the pockets of UK taxpayers and raise revenues for public services like the NHS” and which will contribute to the “levelling-up agenda as we kickstart the post-Covid economic recovery.”
Our industry is broken, government can and should help us fix it
The letter is backed by the Musicians’ Union and the Ivors Academy, collectively representing tens of thousands of UK performers, composers and songwriters, brought together in partnership with the #BrokenRecord campaign led by artist and songwriter, Tom Gray.
The Musicians’ Union has published a petition which it is encouraging its members to sign, reinforcing calls made in the artists’ letter to the PM.
The issue falls between the remits of both the DCMS and BEIS departments, which is why the artists have chosen to address it to the Prime Minister directly.
The letter also recommends “an immediate government referral to the Competition and Markets Authority” because of “evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power” over the marketplace and the creation of an industry regulator. Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage suggested this was an option during her evidence to the Committee.
The letter to the PM states that these changes “will make the UK the best place in the world to be a musician or a songwriter, allow recording studios and the UK session scene to thrive once again, strengthen our world leading cultural sector, allow the market for recorded music to flourish for listeners and creators, and unearth a new generation of talent.”
Tom Gray, founder of the #BrokenRecord Campaign, said: “Our country prides itself on its formidable music pedigree. The signatories of this letter hope the generations that follow them can have the kind of sustained careers they have enjoyed. Today, there is much to indicate that kids need to be from wealthy backgrounds in order to risk working in the music sector.
“Streaming, a brilliant way of enjoying music, held the promise that smaller and mid-level artists might be able to live comfortably with a committed audience, instead only a few enjoy streaming’s rewards. Billions go to a few foreign corporations while, commonly, musicians and songwriters are experiencing financial difficulty. This letter is fundamentally about preserving a professional class of music-maker into the future. Most musicians don’t expect or want to be in the gossip pages, they just want to earn a crust.”
There is evidence of hardship amongst musicians with over a third saying in recent MU polling that they are considering abandoning the industry altogether.
Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said: “I’m delighted to see so many artists, performers and songwriters backing our call. Streaming is replacing radio so musicians should get the same protection when their work is played on streaming platforms as they get when it’s played on radio.
“As the whole world has moved online during the pandemic, musicians who write, record and perform for a living have been let down by a law that simply hasn’t kept up with the pace of technological change. Listeners would be horrified to learn how little artists and musicians earn from streaming when they pay their subscriptions.
“By tightening up the law so that streaming pays like radio, we will put streaming income back where it belongs - in the hands of artists. It’s their music so the income generated from it should go into their hands.”
Crispin Hunt, chair of the Ivors Academy, said: "In streaming, the song is king, but songwriters and composers do not enjoy the true value of their work and struggle to make a living. The record companies are now simply marketing firms. Without manufacturing and distribution costs, their extraordinary profits ought to be shared more equitably with creators.
“Our industry has an unfortunate history of pitching artists, performers and songwriters against each other. With this letter, we are finally speaking with one voice to say ‘enough is enough’. Our industry is broken, government can and should help us fix it.”
The full letter and list of signatories is below:
The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
20th April 2021
Dear Prime Minister,
We write to you on behalf of today’s generation of artists, musicians and songwriters here in the UK.
For too long, streaming platforms, record labels and other internet giants have exploited performers and creators without rewarding them fairly. We must put the value of music back where it belongs – in the hands of music makers.
Streaming is quickly replacing radio as our main means of music communication. However, the law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio.
Today’s musicians receive very little income from their performances – most featured artists receive tiny fractions of a US cent per stream and session musicians receive nothing at all.
To remedy this, only two words need to change in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. This will modernise the law so that today’s performers receive a share of revenues, just like they enjoy in radio. It won’t cost the taxpayer a penny but will put more money in the pockets of UK taxpayers and raise revenues for public services like the NHS.
There is evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power and songwriters struggling as a result. An immediate government referral to the Competition and Markets Authority is the first step to address this. Songwriters earn 50% of radio revenues, but only 15% in streaming. We believe that in a truly free market the song will achieve greater value.
Ultimately though, we need a regulator to ensure the lawful and fair treatment of music makers. The UK has a proud history of protecting its producers, entrepreneurs and inventors. We believe British creators deserve the same protections as other industries whose work is devalued when exploited as a loss-leader.
By addressing these problems, we will make the UK the best place in the world to be a musician or a songwriter, allow recording studios and the UK session scene to thrive once again, strengthen our world leading cultural sector, allow the market for recorded music to flourish for listeners and creators, and unearth a new generation of talent.
We urge you to take these forward and ensure the music industry is part of your levelling-up agenda as we kickstart the post-Covid economic recovery.
Damon Albarn OBE
Marc Almond OBE
Joan Armatrading CBE
Jazzie B OBE
Adam Bainbridge (Kindness)
Gary Barlow OBE
Brian Bennett OBE
Aflie Boe OBE
The Chemical Brothers
Kate Bush CBE
Eliza Carthy MBE
Martin Carthy MBE
Mike Batt LVO
Don Black OBE
Badly Drawn Boy
Dame Sarah Connolly DBE
Roger Daltrey CBE
Catherine Anne Davies (The Anchoress)
Bob Geldof KBE
David Gilmour CBE
Howard Goodall CBE
Roger Greenaway OBE
Tony Hatch OBE
Jools Holland OBE, DL
John Paul Jones
Julian Joseph OBE
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Beverley Knight MBE
Mark Knopfler OBE
Annie Lennox OBE
Gary Lightbody OBE
Tasmin Little OBE
Claire Martin OBE
Cerys Matthews MBE
Sir Paul McCartney CH MBE
Gary “Mani” Mounfield
Mitch Murray CBE
Jimmy Page OBE
Robert Plant CBE
Eddi Reader MBE
Sir Tim Rice
Orphy Robinson MBE
Nitin Sawhney CBE
Feargal Sharkey OBE
Fraser T Smith
Ruby Turner MBE
Norma Waterson MBE
Cleveland Watkiss MBE
Bruce Welch OBE
Daniel “Woody” Woodgate
Midge Ure OBE