The past 12 months has seen a high-stakes argument about the future direction of the music business, which increased in volume during the hearings for the DCMS Committee inquiry into the streaming economy. Here, BPI and BRIT Awards chief executive Geoff Taylor looks back at the debate and suggests the best way forward for everyone in 2022…
As anyone who has made cottage pie for a family on a cold winter’s night knows, if you don’t make enough, arguments tend to follow.
The streaming debate, an important subject that deserves grown-up, serious conversation, has in recent times felt like it’s descended into a reductive family argument. Make no mistake, the music industry is a family, and maybe right now we are, well, not at our best. It’s time to take a moment to focus on some things we can agree on.
We know that streaming has allowed many more creators to try to make a career – cue that famous stat about 60,000 new tracks being uploaded to Spotify a day. So it’s more competitive than before to make a living. The good news is that streaming does create more winners – twice as many artists now hit 10 million streams a year as achieved 10,000 sales in 2007 – but because the pool is so much bigger, there are also more artists than before who don’t succeed.
Ultimately, popularity is the key factor in determining who earns what. A strong new generation of talent, native to streaming, is enjoying tremendous success, achieving hundreds of millions of streams. Look at artists such as Dave, Glass Animals, Central Cee, Anne-Marie, Mimi Webb, Joel Corry, Headie One and Becky Hill.
What this shows is that the partnership between label and artist – which is all about cutting through the noise – is more important than ever. Artists choose to work with a label because it helps them succeed and they can opt for a traditional deal with a big advance, or a JV, or a distribution or artist services deal – or they can release as a DIY artist. They can retain control and the lion’s share of revenue – or choose to maximise investment and marketing into their career. It’s a choice.
The right way we can end this argument now is to start listening to each other
And the terms that creators receive have improved markedly. In a traditional deal, artist royalty rates for streaming are 40% higher on average than they were for CD. The recent IPO Creators’ Earnings research shows that since 2008 real-terms songwriter earnings have risen 11%, with label revenues down by 19%. It’s hard to get this across above the loud voices across the kitchen table, but these realities aren’t in dispute. So there are legitimate questions about the basis for far-reaching proposals for legislative reform, as have been seen from Labour MP Kevin Brennan’s Private Members’ Bill.
Independent labels are deeply concerned that, far from helping them and their artists, new regulations will harm their ability to invest in new artists and will mean that many indie artists, on newer deals, end up worse off.
As so often in an argument, the big picture has been lost. The proposals ignore that the UK is in a critical race for relevance in a global streaming economy. New regulations will make the UK a less attractive place to invest in talent, reducing our global influence and success in the long term. That means future artists and fans losing out.
There has been no evidence put forward on the economic impact of the bill and government rightly concluded in September that the legislation would be premature. It has set up a process of working groups to encourage industry solutions and BPI’s members are keen to ensure an outcome that everyone welcomes.
The right way we can end this argument now is to start listening to each other – while making a bigger pie.
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