How Will the Wolf Survive: Can Musicians Make a Living in the Streaming Era?

An excerpt from an article written by Daivd Byrne:

In this view the people who complain about the impact of technology and the giant corporations who control it are like those who complained about the printing press, the mechanical loom and videotapes, and by complaining about the long term impact of online music streaming, I am revealing myself as an old fart who can’t or won’t adapt.

However, I’m not sure those complaints about printed books and VHS tapes were always coming from the artists and creators who felt they weren’t being adequately compensated. I think the complaints might have come from the church and the governments who saw the dissemination of information and media as a dangerous and threatening thing. We musicians love having our work disseminated. And wasn’t it the movie studios who worried about the impact of VHS tapes and VCRs? Not the filmmakers. I don’t remember too many musicians getting behind the “home taping is killing music” initiative that the record companies tried to establish with regard to cassette tapes. That was an industry thing. We musicians aren’t responsible for the insane copyright extensions in the last 50 or so years, either. Now, significantly, the industry is in actual partnership with the streaming services, so we don’t hear them complaining at all.


From Digital Music News:

The Swedish Musicians’ Union are bringing a lawsuit against the record labels there, alleging that the labels are not only screwing artists, but extending digital streaming rights that they don’t have.

Spotify asserts that they can’t be screwing artists because they ‘pay the labels’. Which is why labels are the target. Musician Billy Bragg points to possible legal action against Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, both majors that have received massive advances and equity shares from Spotify while passing little on to artists. It’s estimated that artists capture between 6 to 10 percent of revenues received from companies like Spotify. You can’t live on that.

This is a pretty big issue—are the labels who are in league with Spotify and the like keeping way too much of the payments for themselves?


Money will only flow to artists in the agreed-upon percentages if there is transparency. If the accounting remains hidden, secret, obscure—as it is now—then so does the money. We have tried for about two years now to obtain some figures that would give a clear picture of what a medium-level artist might reasonably expect to make in these various scenarios. Granted there are lots and lots of factors to figure in, and any figures would be ballpark estimates, but even that seems to be impossible to obtain. I would LOVE to be proved wrong here, and shown how this can work and how musicians can make a living—but that hasn’t happened yet.

I suspect labels won’t automatically agree to transparency. I already have to audit Warner every time I want to know my sales, downloads and streaming metrics. Spotify, for example, is currently only required to account back to labels not artists (not surprisingly, and maybe reasonably, as the labels control the copyrights on the recordings—the artists traditionally don’t). Streaming services hold valuable data on fan and consumer behavior that would be beneficial to labels and artists in order to market recordings, sell concert tickets and identify where they are strong. (Spotify has made some signs that they might address this transparency issue a little bit and I am communicating with folks at Beats to determine how their accounting might work—it’s encouraging that the lines of communication are still open—but still no easy formula or estimates in sight.)

Read more HERE:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.