Musicians earn lower than 1 cent per stream – that has to vary

If you are a music lover, you have likely used streaming services. Streaming music accounts for more than half of the UK’s music industry’s global revenue, grossing over £ 1 billion last year.

While the big three labels – Sony, Universal and Warner – are posting record profits, a survey by The Ivors Academy and Musicians’ Union found that eight out of ten music professionals make less than £ 200 a year streaming. According to one report, artists earn an average of just £ 0.009 per stream.

The UK government is currently conducting an investigation into music streaming to see how it can be made fairer and if there is any way musicians and songwriters can get a better cut. Artists who have given testimony include Ed O’Brien of Radiohead, Guy Garvey of Elbow and disco legend Nile Rodgers, while Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page also released a letter of support.

Singer-songwriter Nadine Shah also gave testimony during the investigation, saying that artists and songwriters are struggling to pay their rent. And the investigation found that Fiona Bevan, who wrote songs for One Direction and Lewis Capaldi, received just £ 100 in royalties for co-writing a track on Kylie Minogue’s number 1 album Disco.

But there might be a way to get the streaming up and running for musicians – if it were more like they were already making money having their songs played on the radio.

How did we get here?

The music industry has always made more money for record labels than for artists. And now that streaming is the main way many of us consume music, there is even less money left for musicians.

Streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify make money from subscription fees and advertising. They do business with record labels to get access to songs. Platforms hold about 30% of sales with streaming, 15% go to a so-called music publisher that represents songwriters, while the record label receives 55%. And the label then pays a percentage of that to the artists – after they’ve paid back the label’s investment in them.

But while artists get money when their songs are played on the radio, streaming doesn’t work the same way. This is because radio is considered a “passive” broadcast, meaning you don’t select the music. While streaming is viewed as broadcasting online, people choose songs and listen at will.

Thanks for the music, but who gets the money? TYLIM / Shutterstock

However, a big part of the streaming platforms are the playlists that people hear as well as the radio. This problem is made worse by the fact that some people actually make money creating playlists. However, neither the users nor the artists are told what offers have been made to bring music to these playlists.

As part of the evidence I have given for the government investigation, I recommend viewing playlisters as influencers. Hence, they should be regulated by the UK Advertising Standards Agency – much like advertising social media posts.

A possible solution

As I explain in my book, Copyright in the Music Industry, copyright law is designed to ensure that creators are paid for their work so that they can continue to create and spread that creativity – which benefits society as a whole.

While the music industry and streaming services are very well rewarded for distributing music, copyright fails to artists and songwriters. Fortunately, copyright isn’t set in stone and where it doesn’t work the law can be changed – it’s always updated to adapt to new technology, and now it needs to be adapted to music streaming.

The musician Nadine Shah sings into the microphone.Nadine Shah makes so little money streaming that she struggles to pay her rent. CJS Media / Shutterstock

One solution that could help musicians in trouble would be to get “fair pay” for streaming. Here a third collecting society takes a license fee from the label and gives it to the artist to stream their music – just like it already happens when a song is played on the radio.
This puts money straight in the artist’s pocket. Something similar already exists in other countries such as Spain and the Netherlands.

This would allow artists to be paid fairly, which is critically important as many artists without a fair income will not be able to hold their own in music. Change is necessary not only for artists, but also for music to survive.The conversation

This article by Hayleigh Bosher, professor of intellectual property law at Brunel University London, has been republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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