We formed an alliance with The Ivors Academy in early May to ‘Keep Music Alive’ and Fix Streaming. Just over a month into the campaign, our joint petition calling for a government review into streaming revenues and the distribution of royalties has gained over 13,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, an artist-led movement on Twitter, using the hashtag #BrokenRecord and highlighting low per-stream royalty rates, has also gained significant engagement from musicians, music fans and the media. Both campaigns have prompted discussion within the industry about how the problems of streaming royalty distribution could be addressed.
Streaming incomes are not sustainable
So, why now? During the Covid-19 crisis, musicians and creators have lost the majority of their work and are starting to analyse the income streams that remain.
The Ivors Academy held an event to amplify the campaign on 4 June. We were on a panel chaired by Lady V and with Shao Dow, a rapper and manga author who has also become involved in the campaign.
Shao Down said he thought his fans would be shocked to see how little he earned from various aspects of his work, in particular from recorded music. He once told a fan that the money earned from streaming wasn’t enough to buy a KitKat and the fan turned up to his next gig with a KitKat as a gift for him. “I like music, it’s what I do, it’s my passion, it’s my life... and I’m painfully aware that my income is not entirely sustainable.”
His strategy has been to diversify. He says he makes better royalties as a manga author than he does as a featured artist. He also does well from sales of merchandise, but he’d rather concentrate on the music. He says unequivocally that he would create more music if he could sustain a living from it.
The campaign must maintain momentum
One of the challenges of any campaign, especially a campaign of this nature where the problem is complex and there isn’t a quick fix, is maintaining momentum.
Tom Gray, who founded the #BrokenRecord campaign, says:
“If you think people are angry now, imagine how angry they’re going to be in three months when all the live music money in their bank accounts is gone. Think how angry they’re going to be in six months when their PPL and PRS cheques start going through the floor. Think how angry they’re going to be in a year when they’re not able to book a new tour because all the artists are competing for the same rooms, and half the rooms are gone because they’ve closed...
“Think how angry they’re going to be then. Listen up those of you who are receiving more than your fair share of streaming revenue; this isn’t going away.”
Next steps for the campaign
As for our campaign with the Ivors Academy, the next step will be to expose some of the problems with streaming and explore some potential solutions in more detail. Here are some of the headlines for our members’ information:
Is user-centric royalty distribution the answer?
This could be part of the picture, for sure. User-centric means that a subscriber’s £10 per month would be paid out on the music they personally streamed. At the moment, it is perhaps not well understood by music fans that the money they pay doesn’t go to the music they listen to. In fact, as much as 70% could go to the owners of rights in music they never listened to, and this is after the platform have taken their share (around £3 per user).
Do we need to get labels to agree a 50 / 50 deals for all artists, including those who signed prior to the advent of streaming?
The MU would argue that this is a significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Getting record labels to reopen signed contracts when they are under no obligation to do so won’t be easy but it is crucial if streaming royalty distribution is ever going to get close to fair.
Do we want streaming platforms to pay out more of their revenue and should they charge more to consumers?
This is an issue which has been discussed as part of #BrokenRecord. Unfortunately, while it makes sense that the entirety of music should be valued at more than £10 per month, this is a difficult time to ask consumers to pay more for anything. We may have to stick a pin in this one but, in principle, absolutely this could be helpful.
Should the song be valued more highly?
An unequivocal yes on this one. Only 15% going to the copyright owners of the song doesn’t seem right. The owner of the copyright in the recording, usually the label, receives in the region of 55%. As publishing deals tend to be more favourable than recording contracts, addressing this could mean more money in the pockets of individual creators.
On the performer side, should there be equitable remuneration on streaming?
We would argue that curated playlists give a radio-like experience with tracks being selected and promoted to the listener rather than being actively chosen. Therefore, we would argue that a portion of streaming revenue should be distributed to performers, including session musicians (who currently receive no royalties), by PPL. Incidentally, this would help unrecouped artists who currently don’t receive royalties from major labels but would receive equitable remuneration via PPL if it existed. It could also replace PPL income for performers if radio listening declines as a result of streaming.
A further benefit of collective rights management is regulation. PPL, PRS and other collecting societies are obliged to do and show a certain amount of due diligence when it comes to royalty distribution. If they hold money for a non-member, they must try to find that person and pay them. Major record labels take roughly 55% of streaming revenue but are not regulated. If they don’t pay out to the many thousands of artists whose details they no longer hold, who will hold them to account? Tackling the lack of transparency around royalty distribution is one of the key pillars of our campaign and is probably the most important piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Members who wish to support the campaign can sign the petition on Change.org