MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which is investigating the economics of music streaming, heard why Equitable Remuneration and greater transparency are vital to fix streaming and keep music alive.
Streaming could be a miracle
All the artists on the panel agreed that streaming platforms are a good thing, enabling us to access a dizzying amount of music for £10 a month. But this is a question of the future of music.
"There has always been a problem with unfairness and inequity in the music industry… Streaming has come along, this wonderful technology that puts music in our back pockets. But, unfortunately, it’s made the problem worse and more profound," said Tom Gray (Gomez).
As Guy Garvey (Elbow) explained, “Streaming is almost a miracle. If musicians are equitably paid, then it’s a miracle. Then it’s sustainable, and something for everybody to be proud of.”
Equitable Remuneration and sustainability
Guy Garvey, Tom Gray and Tom Frederikse put forward Equitable Remuneration (ER) as the first thing that can be done to fix streaming and keep music alive.
The idea behind ER is that a share of streaming money would be collected by PPL and distributed among music creators much like radio royalties are. This would mean a guaranteed income stream for both featured artists and non-featured (session or orchestral) musicians.
“If you just apply ER to some extent to on demand, suddenly, for the first time in history, money goes directly to their pockets on the first stream – irrespective of what awful contract terms an artist has, irrespective of all this historic stuff that is out there. This produces an income from steam one for artists and an income for our entire music community. It’s a very, very simple solution,” Tom Gray explained to MPs.
It’s one of the MU’s key asks – and could make a huge different to session players, orchestral players, and the wider community of musicians.
Streaming also needs to be more transparent
Asked about how the industry had changed in the last few years, Ed O’Brien (Radiohead) explained "It’s even more murky now with the lack of transparency, the opaqueness in the system, the fact that some parties are making huge amounts of money. It’s always been tough, but it feels like it’s tougher now. There’s less money. Artists are really on the breadline.”
Nadine Shah’s experience backs this up. “I don’t feel it’s that transparent…The earnings from my streaming, they’re not significant enough to keep the wolf away from the door,” she said.
“What is transparent is that I’m not being paid,” she added.
A meaningful right to audit
Most artists have auditing rights in their contracts. But platforms and record labels don’t make it easy and most major licensing deals are covered by non-disclosure agreements. This makes it even harder for creators to see where the money generated by streaming goes.
Colin Young, a music industry accountant and registered auditor, explains: "I need data to be standardised and granular...There are always reasons why it’s not available. I'm always having to make compromises in the audit. I can never do what I’d like to do. It comes with limitations, that's the problem. I need the data to be standardised, consistent, I need it to be granular and I need it at source.”
A fairer streaming model must stop information being hidden that enables conflicts of interest, and prevents creators and performers understanding what they’re being paid and why.
It’s time to fix streaming and keep music alive
MPs on the music streaming inquiry don’t just want to hear from famous names like Nadine Shah, Guy Garvey, Ed O’Brien and Tom Gray. They want to hear from you too.
If you’ve got five minutes, email email@example.com in support of the Musicians’ Union submission using our template email.
If you’ve got a little more time, why not give your own evidence in writing? It might seem daunting, but we’ve put together a guide to giving evidence in partnership with the Ivors Academy that will help.
Your voice matters. This may be the biggest opportunity we will collectively get to make the case for a fairer deal for songwriters, composers, and performers. Have your say before Friday 11 December.