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Songs need to be valued on a par with the value of recordings in streaming. Don’t just take my word for this, Sir Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, Jazzie B and over 200 more prominent songwriters signed our letter to Boris Johnson asking for reform.

They recognise what is apparent to most in the industry – that the song is undervalued and paying songwriters fairly is an integral part of creating a more sustainable future for music.

This has been at the heart of our Fix Streaming campaign running since the start of Covid-19. The pandemic has removed the live royalties which commonly sustain songwriters, leaving attention to be directed to the money received from streaming.

Under-payment of songwriters is nothing new, but the problem is getting worse in the streaming era. While the way music is created and consumed has changed fundamentally, the way songwriters are paid has not.

Why are songwriters paid last and least?

Commentators, such as Midia Consulting, make clear that streaming is a song economy. As Bjorn Ulvaeus says, “We live in an era where the song fuels everything...the dominant currency in streaming is individuals’ songs.”

If streaming is a song economy, why is the songwriter the last and least to be paid?

The streaming market has dynamically grown and the importance of the song has increased, but the licensing and allocation of payments has remained tied to the analogue models of the past.

Record companies no longer carry the costs of manufacture and distribution of physical product, yet the recording is still allocated over three times the money than the song. This is after a decade of efforts to increase the value of the song from the low rate set at the start of the download era.

An argument commonly put forward by the record industry to justify this excessive weighting of revenue, is that they invest large amounts in new talent (A&R). It is disappointing that the publishing industry doesn’t publish its figures for A&R investments, because it would likely show that the publishing industry is investing an equivalent amount in artist development as the record industry.

And this is on top of the investments in artist and repertoire development now undertaken directly by songwriters. If songwriters are instrumental to the development of the artists’ sound and production, in addition to the delivery of the words and music, they should receive a commensurate amount of the resulting royalties.

The system is dysfunctional and needs to change

Paying the song more is also attractive as a means of addressing the creators’ earnings issues. This is because in most modern publishing agreements the songwriter will see 80%, whereas most label contracts see artists receiving only 20%. And a portion of the streaming revenues are paid to songwriters direct from their collecting societies such as PRS for Music.

It is true that the data in the publishing industry is far below the standard required to pay songwriters efficiently. But we must ensure the appropriate amount of revenue is being paid through the publishing distribution channels in the first place.

The current system is dysfunctional and needs to change. Now is the time for this change, because the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of music to many, and highlighted the disparities that exist in creators’ earnings. Let’s pay the song what it deserves.

Help us #FixStreaming by signing our petition to make a fairer and more sustainable music industry.

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Graham Davies


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