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Op-Ed: Too few beats per minute? Time to pay artists fairly on streaming services

Streaming services and record labels can no longer justify paying artists derisory sums. Time for change has come.

Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg performing in Vancouver, Canada at the Body of War Concert. Image by Kris Krug (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg performing in Vancouver, Canada at the Body of War Concert. Image by Kris Krug (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For many recording artists, the time has long since passed when they should have received fair renumeration for their work instead of the very low sums paid out by streaming services. The U.K. government appears to agree. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently released a report calling for equitable remuneration for artists and revenue parity for songwriters and composers.

As an example of the low sums paid out to performers, streaming services take 30-34% of revenues from a stream, with the label recouping 55% and the rest shared out between the recording artist, publisher and songwriter.

A platform like Spotify reportedly establishes a payment of between $0.003 and $0.0084 per stream, with an average payout of $0.004 per stream (although the company are officially secretive about the exact sums and there are variations by country and in relation to different music labels). The estimates are provided by a campaign organization seeking fairer rewards for artists on streaming platforms called Free Your Music’.

As reported by The Guardian, a committee that scrutinizes the government department has issued a report that has receive multi-party support. The committee chair, Julian Knight, said that while streaming had “brought significant profits to the recorded music industry, the talent behind it – performers, songwriters and composers – are losing out”.

This is spelt out more forcibly in the report, which states report: “The pitiful returns from music streaming impact the entire creative ecosystem. Successful, critically acclaimed professional performers are seeing meagre returns from the dominant mode of music consumption. Non-featured performers are frozen out altogether, impacting what should be a viable career in its own right, as well as a critical pipeline for new talent” (as quoted by music website DJ Mag).

The fairer concept is supported by acclaimed singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, although Bragg goes further with his expectations (as one might expect from the left-wing firebrand. Writing in The New Statesman, Bragg sets out the minimum starting point in terms of reforms that would be fair to artists.

Bragg writes that the reforms should “begin with the industry-wide adoption of a 50/50 royalty split between artists and labels for all digital recordings, whether heritage or brand new. The introduction of a limit on ownership of copyright would give artists the right to reclaim possession of their work after 20 years.”

Whether this is delivered as fully as Bragg wants or not, it is clear that the old model of artists remuneration no longer works. In the past record labels would take a big slice of profits, partly because they produced the physical medium and had to gamble with how much of the stock would he purchased and how much would need to be pulped. This no longer holds in the digital age.

Similarly with streaming services. In the past these would have been record shop outlets and supermarkets, with considerable overheads. In the digital age, these overheads are far smaller and more money could, indeed should, be passed onto the creative team and the artist behind a particular music track.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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