It never happened an easy time to be a musician, but for many in and around the industry, the 21st century brings disaster after disaster to those who hope to make a living from music. At the turn of the century, record companies were collapsing at a staggering rate, and it would take some time before some kind of salvation came in the form of streaming services, which finally offered an effective method of monetizing music listening.
However, in the harsh light of day, the main question arises: who exactly benefits from these services? According to the Recording Industry Association of America, streaming services generate 83% of all recorded music revenue in the United States. as of 2020. Calculating the amount of income an artist receives per stream can be a tricky task.
Different rights holders make different deals, and many chefs, including publishers, distributors and labels, are fighting for this money. The generally accepted figure for Spotify is: somewhere between $0.003 and $0.005 paid to artists per stream. The figure varies greatly from service to service, although it is usually fractions of a cent. Apple in particular disclosed last April that he pays about a penny per stream, a generous figure by streaming industry standards.
Income levels have, of course, been a common complaint among musicians for over a decade, but like many other labor issues, things have escalated during the pandemic. Two-plus years of limited or no touring has drastically eased concerns. At the end of 2020, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) launched Fairness in the Spotify Campaign to raise awareness of the issue.
“With the entire live music ecosystem under threat due to the coronavirus pandemic, music professionals are more dependent on streaming income than ever,” the organization noted at the time. “We urge Spotify to increase its royalties, be transparent and stop fighting artists.”
Ultimately, the union will find sympathy in Congress in Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Last week, there were reports that the congresswoman is preparing a resolution aimed at creating a royalty program to provide musicians with adequate compensation through royalties per stream. “It was a meeting with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers,” Tlaib tells TechCrunch. “One of the questions that kept coming up was what Congress could do to support their efforts to protect and also fairly reward musicians for their work. To have respect in this area, especially from many people in the industry who continue to monopolize and so on. They did an amazing job of approaching us with this offer and teaching me and my team the ins and outs of how it works right now.”
Tlaib says her team worked closely with UMAW to write the draft resolution. “We are doing the same with our housing bills, trying to solve the problem of economic inequality in our country. We let them guide us. I work for them, help them and protect their interests. They teach me so much about monopolization in the industry and how Spotify is acting in bad faith in so many ways.”
Music streaming is currently creating wealth for streaming platforms at the expense of musicians. UMAW is working to correct this imbalance. The law proposed by MP Tlaib would guarantee a minimum payout from platforms directly to musicians who play streaming recordings. The infrastructure for such payments already exists because they are already needed for satellite radio. The same principle needs to be applied to streaming to ensure the fairness and sustainability of recorded music.
In accordance with Tlaib’s decision, the non-profit royalty group SoundExchange, as well as the Royalties Board, will be used to calculate and allocate royalties. These two bodies already perform a similar function for internet broadcasting and satellite radio. Essentially, this will work within an additional model tailored for streaming.
With the news of the resolution coming out at the end of July, rumors spread throughout the industry. Tlaib said she hasn’t spoken directly to Spotify yet, explaining, “I understand they’re in the know.” She adds: “My priority is not corporations. Probably never will. They have their lawyers, they have their lobbyists, they have their resources to advertise and gaslight people to say whatever they say will happen as we continue to push this case forward. My priority is to do everything right and not trade fair in this market.”
TechCrunch has reached out to Spotify for this story, but has yet to receive a comment. CEO Daniel Ek has made headlines in the past by saying that a simple streaming model cannot—or won’t—support musicians the way record sales have done in the past. “Some artists who have done well in the past may not do well in this future landscape,” he said in interview in July 2019“where you can’t record music every three or four years and think it’s enough.”
Tlaib’s resolution began to gain momentum among peers in the House of Representatives. Most recently, New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman supported a proposal that is still pending consideration by the House Legislative Counsel.
Tlaib told TechCrunch that she believes such legislation could also win bipartisan support in Congress.
“I think what’s happening is that people don’t realize that a lot of people affected by what’s happening are in all congressional districts. I don’t think you could go to any county that is either unaffected by this or doesn’t understand how incredibly unfair this is. I know that we will be able – especially through the work that the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers is doing outside of Congress – to make this law viable.
Tlaiba’s own neighborhood, which includes West Detroit, can certainly claim such influence.
“Detroit is the global music capital of the world: Motown, techno, jazz, gospel. I wanted to honor this and respect this incredible work that has played a huge role in the work of the movement,” she said. “Music played a huge role in my growing up in the social justice movement. It was a way to bring people together in an attempt to understand not only human pain, but also the possibility of “better”. When I think of these wonderful musicians getting together, it’s incredibly inspiring. And why not? Why don’t they deserve to be paid what they deserve by Spotify and the other big players in the industry?”
Credit: techcrunch.com /