Business News Digital Education & Events The Great Escape 2014

More clarity is the biggest demand when artists debate the streaming sector

By | Published on Friday 16 May 2014

Dan Le Sac

The artist community is more frustrated about a lack of information than an immediate lack of money when it comes to the booming streaming music market, according to a panel of artists surveyed by CMU and Dan Le Sac ahead of this year’s Great Escape Convention.

After discussing the survey’s findings with CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke at TGE last week, Le Sac has now shared the results and his thoughts in an article for CMU, explaining that: “We chose to focus on streaming because recently that debate in particular has garnered national attention. When Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich took to Twitter to criticise the royalties being paid by Spotify – and subsequently removed some of their tracks from the service – the debate even ended up stealing column space in the tabloids”.

He noted: “Yorke and Godrich’s opinions about streaming services and the payments they make to artists have been well publicised, and the attention they generated on this issue is important. But the voices of two extremely well established artists does not give us a true representation of artists at large”.

It should be noted that many of those surveyed do share Yorke and Godrich’s concerns that the royalties being paid to artists by the streaming services – or at least the cuts of that money being passed on by the labels – are too low, especially for newer artists whose live or merchandise income may not be so lucrative. And most do feel that labels should be paying a bigger cut to artists on streaming income than record sale or download money. But the lack of information about how royalties are calculated actually seemed to be the biggest frustration.

Noting that while half of respondents had some knowledge of how Spotify royalties work, none knew how royalties from the other services were paid, Le Sac writes: “The streaming services are handing over complex data to the bigger labels and the distributors, who then don’t have either the manpower or the inclination to break this down into clear, concise numbers for the smaller labels and artists they represent. Ultimately it is easier to just add up a column and hand over some cash. But, especially if the cash payment is pretty low, many artists would like a little more information about how the sums were done”.

And the lack of information – and the frustration it causes – is not only resulting in negative headlines for Spotify. Le Sac notes how many artists grew up reading a music press that portrayed the major labels “as scum”, and so entered the industry already suspicious of the record industry machine. “This means that labels have to try extra hard to foster trust with their artists, especially long-term. And as the industry changes, labels want to work with artists in new ways, and that requires more trust between artists and their record companies, yet being in the dark about streaming money means there is less”.

Concluding, Le Sac writes: “Ultimately, the biggest thing that the artists who responded to this survey want – and hopefully this is reflected in the rest of the community – isn’t simply more money, it is clarity, to see where the streaming pennies are going and how this is all working, or could work in the future. So if there is a message for the record industry to take from this survey it would be this: tell us how things are working behind the scenes, involve us in the discussion of how to rise to the challenge of making the streaming music business work, and openly discuss with us why you feel your slice of the pie is justified”.

You can read Le Sac’s piece in full here.