|FRIDAY 19 MARCH 2021||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: We all know that the economics of streaming has become a much bigger talking point over the last year - mainly as a result of the COVID shutdown and its impact on other music revenue streams. Now Spotify has formally joined that conversation by stepping forward to share some stats and facts, and to give its official answers to some of the big questions that have been posed along the way. It does all that via a new website called Loud & Clear... [READ MORE]|
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Spotify formally enters the economics of streaming debate with new Loud & Clear website
It's not the first time Spotify has responded to criticism within the artist community with a website. The platform that became Spotify For Artists was originally launched when streaming first started to gain real momentum and various high-level music-makers spoke out against the then still emerging business model and the low per-stream royalty payments.
Spotify recognised that - because its licensing deals were with record labels, music distributors, music publishers and collecting societies - it didn't have a direct connection with the artist community. Therefore it launched a website for artists and their managers offering that community direct access to educational content, usage data and - subsequently - marketing tools.
In the early days that website even included an average per-stream royalty figure. Which was a brave and possibly foolish move, even though it was a decent approximation for the time. But it did strengthen the idea that there is a per-stream royalty rate, even though there isn't. The way streaming royalties are calculated and paid is, of course, much more complicated than that.
Putting an average per-stream royalty figure on the record - and therefore setting an expectation among artists for what money each stream generates - also made it more obvious when - with the rise of family plans and the increased importance of certain emerging markets - the average rate per stream on a global basis started to go down.
The new website - which is possibly aimed as much at music fans as music-makers - does its best to explain the complexities, and why honing in on average per-stream royalty rates isn't very helpful.
Of course, cynics might argue that that's because Spotify's average per-stream royalty rate is lower than that of many of its rivals, and so the firm is keen to distract people away from that metric. But it is, generally, an imprecise and unhelpful metric, and trying to understand some of the complexities instead is a useful thing to do.
Although, before getting into any of the complexities and specific debates, the Loud & Clear website initially throws a barrage of stats at its audience. First about how streaming in general - and Spotify in particular - has taken the record industry back into growth after fifteen years of decline. And secondly about how an increasing number of artists are generating a decent income from their Spotify streams.
Some of these stats were already presented at the streaming firm's recent Stream On bash. However, the website goes a little deeper, and provides some interactive tools for people who like to fill out some boxes and press some buttons before getting their stats fix.
"Over 207,000 songs were streamed over a million times in 2020 alone", we are told. Plus 870 artists had catalogues that generated more than $1 million in Spotify royalties last year, when both recording and song royalties are counted up. 7800 made more than $100,000. 13,400 more than $50,000. 67,200 more than $5000.
Of course, that doesn't mean those artists saw anything like those sums of money. An accompanying video stresses that Spotify pays labels, distributors, publishers and societies. What happens to the money once it's been handed over to the music industry is another story that Spotify has no active role in.
"We would love to report on the money that artists take home as a result of their Spotify performance", it states elsewhere on the new website, "but we do not have insight into each individual artist's and songwriter's agreements with their chosen rightsholders. We can only report the data that's available to us, which is the amount of money that has left Spotify".
Streaming services have always been in the tricky position of not being able to say "we hand over 70% of our money to the music industry, it's not our fucking fault if that doesn't get to the artists", given that their entire businesses rely on having good relationships with the labels, distributors, publishers and collecting societies.
However, the new website's video does its best to illustrate the fact that the cash it hands over flows down an assortment of music industry pipes before reaching artists and songwriters, and who knows what happens in those pipes. Though that animation doesn't go as far as showing money leaking out of half the pipes as it flows, which it possibly should, on the song side in particular.
Although the stats are fun for stat fans, the most interesting bit of the site is definitely the FAQs, where Spotify puts on the record its official answers to various questions that have been posed over the years, and even more so over the last twelve months.
That includes the question as to why Spotify's per-play rates are lower than its competitors when averaged out across the platform on a global basis. "In the streaming era, fans do not pay per song and services do not pay per stream, so we don't believe a 'per stream rate' is a meaningful number to analyse", it reiterates.
Although, "we understand that artists find it useful to calculate an effective 'per stream' rate". But remember, it adds, the rate for Spotify will look lower because it has a free tier, it is bigger in emerging markets where subscription prices are lower, and its average subscriber just listens to more music. All of which, it adds, artists should like because it provides "more opportunities to deepen engagement with listeners". Yeah, maybe.
Given, as Spotify is so keen to stress, streaming is a revenue share business, why doesn't it just get more revenue by charging a higher subscription fee? "Spotify persuaded listeners to pay a set price for music monthly, shifting fans away from piracy", it reckons. "The cost of a subscription is not an insignificant amount for many. Raising prices is a fine balance - we don't want to drive people back to piracy or unmonetised solutions".
"That said, Spotify is always evaluating pricing in each of our markets, and we've increased pricing in a number of them", it goes on. "Since Spotify and artists' rightsholders share in the same pool of money, our incentives are totally aligned: We both want to generate as much revenue from listeners and advertisers as possible. Over the years we have made a number of price increases in different markets around the world, and we will continue to do so when it makes sense, based on a variety of local and regional factors".
And what about switching over to that user-centric approach for royalty distribution everyone keeps talking about? "The research we've seen to date suggests that a shift to user-centric payments would not benefit artists as much as many may have originally hoped", it counters.
Citing that recent report from France's National Music Centre, it then notes that that research "found that the change would result in 'at most a few euros per year on average' for artists outside the top 10,000". However, it concludes: "We are willing to make the switch to a user-centric model if that's what artists, songwriters, and rightsholders want to do. However, Spotify cannot make this decision on its own – it requires broad industry alignment to implement this change".
Assuming Spotify plans to keep this website up to date, it will be interesting to see if any of the answers in the FAQs section evolve over time as debates on things like price rises and user-centric move on. And also as newer topics become bigger talking points, like the lack of transparency regarding the increasingly powerful Spotify algorithm, and the mounting backlash to Spotify's Discovery Mode, where artists can influence that algorithm but only in return for providing a royalty discount.
It will also be interesting to see if any of the language around the business model changes too. There are already some innovations on the site. It talks about the current model for royalty distribution as 'streamshare', which possibly sounds better than terms like 'pro-rata' and 'market share, which are used elsewhere in the industry.
It also notably talks about sharing "two thirds" of its revenue with the music industry. This is interesting given that - while Spotify has talked about its cut being 30-35% in the past - people still often talk about the service's share of the digital pie being 30% rather than 33.3%.
So, lots to digest. But is this new website achieving its aim of placating Spotify's critics in the music community, and reassuring the fans of those critical artists? Interestingly the response from artist groups has been different in the US compared to the UK. Possibly because the big public debate over the streaming business model on this side of the Atlantic has been going on for longer, and generally shifted away from "Spotify is the problem" to "the labels are the problem".
The two groups behind the UK-based #fixstreaming campaign - the Musicians' Union and the Ivors Academy - were mainly positive about the new website.
MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge said yesterday: "We are delighted to welcome the launch of Spotify's Loud & Clear website. The #fixstreaming campaign has been calling for more clarity and transparency in the way the platforms pay out to the rightsholders and it's great to see Spotify respond in such a positive way".
"It does, however, underline the fact that whilst the success of streaming is generating huge dividends, it is the rights owners who are benefitting chiefly and the artists and performers who write and deliver the music that the whole ecosystem depends on are, at best, the poor relations", he added.
Meanwhile, Ivors CEO Graham Davies stated: "We welcome Spotify's new initiative as a step in the right direction of providing music creators with greater transparency. Knowledge is power. We have campaigned for greater transparency about how streaming works, and how songwriters and composers are paid".
"However", he went on, "the figures from Spotify that show 'payouts' are not what goes into the pockets of artists and songwriters. It is what labels and publishers receive, who then pay artists and songwriters a fraction of that. This is where the industry still has a long way to go to achieve true transparency and fair distribution. But well done Spotify, for recognising the importance of transparency and showing that it is possible".
However, in the US, the relatively new Union Of Musicians And Allied Workers - which staged protests against Spotify specifically earlier this week - says that the new website doesn't provide any of the answers or information its members seek.
In a statement on Twitter, it said: "Spotify has failed to meet any of our demands. The company consistently deflects blame onto others for systems it has itself built, and from which it has created its nearly $70 billion valuation. We asked for transparency, but this website answers none of our questions about the sources of Spotify's income in addition to subscriptions and ads, payola schemes for playlist and algorithm prioritisation, or the terms of their contracts with major labels".
It also notes that the ongoing controversy over Spotify's involvement in the appeal regarding the increase of the statutory royalty rate due to songwriters under US law is not mentioned. It then concluded: "UMAW will have a more complete statement in coming days".
Also responding to the new website was rival Deezer, which honed in on what Loud & Clear says about user-centric royalty distribution. Deezer, of course, is the streaming service that is trying to persuade the music industry to switch to that model.
"Streaming today lacks both transparency and fairness, and benefits the people at the top of the food chain", Deezer's Chief Content And Strategy Officer Alexander Holland remarked. "A user-centric model doesn't magically solve all these problems. But it does connect artists to their fans. It does treat every artist equally. And it makes sure that you as a fan support the artists you love. Saying that something isn't worth doing because it doesn't matter enough to you is what defenders of the status quo have always done. And in the end, fairness and change always prevails".
He concluded: "We continue to pursue a user-centric payment system, simply because it's the right thing to do. And it's fair for everyone involved. No ifs or buts. And we continue to call on labels to work with us to launch a [user-centric] pilot to prove the case".
BMG to partner with Montreaux Jazz Festival on documentary and live albums
All the music in the film and audio projects will be drawn from late festival founder Claude Nobs' extensive collection of audio-visual material. Says Thierry Amsallem, Chair of the Claude Nobs Foundation: "The Montreux Jazz Festival has always been a leading showcase for the international music scene, as well as a meeting place for musicians and music lovers".
"The magic of Montreux lies in the encounters between musicians", he goes on. "They were unique events that will never be repeated. The idea was always to allow artists to get off the beaten track and avoid replaying their usual repertoire. Here, we treated them like kings and offer them the best conditions in the world, in terms of sound quality and audio-visual recording technology".
CEO of Montreux Media Ventures, Nicolas Bonard, adds: "We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience these historic and culturally significant musical performances and, through the preservation work of the Claude Nobs Foundation, we hope to bring a bit of Montreux magic directly to fans around the world".
BMG's EVP Global Catalogue Recordings, Peter Stack, comments: "The Montreux Jazz Festival is an institution in music. From Nina Simone and Etta James to Dua Lipa, jazz legends and pop icons alike have honoured the Montreux stage with their performances over the past 55 years. This partnership takes viewers and listeners on an intimate journey through time, looking behind the scenes of the legendary festival. Putting together a detailed homage, this is a unique project with the rare opportunity to use audio and audio-visual footage of the highest quality".
With the working title 'They All Came Down To Montreux', the documentary is being directed by Oliver Murray, who recently worked on 'Ronnie's', a feature length documentary about the Ronnie Scott's jazz club. It will cover the event from its inception up to Nobs' death in 2013, with its premiere set to take place at the Zurich Film Festival in September.
Details of the first albums to be released as part of the partnership between BMG and the Montreux Jazz Festival are set to be announced next month.
BBC unveils latest plan to ensure more programme-making outside of London
That said, this plan is arguably a more significant attempt at spreading the BBC's operations out across the UK. And while the broadcaster's Manchester - or technically Salford - base gets another boost from this particular restructure, other regional BBC centres will become more active too. Who knows, they may even allow local BBC journalists to appear on national news programmes, rather than having two teams reporting on the same events. Now that would be radical!
Says BBC boss man Tim Davie of his grand new plan: "Our mission must be to deliver for the whole of the UK and ensure every household gets value from the BBC. These plans will get us closer to audiences, create jobs and investment, and develop and nurture new talent".
"Over the last year, the BBC - which has been an essential part of the UK's culture, democracy and creativity for almost a century - has helped inform, educate and entertain all four nations, as we have collectively faced some of our toughest moments in recent history. Now, as we look to the future, we must play our part in supporting social and economic recovery; rebuilding the creative sector and telling the stories that need to be heard from all corners of the UK".
Of course, now is a perfect time for having another go at pushing more of the BBC's journalism and programme making out of London, given that most office workers have been remote-working for a year now anyway; many of those who traditionally commuted into London every day have quite enjoyed not commuting into London every day during lockdown; and - on the news side - guests are now much better equipped to contribute over the net, and listeners and viewers are used to that being the norm.
That said, with many London-based companies anticipating a permanent change to their corporate culture post-COVID, with at least some remote working becoming the norm, allowing for a not insignificant downsizing of any real estate they occupy in the capital, maybe in a few years the BBC will be under pressure to support the flagging London economy by basing more of its output there. So that's something to look forward to.
But first, let's get more stuff happening in the regions. Under Davie's grand plan, at least 60% of the money spent on original TV commissions will go to productions made outside London, while 50% of the budget spent on radio and music will also be used outside the capital by 2027/28.
In fact, Radio 1's Newsbeat set-up and the whole Asian Network will be primarily based in Birmingham, while Radio 3 and 6Music will be "rooted in Salford". And there'll be daytime shows on Radio 1, 1Xtra and Radio 2 hosted from studios outside of London.
The BBC News operation will boost its presence in the regions; the main base of the Corporation's digital and technology teams will also become Salford; BBC studios in Bristol, Cardiff and Glasgow will be expanded, while its Belfast HQ will be upgraded; and there'll be more journalists and programmes focused on local and regional news, available via TV, local radio stations and the BBC Sounds app.
So, plenty of changes incoming. The BBC concludes its outline of the grand plan by stating: "We will assess, where appropriate, our proposed changes to local plans for materiality in line with our requirements under the [BBC] Charter and Agreement, engaging with interested stakeholders and [media regulator] OfCom".
Years & Years to become "an Olly solo project"
"This upcoming new album has been an Olly endeavour and we've decided that Years & Years will continue as an Olly solo project", says a statement posted on social media. "The three of us are still good friends. Mikey will be part of the Y&Y family and play with us live and Emre [Türkmen] will focus on being a writer/producer".
The statement also confirmed that new Years & Years music will be arriving this spring.
Emre Türkmen has previously released solo music as Exit Kid. Alexander, meanwhile, as well as making new Years & Years music on his own, has recently been seen starring in Channel 4 series 'It's A Sin'. The most recent Y&Y release was a cover of the Pet Shop Boys song from which that series takes its name.
The Go! Team announces new album shaped by hearing loss
The recording process for what is their sixth album became lengthy and difficult for unexpected reasons, main man Ian Parton explains: "I lost hearing in my right ear halfway during the making of this record. I woke up one Thursday in October 2019 and my hearing was different in some way - it fluctuated over a few weeks and at one point everything sounded like a Dalek. I seem to remember listening to music was bordering on unbearable. Over time it settled into just a tiny bit of high end being audible on my right side".
"I thought the hearing loss was from playing music too loud over the years but it turns out I was just unlucky and it was a rare condition called Meniere's", he continues. "It was traumatic to keep listening to songs I knew well but which suddenly sounded different and it was an odd juxtaposition to listen to upbeat music when I was on such a downer. The trauma of losing my hearing gave the music a different dimension for me and it transformed the album into more of a life raft".
While the album took on new meaning for Parton as he came to terms with his hearing loss, the delay to its completion also meant that lead single 'World Remember Me Now' shifted its context in the midst of the global pandemic.
"I've always been interested in people's daily routines - what people do all day", says Parton. "[The song] was written ages ago but has become strangely relevant to the world now. It's easy to feel forgotten at the moment".
'Get Up Sequences Part One' is set to be released via Memphis Industries on 2 Jul. Listen to 'World Remember Me Now' here.
Griff wins BRITs Rising Star
"In my head, I'm still screaming from the phone call when I found out", she says. "It's honestly such a miracle: how on earth did we manage to win a BRIT and break through during a pandemic?"
Well, she signed to Warner Music in 2019, quickly picked up a following, helped by key radio play and the shrewd move of writing good songs - for which she got a nomination for the Rising Star Ivor Novello Award last year. She also came fifth in the BBC's Sound Of 2021 poll which was won by her BRITs Rising Star rival Pa Salieu.
Previous winners of the BRITs Rising Star award (formerly Critics' Choice) include Adele, Florence And The Machine, Sam Smith, and last year Celeste.
Here's Griff performing her song 'Black Hole' at Abbey Road for the BRITs Rising Star Sessions.
Soulwax's Deewee label has signed a partnership with Because Music, with the latter providing distribution, marketing and promotion services to the former. The first release under the deal is 'Foundations', a compilation showcasing Deewee's output so far.
Luz has signed a global publishing deal with Kobalt. "When Kobalt's creative team first heard Luz, we were blown away by the breadth of talent of someone of her young age", says Kobalt's UK Head Of A&R, Kenny McGoff. "She is a natural songwriter with an innate ability to craft beautiful, timeless songs. We are very excited to be working alongside her managers Hannah Braid and Matt Johnson in developing what we truly believe will be a hugely successful and long career for Luz".
LABELS & PUBLISHERS
Sony Music has launched new label Offmute, which will focus on new and emerging talent in Southeast Asia. "Offmute is a first-of-its-kind label in this part of the world, embracing the eclectic appeal and rich diversity that Southeast Asia has to offer, empowering artists with the resources and expertise to find success in a diverse region", says Shridhar Subramaniam, Sony Music's President of Strategy & Market Development for Asia and the Middle East. "That offering is compelling for a new generation of artists in the region and we're excited to help these artists fulfil their potential in the years to come".
The New Cross Inn's Paul Smith and Eddie Griffiths have launched new booking agency All Corners Artist Booking. "Between us, we've done everything there is to do in the music industry over the past fifteen years, so setting up All Corners Artist Booking seemed the next logical step", they say. "We're proud to launch with a roster of bands we feel passionate about and who deserve to be amongst the biggest and best in the world. Combining our DIY ethics with our extensive industry experience means we can achieve individual goals for our artists at all levels". Find out more here.
Ron Bension has joined US-based venue operator ASM Global as President and CEO. He moves into that role after more than a decade at Live Nation. "We are THRILLED to have Ron join the ASM Global team", says Kosty Gillis, MD of ASM Global co-owner (with Live Nation rival AEG) Onex. "He is precisely the type of executive we seek to lead our businesses".
Have you ever sat around wondering how Adam Buxton comes up with all those jingles? Silly question. I know you have. Well, he discusses just that on the new episode of John Kennedy's Tape Notes podcast. Listen here.
Ingrid Michaelson has teamed up with Zayn for new single 'To Begin Again'. "I wrote 'To Begin Again' the night that Biden won", she says. "There was so much joy in my neighbourhood. Pots and pans being banged out of windows. Horns and whistles. Clapping. Singing! The collective sigh of relief resonated with me in such a way that I had to get it out musically. I sat at the piano and wrote most of the song right there in fifteen minutes".
Bugzy Malone has released new single 'Welcome To The Hood'.
Foxes has released new single 'Kathleen'. "My grandma, Kathleen, has always given really good advice so on one visit I thought, 'why am I not recording this?", says Foxes. "A couple of weeks later in the studio I happened to be going through my voice notes of random melodies and lyrics I'd saved and stumbled across her words of wisdom and within 20 minutes we'd written it with all her advice from the notes". Her new EP (that's Foxes' new EP, not her grandma's) 'Friends On The Corner', will be out on 1 Apr.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich has announced that he will release new album 'To Carry A Whale' on 18 Jun. "It's an observation on what it's like to be a sober alcoholic addict a couple of years in", he says of the title. "A whale is heavy to carry. It's gonna hurt you to carry it. But it's also beautiful, and it's a miracle to be able to carry all that at all". Here's new single 'Cherry In Tacoma'.
Boys Noize and Kelsey Lu have released new single 'Ride Or Die', featuring Chilly Gonzales. "One day, Gonzo sent me a recording of him playing a particular kind of harpsichord called a spinet, and I immediately had the idea of bringing a big musical contrast to the spinet's delicate notes", says Boys Noize. "The first layers I added were a really dark percussive tribal sound with heavy 909 drums on top. This combination of the classical and the 'hi-tech' made me think of Kelsey Lu, who I had seen live shredding on a cello she patched through crazy guitar pedals".
Gruff Rhys will release new solo album 'Seeking New Gods' on 21 May. "The album is about people and the civilizations, and the spaces people inhabit over periods of time", he says. "How people come and go but the geology sticks around and changes more slowly. I think it's about memory and time". Here's new single 'Loan Your Loneliness'.
Babii has released new single 'Bruiise'. It's focused on, she says, "being scared about making the right choice and trying to figure out whether a feeling is true or if it's just an old hurt (or bruise) trying to trick you into repeating a pattern of self-sabotage". Her new album, 'Miirror', will be out on 21 May.
Eckoes has released new single 'Carry Water'.
Stubborn Heart have released new single 'Against The Tide'. Their new album, 'Made Of Static', will be out on 4 Jun.
Ransom FA has released new single 'Momentus'. His new EP of the same name will be out next week. "I believe there is a soundtrack for every moment in our life", he says. "In this EP I tried to capture what that means to me. A lot of long studio sessions and late nights went into getting this EP lyrically and musically perfect. As I say in the introduction track, 'I can sleep when I'm dead, NO RESTING'".
GIGS & TOURS
Architects have announced five UK arena dates in February and March next year. Tickets are on sale now.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
M&M's "celebrate life" with Spotify playlists
Now, what are M&M's Messages? Well, silly, they're "share size" packs of M&M's with messages written on the packaging. So, instead of just talking to someone, you can let the M&M's do it for you. Want to say, "Have a great day pretending to work"? M&M's can do that for you. Want to offer emotional support? You can do that with a pack of M&M's. Want to not offer emotional support? There's one for that too. Want to just shout, "Slay girl!"? Well, I think you get the idea.
Last time M&M's made these limited edition wrappers available, it was all well and good, but there was something missing. What do people really want when someone hands them some sweets with an unhelpful message written on the packet? That's right, they want to be able to scan a code with their phone and open a Spotify playlist with tracks somehow apparently related to that message. Well, rejoice everyone (in the specific geographic area covered by this promotion)! Your dream is now a reality.
"Music and M&M's have an incredible power to help us connect to one another and celebrate life", says Senior Brand Director at M&M's maker Mars Wrigley, Allison Miazga-Bedrick, in a statement so daft it almost makes sense. "Incorporating music into M&M's Messages packs are a new way for us to help fans share their true selves and connect with others, which helps us live our purpose of better moments and more smiles".
I've seen some over the top statements from marketing people in my time, but that was really something. The question now is, can Spotify's Head Of North America Advertising Sales, Brian Berner, carry off the baton handed over by Allison Miazga-Bedrick?
"There's something special about the evolution of M&M's packaging and we were immediately drawn to the opportunity to partner with the M&M's team to make the joy of music front and centre this go round", he says. "These curated Spotify playlists give people an opportunity to connect at a time when we're all hungrier than ever for new ways to interact".
Well, I'm not sure it tops Miazga-Bedrick's bullshit, but it's a good effort. Absolute nonsense. Well done, Brian. Now, let's all imagine a world where you'd listen to a playlist curated by a confectionary brand. Hahahahahahaha.