Is the current music streaming model “fit for purpose”? The DCMS will investigate
By Cat Daczkowski
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee are launching an inquiry into the economics of music streaming and whether the current model is “fit for purpose”, but will it change anything?
According to the official UK Government committees webpage, music streaming accounts for over half of the global music industry, with £1 billion being generated in the UK alone, however, artists are being paid as little as 13% of the income generated.
In response to the increasing outcry for fairer pay for musicians, arguably sparked by online movements such as the #BrokenRecord campaign on Twitter that began in May, the DCMS committee is now in process of launching an inquiry into the music streaming industry, and whether artists are treated fairly by the model. They are also looking to investigate whether the algorithms used on online streaming sites are favoured to musicians with larger fanbases, creating an increasingly difficult battle for smaller artists.
After five months of social media campaigning, a government-backed advert calling for young creatives to begin a career in cybersecurity was released but it was quickly taken down due to the uproar all over social media. This incident occurred two days before the announcement of the music streaming inquiry, and the DCMS were interestingly quick to absolve any involvement with the advertising campaign.
In 2019, PRS for music processed £18.8 trillion from “performances” but with the current pandemic, musicians are unable to play live meaning their income is solely based on how they sell themselves digitally. PRS raised an emergency fund of £2.1 million to support the 1,600 songwriters signed up to the organisation when the first COVID-19 lockdown began. Charities such as Help Musicians hurried to help in March, raising £5 million, but with such high demand for financial support from musicians in the UK the fund ran out in a single week.
The DCMS revealed in a video on Twitter that even though streaming sites are incredibly popular, generating a great deal of income, the streaming platforms take 30% and 55% is split to the label/producer/artist with the rest going to the stake-holders.
Some smaller musicians are opposed to uploading their music to streaming sites, arguing that it’s not a viable source of income. In an interview with Colin James Macfarlane, the frontman of a Pontypridd based punk band “Sparky Renegade”, revealed that he has not uploaded his music to streaming sites since around 2016. He said, “YouTube is by far the most generous streaming platform” as it is free to upload a video to the site meaning uploaders receive “instant profit”, and that the payment model used by YouTube is much fairer than other platforms.
As mentioned by Macfarlane, streaming sites are not free to upload to for artists, and some services that allow musicians to upload to these platforms also take a percentage of the earnings as well as the upfront fee. One distribution service, Distrokid, charges its users $19.99 (£15.48) once a year to upload music onto streaming sites. Some sites charge even more, Tunecore for example charges $23.99 (£18.58) for the first year, and the fee rises to $40 (£30.97) the following year.
Even though the fees to upload to these sites are high, some would argue that the income they receive through streaming is not worthwhile. The Twitter user, “@thetrichordist” released a table of the different payment levels that each major streaming site currently uses Although, the YouTube video service seems to offer the best value through its ad revenue model, its music streaming counterpart pays its artists the least amount with £0.0012 per stream, meaning artists require on average 7,267 streams to earn one hour of UK minimum wage. Amazon is the best for the artists according to this evidence as it pays £0.009 per stream.
Even with these figures, some artists still choose to use streaming sites to share their music. Mitchell Tennant, the frontman of Head Noise, an Aberdare based DIY punk electronic band shared his thoughts in an interview about using music streaming platforms to promote his music. He stated that “it’s more about getting the music out there for people to hear” than receiving any monetary gain. He believes that it depends on what other sources of income bands have and if the musicians rely on their music career solely to live. As a comparison he gave the example of using the Facebook promotion system, “if you put £50 into that [promoting a video] you won’t get anything back” but if a band paid a yearly fee to share their music on a streaming platform, there is a chance that they will make a profit.
Some people have even taken to social media to prove how the organisations who are there to help musicians, are not providing the service that they pay for. An artist must pay a one-off £100 fee to join the PRS for Music organisation, then PRS will ensure that the artists are paid every time their music is performed “live, broadcast on TV or radio, played in public, streamed online or used in the film”. Andrew Hunt, a member of the band “Buffalo Summer” shared his 2020 PRS payment on his Facebook account, where he earned just £7.38.
With the online presence that is surrounding this issue, it will be interesting to see how the creative industry will be adapted by the government through this inquiry. If you would like to submit evidence to support this investigation, go to this website, https://committees.parliament.uk/call-for-evidence/273/economics-of-music-streaming/ by the 16th November 2020.