Streaming – why don't we build our own?
The world of musicians and songwriters: a vast spectrum of social awkwardness ranging from the multimillion selling, major-deal signing to the suitcase schlepping and coffee-shop jobbing. If there’s money to be invested from inside the artist community, why don’t we invest it in developers to create our own, artist-friendly streaming service for those who own their copyrights? Read More
If I begin this post with the question: “Is streaming a viable business plan?” half of you will click away, whereas the other half will have a passionate reply at the ready. Such is the world of musicians and songwriters: a vast spectrum of social awkwardness ranging from the multimillion selling, major-deal signing to the suitcase schlepping and coffee-shop jobbing. This makes it all the more difficult to arrive at a unified stance on the issue in order evoke some sort of change. For what it’s worth, here’s my proverbial 2 cents (or should that be 0.076 cents?)
Let's push things forward
We are moving further away from the physical world in all aspects of our lives and we can’t go back on allowing people to rent, rather than own, their digital music. I would not be surprised if the concept of purchasing MP3s is the next thing left behind in the dead-end branches of musical evolution. Streaming already counts towards the official charts in the USA and Germany, and will now also be included in the UK.
No to non-disclosure deals
Major labels have invested in streaming services as shareholders and therefore take a slice of the pie from both ends. Tom Yorke and Nigel Godrich brought attention to this last year, pointing out that streaming services are skewed towards organisations with a vast back catalogue and only pay lip service to independent artists and small labels. We should not accept the lack of transparency in label transactions with streaming services that are tied up in non-disclosure agreements (this goes for Spotify as well as YouTube).
So… hang on…
Spotify reported losses last year and claimed that they pay out 70% of their monthly revenue in royalties to copyright holders (i.e. to me or Universal Records). Since artists are making a pittance and streaming services are paying out, it seems the only party winning here (or perhaps bi-winning, to allude to a rather old meme) are the major labels. This does indeed beg the question as to whether streaming is a viable business model… for the streaming services themselves.
In some ways I’m in a much better position as an independent artist. I am my own label and distribute my albums via an online platform that does not take a cut of my royalties. The tiny amounts that do come in from streaming services don’t have to be shared. Record contracts often don’t include a streaming clause at all, and sometimes even still charge the artist costs that would only be incurred with physical goods, i.e. packaging and breakage fees. A lot of the more outspoken artists who criticise streaming services actually have issues with the middle man, i.e. their record label. They experience intransparency or unjust distribution, and then project this onto the streaming service. It's going to take a new generation of artists who have not yet signed record labels to negotiate fairer deals, particularly concerning digital formats, or indeed to successfully negotiate directly with the streaming services without the investment of a major label (which, according to a Spotify spokesperson, can be done!).
On the other hand, I’m a tiny label with no clout and little representation. Artists and labels such as myself are scammed out of our fair share of advertising revenue made by giants like Google. We need a community of artists to represent us because no one’s fighting our corner at the moment.
Which brings me to the next question…
Why don’t we build our own? I strongly believe that most of the problems we face could be solved amongst ourselves. If there’s money to be invested from inside the artist community, why don’t we invest it in developers to create our own, artist-friendly streaming service for those who own their copyrights?
But in the meantime…how about that transparency?
I asked a YouTube representative at last year’s Berlin Music Week how many views constituted a payment and did not get an answer. If streaming services are going to continue to cash in on advertising revenue from the videos we create, the least we can ask for is transparency. I want to be able to audit companies such as YouTube to see exactly how much money has been made off my music, and would like to see royalty payments made accordingly.