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Musicians are being let down by the current streaming system

Musicians are being let down by the current streaming system

You might think the extra revenue being generated by more streaming subscriptions would help plug the income shortfall for musicians, songwriters and composers, but not so, writes Kevin Brennan MP. | PA Images

4 min read

With live work on hold, musicians are relying on royalties from recorded music. But if they are to survive, they need a larger cut of streaming revenue

Covid has highlighted the precarious financial position many musicians face. Recently I reported the plight of an individual musician to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden.

Jacquelyn Hynes is an internationally renowned flautist and usually much in demand for live work and teaching. The pandemic has meant that all her freelance live work has disappeared, as has the majority of her teaching which is effectively done on a zero hours contract basis.

Under the old normal, just over half her income was paid in wages. According to the rules introduced by Rishi Sunak she therefore does not qualify for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, and because of the zero hours nature of her teaching, neither can she be furloughed.

With nothing coming in she now faces having to sell her precious musical instruments, the tools of her trade. She is one of the ‘excluded’, many of whom work in the music industry.

This injustice has been thrown into even sharper relief by the fact that, in the absence of live music, more and more people are listening to recorded music, particularly through streaming services such as Spotify.

If we don’t fix recorded music and streaming, musicians will be suffering their own version of long-Covid

You might think the extra revenue being generated by more streaming subscriptions would help plug the income shortfall for musicians, songwriters and composers, but not so. The major record companies who also have a big stake in music publishing are reporting record profits, but social media is full of musicians protesting that none of that industry boon seems to be coming their way – why?

That is the question the DCMS Select Committee is looking into with our inquiry ‘The Economics of Music Streaming’. Our first evidence session heard from industry accountants and lawyers, as well as musicians including Mercury-nominated singer-songwriter Nadine Shah; Guy Garvey of Elbow and BBC 6 Music; and Mercury prizewinner Tom Gray of Gomez who started the online campaign to fix streaming, #brokenrecord.

Nadine described how, despite her success and the accolades her music receives, she struggles to make ends meet. Most musicians earn less the £20K and music streaming generates very little of their income.

Anyone who has ever taken an interest in the music industry knows of its shady history of deals, often of such bewildering complexity that few understand where the money goes. Does this opacity benefit record companies over artists, and can more transparency be required to ensure fairness to musicians?

Should musicians get a share of each stream as they would with radio play? This ‘equitable remuneration’ would at least put more money in musicians’ pockets via a small change to copyright regulations in Parliament rather than complicated industry upheaval. Should producers and engineers who play an increasing role in the creative process of recording music be included?

Should analogue record contracts which have been passported into the digital age be amended to improve the royalty rate to artists now that physical product no longer has to be distributed by the record companies on a mass scale?

Should the way that record companies, publishers and streaming services are often linked together in corporate ownership be looked into more closely?

Should streaming services be much more user-centric in the way they pay artists? What about treating streaming as a licence, which pays a better share to songwriters, rather than as a consumer sale, favouring the record companies?

We all want live music back and the vaccines may mean that is sooner rather than later but if we don’t fix recorded music and streaming, musicians will be suffering their own version of long-Covid, even when their music plays in venues once again.

So as Guy Garvey sang, “throw those curtains wide” – then we can all see where the money is going.

 

Kevin Brennan is the Labour MP for Cardiff West.

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