Billy Bragg Says Don't Blame Spotify; Blame The Record Labels
from the there-we-go dept
There’s been so much misguided hatred towards successful internet music services lately, with the main targets being the most successful: Spotify and Pandora. Could those services be doing better? Yes, absolutely, but so much of the the hatred seems incredibly misplaced. Here are services that are actually paying artists, and that have built platforms that millions upon millions of people love. Many of the complaints about the “low payout” numbers involve people totally misunderstanding the data as well. But there’s also been one elephant in the room which hasn’t received as much attention: Spotify and Pandora pay the record labels, since they hold the copyright. Often, a big part of the problem is that the labels then do everything to avoid paying the artists.
In the past, I’ve disagreed with singer Billy Bragg’s view of internet services, but this time around, he’s right: in many cases, the real problem (yet again) are the labels and not these services. He’s written a detailed Facebook post explaining this position, noting that complaining about Spotify is like “campaigning against the Sony Walkman” when it was first introduced. Going against what music fans want is never a good strategy.
From there, he gets to the real issue: how the labels account for streaming revenue:
The problem with the business model for streaming is that most artists still have contracts from the analog age, when record companies did all the heavy lifting of physical production and distribution, so only paid artists 8%-15% royalties on average.
Those rates, carried over to the digital age, explain why artists are getting such paltry sums from Spotify. If the rates were really so bad, the rights holders – the major record companies – would be complaining. The fact that they’re continuing to sign up means they must be making good money.
Here in Sweden – where I’m doing a show tonight in Malmo – artists have identified that the problem lies with the major record labels rather the streaming service and are taking action to get royalty rates that better reflect the costs involved in digital production and distribution. UK artists would be smart to follow suit.
Of course, there have already been lawsuits about similar issues, related to legacy contracts. You hopefully remember Eminem’s big lawsuit over whether or not digital sales count as licenses or sales, since “licenses” involve a 50% cut, while “sales” are more like 10 to 15%. As the Guardian article notes, there are some labels that do in fact pay a greater percentage on streaming deals, as they should, but many legacy artists are locked into bad contracts. And, of course, there’s always the issue of how well the labels actually handle their accounting, and the way they play games to make sure artists never “recoup,” making it difficult to get any royalties.
The internet services definitely can do more to help artists, but much of the blame often seems misplaced, so it’s great to see someone like Bragg recognizing that.