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‘Streaming needs a complete reset’: MPs criticise unfair pay for musicians

The UK’s DCMS committee has called for legislative changes to address the unbalanced distribution of streaming revenues

A new report from the UK government has concluded that music streaming requires a “complete reset” in order to ensure that musicians, songwriters, and other music industry talent receive a fair share of the profits.

The “Economics of Music Streaming” inquiry from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee began in October last year, inviting the likes of Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, and Nile Rodgers to share evidence. 

Unsurprisingly, the verdict is pretty bleak, with the committee predicting that the country’s entire music landscape could be changed within a decade, if artists don’t receive a larger share of streaming revenues.

“The pitiful returns from music streaming impact the entire creative ecosystem,” the DCMS report reads. “Successful, critically acclaimed professional performers are seeing meagre returns from the dominant mode of music consumption. Non-featured performers are frozen out altogether, impacting what should be a viable career in its own right, as well as a critical pipeline for new talent.”

Julian Knight, the committee chair (who has also fought for the safeguarding of this summer’s music festivals), backs up the verdict, saying: “While streaming has brought significant profits to the recorded music industry, the talent behind it – performers, songwriters and composers – are losing out”.

“We have real concerns about the way the market is operating,” he adds, “with platforms like YouTube able to gain an unfair advantage over competitors, and the independent music sector struggling to compete against the dominance of the major labels.”

Both streaming services — such as YouTube and Spotify — and record labels are criticised in the 121-page report, with streaming services estimated to take 30 to 34 per cent of revenues per stream, and labels estimated to take 55 per cent. The remaining revenue is reportedly shared between the recording artist, the songwriter, and the publisher.

“The issues ostensibly created by streaming simply reflect more fundamental, structural problems within the recorded music industry,” the report says. “Streaming needs a complete reset.”

Driving this “reset” is a series of legislative reforms proposed by the DCMS committee, to protect the rights of musicians and songwriters. For one, the report supports calls for artists to receive equitable remuneration from streams (which would mean the streams are treated like radio plays, with a collecting society responsible for recouping royalties on behalf of the artist).

It also advises the introduction of rights to recapture the ownership of works after a certain period of time, as well as the right to adjust contracts if an artist’s works are “successful beyond the remuneration they receive”.

Find more information on the DCMS committee’s report here.