Artists Decry the “Trickle” of Money From Streaming Services

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Trickle down economics has musicians receiving paltry sums from streaming royalties. (Image by Sinner-PWA)

A recent article published by The Tennessean reported that producer and songwriter Kevin Kadish only received $5,679 in royalties from 178 million streams for his hit song “All About That Base”.  Kadish spoke at a Congressional roundtable hosted by the House Judiciary Committee, where the major topic of discussion was the  Songwriter Equity Act which, via a Copyright Royalty Board, sets the guidelines for artists’ compensation for radio airplay and streaming services .

Many musicians, producers & songwriters currently feel that they are being shortchanged by streaming services because they are not receiving the fair market value for their copyright material. They also claim that the inequity is due to a lack of transparency in how royalties are actually brokered and distributed.  Kadish along with several other members from all corners of the music industry are pushing for a modification to the Songwriter Equity Act, which would seek to create a willing buyer, willing seller arrangement for songwriters and publishers. Copyright owners would be able to offer the fair market value of their songs, including synchronization licensing, as evidence when arguing the digital royalty rates at the federal Copyright Royalty Board.

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Streaming services hope to keep royalties to artists to a minimum. Image by Shutterstock.com

Meanwhile stocks for streaming services like Pandora are spiking with the anticipation that the Copyright Royalty Board will keep royalty rates low for streaming services.  While Pandora touts its platform as great exposure for up-and-coming and little know artists, they also try to negotiate the lowest rate possible to pay those artists for the right to stream their music.  Considering that the rate of compensation over the last 100 years has only increased by 7 cents, to 9.1 cents per song, its apparent that something needs to change in order to rectify the disparity of compensation that artists must endure.

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Dare to Stream: Artists wrestle with the pros & cons of music streaming services

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Neil Young takes a stance against streaming music. Photo credit (AAP)

Canadian-born folk rock icon Neil Young recently decided to remove his music from streaming services like Pandora & Spotify, joining other major artists like Prince, Tool, Bob Seger and Taylor Swift.  Members of this amorphous group have either parted ways with streaming services, or have out-right refused to allow their music to touch the digital realm.  For Young, the issue simply rests with the compressed quality of music that streaming services deliver.  Taylor Swift claims her departure from Spotify was about standing up for “the superfan” and making a statement on the current status of the music industry.  However, she has recently reached an agreement with Apple to stream her latest album on their service.  Of course, when you’re an established artist with a cadre of lawyers and a back catalogue that pre-dates streaming music, it’s easier to take a stance against “the powers that be” for a noble cause.  But chivalry aside, what about the money made from streaming services?

The Rethink Music initiative at the Berklee College of Music’s Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship recently released a study examining the business practices of the music industry.  Business World Online examined the Rethink study finding that the flow of money, which begins with a streaming service and ends at the artist, can often involve a convoluted web of licensing agreements and third-party side deals.  Major artists have vast resources and industry leverage to help navigate multilayered and confusing agreements.  Smaller artists simply don’t have the resources or influence.  Artists such as Taylor Swift can sign lucrative exclusive deals with specific streaming services or, in the case of a band like Tool, can afford to forego digital releases all together in favor of vinyl.

On the other side of the album you have smaller independent artists who draw a certain amount of cache and exposure from streaming entities. These artists are willing to accept the small penance generated by streaming services in order to garner attention for live shows and merch sales.  The perception also exists that smaller artists are facing the same challenges they faced in a pre-streaming era: major corporations consolidating their power, money, and influence to divert money from the artist.  In many ways, it’s the same old song, just compressed to fit the new digital era.

Depending on which side of the digital divide an artist camps relies on their core philosophy regarding digital music. And for folks like Neil Young, the philosophy is quite clear: “streaming sucks“.

Bandcamp Adds “Labels” to Service Offerings

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Independent musician service Bandcamp rolled out a new service at the end of 2014 aimed at attracting independent record labels. The new “Bandcamp for Labels” adds a more transparent accounting and stats service that allows all artists within a single label to monitor their uploads and other online activity.  Other services within the new platform offer a single fulfillment interface for merchandise sales, direct payments on a per release basis and Bandcamp Pro-level accounts for all the label’s artists. Sub Pop, Ninja Tune, Daptone and Truth and Soul are among the labels already using the new platform.

Considering the surge in self-released and split-vinyl releases, the new service can help streamline promotions and aggregate sales for musicians under the same label. Bandcamp is offering the service at $20 per month for up to 15 artists or $50 per month for an unlimited amount of artists.

Facebook, We Have a Problem

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Facebook drives a hard bargain and a Raw Deal for rockabilly band  Hillbilly Moon Explosion

Engaging fans has always been at the heart of a musician’s success and social media platforms are proving to be both a virtue and a burden.  The ability to promote shows, music and merch through social media has proven to be a long hard slog for some independent musicians.  For a while, Myspace was the preferred choice as it allowed musicians to “control” their own image and conversations, not to mention it was easier than maintaining a website. But now, in the never-ending struggle to follow fans, musicians have invested their time and resources into Facebook.

The multi-billion dollar company, who has seen its share of criticisms regarding privacy and format changes, has attracted thousands of bands to their platform.  With Facebook’s policy, “always free and always will be,”  one would think that the social media platform  would be the saving grace of independent musicians everywhere. But certain independent bands like Hillbilly Moon Explosion are experiencing frustrating issues with Facebook as they begin to grow.

So much for the “it’s free and always will be” claim.        –Oliver Baroni, Hillbilly Moon Explosion

As the band’s Facebook page neared 14,000 likes, their admin began to receive messages from Facebook saying  that they weren’t reaching all their fans.  In response, HME  posted the following on their Facebook page:

Here’s the problem: Facebook tells us admins how many of our 14’000 fans we’ve reached with each post – often no more than 20%! You want to reach more people? Maybe even ALL of the fans who clicked ‘like’ in the hope of being updated about a band they really dig? Well, PAY! So much for the “it’s free and always will be” claim…

HME’s post was accompanied by a screen shot of a Facebook “Promote” window, which reads “Get more people who like your page to see this post.”  Just below the message there’s a dropdown box where an admin can select the amount they want to pay in order to get a further reach.  Like a lot of people, I had always been under the assumption that when you post on Facebook everyone who likes your band sees your post.  Apparently, that’s not always the case.

Hillbilly Moon Explosion’s Oliver Baroni wrote to me from his sick bed (the band is in on hiatus while Oliver recuperates) about how Facebook has made HME a victim of their own success.  Oliver wrote:

Well people who apparently are in the know claim, the stats haven’t changed much. It always was that only roughly 20% of your fans see your posts, due to the algorithm “worker-outer” that decides for you which topics you want to see in your feed and which not. The difference being that now an admin can actually see how many fans are reached per post. We usually hit something around the 25% mark. Rare items, such as this gallery reached over 40%. But this is probably due to the fact, that we continually added photos to the gallery and reposted over a period of a couple of days.

But Oliver’s issues with Facebook doesn’t stop there.  He also wrote about the glitches and bugs that have started plaguing HME’s account:

You used to add a couple of photos to a gallery and those shots would appear in your newsfeed. Not anymore. So we now re-post individual pictures or re-post the whole gallery to give it visibility. Nuisance. And then sometimes posts magically disappear from your feed. This one, for instance –  It’s still around, but not on our timeline.

And as if the band didn’t have enough obstacles with Oliver’s illness and Facebook sticking up the works, HME is also trying to promote their new and aptly named album Raw Deal.”

As Facebook continues to “modify” its offering to users by offering up the most “eyeballs” to the highest bidder, it will be interesting to see if they can hold onto the independent musician. From my perspective, social media platforms should be an even playing field, where megastars can mingle with independent musicians. Instead, new media looks as if its becoming another capitalist-based proving ground where the artist with the most money wins.

Can Myspace Survive?

Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, but can he do the same with Myspace?

I’m an American, which means I love a good comeback story (especially when the resurrected second-time hero has the potential to lend a hand to independent musicians and bands.)  Whenever there’s a down-and-out soul  on the verge of slipping into oblivion, my American-born empathy for a second chance rises to the surface.

There was a time when Myspace appeared to be gasping for its last breath, drowning in the sea of social networks.  But it seems the once sinking social platform has been thrown a lifeline from Justin Timberlake .  Purchased in June by  Specific Media ( Timberlake’s media investment group) from Ruppert Murdoch scandal-ridden NewsCorp, the once down and out social network is receiving a facelift, but what, exactly, will Myspace look like when the bandages come off? Colin Petrie-Norris, the international director of Specific Media hopes to take Myspace back to its music roots by using Timerlake’s star power to attract other big name musical acts.  The full revamp will attempt to bring commercial entertainment more online real estate, while still having to cater to other lesser known artists.  It appears that Fox still has a hand in the direction of the social network as Fox Digital Studio has just announced they will distribute a 7 episode comedy show  exclusively on Myspace.  But where does this leave the struggling indy bands trying to get a foothold?  It appears that the focus of “music” has left the little guy behind.

In the early and mid 2000’s, having a Myspace page was an obligatory marketing tool for independent musicians, but artists have followed their fans over to Facebook and shifted their marketing efforts to more music-oriented websites like Bandcamp.com and Reverbnation.  As the Myspace team re-purposes the ailing social network by injecting a heavy dose of corporate commercial entertainment into the mix, it feels like the indy musician is once again getting pushed aside.  But does it matter?  The digital landscape has more fertile soil for the independent musician than Myspace.  Perhaps only time will tell if the new-and-improved Myspace will be a contender again in the social network arena.  The fierce fight for social media users may be aimed more at the consumer than at the indy musician.  I love a good comeback, but I certainly don’t know if there is one on the horizon.

LINK: Mashable.com – “How Musicians Are Using Social Media to Connect With Fans”

For everything you need to know about social media

In his MASHABLE.com article, Greg Rollett  discusses how musicians are using social media to connect with fans and raise money for projects.

His article can be found here:

MASHABLE: How Musicians Are Using Social Media to Connect With Fans

Wrapping Up the Cloud (Pt. 5 – Finale)

Flatpicking acoustic guitar guru Tony Rice can be found in The Cloud at the music streaming service Grooveshark.

With the enormous amount of musical data floating around the Internet and the seemingly unlimited number of ways to distribute it, I begrudgingly admit that I only have a  limited amount of time and space to dedicate to the subject, therefore I am wrapping up my multi-part series on Music in The Cloud.  Constraints aside, this post will look at some of the other portions of The Cloud that help musicians promote their music.

The Swedish music streaming company Spotify has become a major player in the music industry in just four short years.  As a “freemiuim” service Spotify allows registered users to search through and play millions of selected music tracks from a range of major and independent record labels.  Commercial advertisements are frequently interjected into the music stream for the free portion of the service, but listeners who upgrade to the premium (paid) service lose the ads and gain access to higher bit rate streams and mobile phone apps.

The way that Spotify benefits the independent musician is that it pays royalties to artists and/or labels for every time they play their song.  Because all the music played on Spotify is tracked – all participating labels and artists have access to reporting from Spotify allowing the artist the ability to see where and how their popularity is growing.  Spotify actually encourages independent artists to use artist aggregators in order to license their music so that it can be  played on music streaming sites.  For instance, Tunecore is one of many digital music distributors (or aggregators) that enters into agreements with music labels and artists. For a fee, Tunecore will distribute and stream digital copies of single tracks or entire albums to retail outlets like iTunes and amazon.com or music streaming sites like Spotify. Some of the other benefits Tunecore claims to offer musicians (from Tunecore’s website):

  • Musicians retain 100% of royalties and maintain all rights to their music
  • Songs can be made available on music video games like Rock Band
  • Physical on-demand distribution at Amazon
  • A streaming music player for the musicians’ webpage that plays the artists’ own music
  • Physical distribution, licensing and endorsement deals
  • Free digital cover art or physical CD art

Music streaming sites are usually heavily embedded with social media features as well.  Grooveshark, another music streaming service, allows users to sign in with their Facebook, twitter or Google plus account. As users listen to songs, they can post comments and the link to the music on their social media page of preference.  This has huge benefits for musicians when building a fanbase.  For artists, the task of gaining exposure through “word-of-mouth” promotion is transformed online with these types of embedded social media applications.

I’m sure this will not be the last post regarding music in The Cloud, but I want to open the blog to another range of topics. And besides, it’s been too long since I mentioned Valient Thorr.

Till next time…