‘Artists railing against Spotify is about as helpful to their cause as campaigning against the Sony Walkman would have been in the early 80s’
Stuart Dredge the Guardian.com 11/07/13
Billy Bragg wants British musicians to take action to get better royalty rates from streams of their work Billy Bragg wants British musicians to take action to get better royalty rates from streams of their work. Photograph: Rex Features
Artists including Thom Yorke and David Byrne have criticised Spotify and rival streaming music services for the size of their payouts to musician. Billy Bragg thinks the attention should be more on labels.
“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,” wrote Bragg in a post on his Facebook page.
“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.”
Spotify pays out 70% of its revenues to music rightsholders, and has said that it expects those payments to exceed $500m (£310m) in 2013. How much of that money gets passed on to musicians depends on the terms of their contracts with labels.
Not every label is paying artists a mere 8%-15% of royalties from streams of their music. Beggars Group, the parent company of labels counting Adele, Vampire Weekend, Sigur Rós and Yorke’s Atoms for Peace on their rosters, has a policy of paying artists 50% of their streaming revenues.
Bragg posted his comments from Sweden during his current tour, and cited news that some Swedish artists are threatening to sue major labels Universal Music And Warner Music over streaming royalties as potential inspiration for British musicians.
“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,” wrote Bragg.
He also suggested that artists are wasting their energies criticising Spotify and other streaming services. “I’ve long felt that artists railing against Spotify is about as helpful to their cause as campaigning against the Sony Walkman would have been in the early 80s,” wrote Bragg.
“Music fans are increasingly streaming their music and, as artists, we have to adapt ourselves to their behaviour, rather than try to hold the line on a particular mode of listening to music.”
In October, Thom Yorke described Spotify as “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse” in an interview with a Mexican website, claiming that “as musicians we need to fight the Spotify thing… it’s all about how we change the way we listen to music, it’s all about what happens next in terms of technology, in terms of how people talk to each other about music, and a lot of it could be really fucking bad.”
His criticism was followed by an opinion piece by David Byrne for The Guardian in which he praised some elements of Spotify, but warned that while labels have equity stakes in the company, artists may lose out from the growth of streaming services.
“It seems to me that the whole model is unsustainable as a means of supporting creative work of any kind. Not just music. The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left,” wrote Byrne.
Another artist, Dave Allen from Gang of Four, responded to Byrne’s piece with the view that Spotify and the internet more generally “are not to blame for musicians’ problems… It is hard for me to understand why intelligent people like David Byrne and Thom Yorke do not appear to understand that we are in the midst of new markets being formed.”