The #BrokenRecord campaign has been gathering momentum in recent weeks – and was even the subject of our own Music Ally TV Show last week. Now ERA, the body that represents retailers and digital music services in the UK, has weighed into the debate.
ERA CEO Kim Bayley has published a blog post with her thoughts on the topic, walking the line between supporting artists and defending the streaming services.
“The effective closure of the live music business has robbed many musicians of their biggest single source of revenue. It is no wonder that this has focused attention on the relatively low returns many feel they see from the use of their recordings by digital service providers (DSPs),” wrote Bayley.
“ERA is a strong supporter of artist’s rights. Putting the interests of creators as well as consumers at the heart of all we do is one of our five key priorities – as outlined in the ERA Manifesto. I fear, however, that amid this heated debate the contribution of DSPs to the revival of recorded music is being forgotten and numbers are being bandied about which are just plain misleading.”
Bayley pointed out that the 30% cut often cited as streaming service’s share of their revenues is “almost identical to the percentage of revenue paid-for downloads and that in turn is little different to the margin on physical sales”. She also suggested that “it is inevitable that the huge catalogues offered by streaming services will produce a large number of low earners… the larger the number of tracks, the larger the number of low earners as well as high earners.”
But Bayley’s key argument – one that chimes with many of the issues being raised by campaigns like #BrokenRecord – aims to move the spotlight back towards music rightsholders, and the deals that artists and songwriters sign with them.
“In some cases old contracts and old assumptions first made in the age of the vinyl LP have been transplanted one to one to the new world of streaming in a way some artists may feel is unfair. But these are not contracts with streaming services themselves and DSPs can’t be held responsible for them,” she wrote.
“The fact is, streaming services have overwhelmingly been a force for good… The decline of piracy exactly mirrors the rise of digital services. In the case of streaming, these services have pulled off what many thought impossible – luring whole populations away from something they could get for free to something they willingly pay for because it is better and more convenient.”
“The UK record business is a billion pounds a year better off because of the innovation and investment of digital services,” she added. “Artists and songwriters who would be receiving nothing for their work are now earning money.”
Bayley’s blog post also touches on user-centric payouts (“not the magic bullet some people believe”) and suggests that “a wealth of data from streaming services” will be key to any decisions over how to change the way streaming royalties are shared out.
She also expressed concern that if this debate is not resolved “it threatens to undermine public trust in streaming. One of the industry’s key arguments against piracy was a moral one, that artists deserve to be paid. If the suspicion grows that the £120 a year many are paying for streaming services is not properly or fairly allocated to artists and songwriters, that argument is undermined.”
Bayley concluded with some warm words for the #BrokenRecord campaign, but also a further defence of ERA’s digital-service members.
“The #BrokenRecord and #FixStreaming debate should be welcomed. It is not just an abstract issue of “fairness” that artists and songwriters get paid. It is of course their work which drives the entire music industry. At a fundamental level we would not be here without them. They need not only to be paid fairly, but also to feel that they are being paid fairly,” she wrote.
“However, everyone involved in the debate should recognise that you don’t mend a #BrokenRecord by smashing the record player. The streaming revolution saved the record business. It would be short-sighted and self-defeating if in attempting to #FixStreaming, we ended up undermining it.”
It’s natural that ERA would defend streaming services when they are involved in a highly contentious debate, but the fact that Bayley is backing calls for cross-industry dialogue, and not entirely dismissing the user-centric model, may indicate a wider willingness by DSPs for constructive talks on these issues.
That said, even though Bayley’s post was careful not to use the words ‘label’ or ‘record company’, it aimed a number of blows in the direction of those companies – for example the mention of those “old contracts” – which may cause some ructions. We await to see how labels (or perhaps their representative body) respond.