“It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll,” belted out Bon Scott 47 years ago. While many things have changed since the hazy days of the 70s, the hard-nosed nature of the music business is not one of them.
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In 2021 alone, electronic music luminary Four Tet found his albums pulled from streaming platforms after contractual disputes with his former label, Domino Records; Taylor Swift took the extraordinary step of re-recording her own back-catalogue in an effort to reclaim ownership; and multiple artists began calling for a boycott of Spotify due to the CEO’s investments in AI weapons systems.
The music industry has never been a simple place. But new, disruptive technologies and rapidly evolving business models make building a successful career trickier than ever.
Four Tet, Image: Burak Cingi/Redferns.
One of the biggest problems facing the industry right now is money. Artists have been fighting for a bigger slice of the pie since the early days of recorded music, but the recent dominance of streaming platforms has brought the issue into sharper focus.
The dramatic shift to streaming platforms has seen the income that artists derive from royalties plummet. It’s now estimated that artists earn an average of $0.01 per stream and need to achieve one million monthly streams to pocket a living wage. This is especially troublesome considering that a significant amount of money is being made from streaming; it’s just not finding its way to the majority of music makers.
The industry’s global revenue went up by over 54 per cent between 2014 and 2020, so why isn’t this growth in streaming revenue finding its way to artists? The heart of the problem lies in how streaming royalties are calculated. Most major labels currently class streaming as a ‘sale’, the same as selling a physical single or album. This classification results in a much lower royalty percentage for artists than what they’d get from a rental or broadcast.
Advocates for change will quickly point out that streaming works very differently from physical sales; most platforms work… Read More