June 3, 2023

It never existed It’s an easy time to be a musician, but for many in and around the industry, the 21st century presents one disaster after another for those hoping to make a living through music. The turn of the century saw record labels explode at an astonishing rate, and it would be some time before some salvation arrived in the form of streaming services, which finally offered an efficient method of monetizing music listening.

Seen in the harsh light of day, however, an important question arises: Who exactly do these services benefit? According to the Recording Industry Association of America, streaming made up 83% of all recorded music revenue in the US, from 2020. Calculating the amount of revenue an artist makes per stream can be a complicated task.

Different rights holders make different deals, and you have multiple cooks vying for that money, including publishers, distributors, and labels. The commonly accepted number for Spotify is this somewhere between $0.003 and $0.005 paid to artists for each stream. The number varies greatly from service to service, although it is generally fractions of a cent. Apple, in particular, revealed last April that it pays about a penny per stream – a generous amount by streaming industry standards.

Revenue rates have, of course, been a common complaint among musicians for more than a decade, but like so many other labor issues, things have come to a head during the pandemic. Over two years of little or no touring brought the concerns into sharp relief. In late 2020, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) launched the Justice at Spotify campaign to raise awareness of the issue.

“With the entire live music ecosystem at risk due to the coronavirus pandemic, music workers are more dependent than ever on streaming income,” the organization noted at the time. “We call on Spotify to offer increased royalty payments, transparency in its practices and stop fighting artists.”

The union would eventually find a sympathetic ear in Congress in the form of Michigan representative Rashida Tlieb. Last week, reports appeared that the congresswoman drafted a resolution aimed at establishing a royalty program to provide musicians with adequate compensation through per-stream royalties. “It was a meeting with the Musicians and Allied Workers Union,” Tlaib tells TechCrunch. “One of the things that kept coming up was what could Congress do to support their efforts to protect and also fairly compensate musicians for their work. To be respected in this area, especially by so many people in the industry who continue to monopolize and so on. They did an amazing job, coming to us with this proposal and teaching my team and I so much about how it works right now.”

Tlaib says her group worked closely with UMAW to draft a resolution. “We’re doing the same thing with the housing bills, trying to address the economic divide in our country. We let them guide us. I work for them, help them and advocate on their behalf. They teach me so much about monopolization in the industry and how Spotify in particular is acting in bad faith in many ways.”

Musician and UMAW member/organizer (and musician/newsletter writer) Damon Krukowski said in a statement to TechCrunch:

Currently, music streaming creates wealth for streaming platforms at the expense of musicians. UMAW is working to redress this imbalance. Rep. Tlaib’s proposed legislation would guarantee a minimum payment from platforms directly to musicians who perform on streamed recordings. The infrastructure for such payments already exists, because they are already required by satellite radio. This same principle must be applied to streaming, for fairness and for the viability of recorded music.

Tlaib’s resolution would use the nonprofit royalty group SoundExchange, as well as Copyright, to calculate and distribute royalties. The two carriers already have similar functionality for webcasting and satellite radio. This, in effect, would operate under a complementary, flow-adapted model.

With news of the decision coming to the surface in late July, word has been circulating around the industry. Tlaib said she had yet to speak directly with Spotify, explaining, “I understand they are aware.” He adds, “My priority is not companies. Probably never will be. They’ve got their lawyers, they’ve got their lobbyists, they’ve got their resources to put out ads and gaslight people to say all the things they say will happen when we keep pushing this thing. My priority is to do everything right and not trade fair in this market.”

TechCrunch has reached out to Spotify for the story, but has not yet received a comment. CEO Daniel Ek previously made waves for suggesting that the simple streaming model couldn’t — or wouldn’t — support musicians the way record sales had in the past. “Some artists who did well in the past may not do well in this future landscape,” he said. July 2019 interview“where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.”

Tlaib’s resolution has begun to make its way among House colleagues. Most recently, New York Rep. — and Squad colleague — Jamaal Bowman threw his support behind the draft, which is still awaiting consideration by the House Legislative Counsel.

Tlaib tells TechCrunch that she believes such legislation could also gain bipartisan support in Congress.

“I think what’s happening is people don’t realize that a lot of the people who are affected by what’s going on are in all congressional districts. I don’t think you could go to any area that either isn’t affected by it or doesn’t understand how incredibly unfair it is. I know that we will be able – especially with the work that the Musicians and Allied Workers Union is doing outside of Congress – to make this a viable bill.”

Tlaib’s district — which includes West Detroit — can certainly lay claim to that impact.

“Detroit is a global music capital of the world: Motown, techno, jazz, gospel. I wanted to honor and respect this incredible work, which played a huge role in the movement’s work,” he said. “Music played a huge role in my coming of age in the social justice movement. It was a way to bring people together to try to understand not only human suffering, but also the possibility of “better”. When I think of these amazing musicians coming together like this, it’s incredibly inspiring. And why not? Why don’t they deserve Spotify and other important people in the industry to pay them what they deserve?”

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