David Byrne: Make the Music Industry Transparent

This is David Byrne’s op-ed that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday. He’s pleading for the music industry to be more transparent in how they do business. Good luck with that.

THIS should be the greatest time for music in history — more of it is being found, made, distributed and listened to than ever before. That people are willing to pay for digital streaming is good news. In Sweden, where it was founded, Spotify saved a record industry that piracy had gutted.

Everyone should be celebrating — but many of us who create, perform and record music are not. Tales of popular artists (as popular as Pharrell Williams) who received paltry royalty checks for songs that streamed thousands or even millions of times (like “Happy”) on Pandora or Spotify are common. Obviously, the situation for less-well-known artists is much more dire. For them, making a living in this new musical landscape seems impossible. I myself am doing O.K., but my concern is for the artists coming up: How will they make a life in music

It’s easy to blame new technologies like streaming services for the drastic reduction in musicians’ income. But on closer inspection we see that it is a bit more complicated. Even as the musical audience has grown, ways have been found to siphon off a greater percentage than ever of the money that customers and music fans pay for recorded music. Many streaming services are at the mercy of the record labels (especially the big three: Sony, Universal and Warner), and nondisclosure agreements keep all parties from being more transparent.

Perhaps the biggest problem artists face today is that lack of transparency. I’ve asked basic questions of both the digital services and the music labels and been stonewalled.

Keep going. This is good.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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