Here’s Another Post on Why Streaming Music Services (Mostly) Aren’t the Bad Guys

I’m awfully tired of streaming music series getting all the blame for the low payments that are making their way to artists. They’re not entirely blameless (you’ll see what I mean if you keep going), but they are paying out 70% of their revenues. And because of the way things are set up, their costs will increase exponentially the more users they got. From what I can tell, the current situation prevents any of them from being profitable ever.

Who’s the villain here? If you believe this article from Flavorwire, it’s the major record labels. They’re so determined to never repeat the mistakes of handing effective control of downloads to iTunes that they’re doing everything they can to claw back power, even if it means crushing everyone else.

When Vox technology site The Verge got a hold of a 2011 contract between Sony Music and Spotify, signed right before the Swedish streaming company’s US launch, the terms were so favorable to the label that the site’s writer Micah Singleton wondered “…who really should shoulder the blame for the lackluster streaming payments that artists like [Taylor] Swift have been complaining about — the labels or the streaming service?”

It’s an excellent question. There’s money in streaming; one need only look at a recent Spotify valuation or Drake’s Apple Music deal to see that. But how does that money get from paying subscribers (or advertisers) into the hands of the artists and songwriters? If the overall recording industry is in decline, why do major labels and publishers seem to be the only ones making real money?

The answer is complicated, but can be distilled down to one universal truth: since the advent of recorded music, labels have exploited artists. And though they’ve certainly taken their licks, the big three (Universal, Sony, and Warner Bros.) have also begun to learn from some of their mistakes, and may have positioned themselves to regain their stranglehold on the industry. In the book The Song Machine, (October 5, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.), John Seabrook uses years of reporting for The New Yorker to pull back the curtain on how the music industry produces its most valuable commodity: Hits. In the process, he reveals some of the more nefarious deeds of the men that run the machine — the same men that would have you believe the streaming services are the villains, trading pennies for artists’ hard work. But the numbers tell a different tale.

Continue reading. It will really clear up a lot of information and you’ll be able to argue the point effectively.  The best bit is the analogy between you, your job and your bank.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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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