Record Labels: “Don’t Blame Us for the Low Payouts from Streaming Music Services. Blame Them!”

Wait. Something doesn’t smell right here.

The Recording Industry Association of America–the lobby group that represents the interests of record labels in the US–claims that the labels have nothing to do with the pittance payouts artists receive from streaming music services.  I quote (via Digital Music News):

Enter Rethink Music, an initiative from Berklee School of Music, which just released a damning report showing just how badly artists are getting screwed in the digital era.  According to the report, artists are routinely underpaid by 20-50%, on average, a figure the Recording Industry Association of America, the major label trade group, is now contesting.

“They offer no support to back that assertion,” the RIAA recently told Billboard, a longtime mouthpiece for big labels.

But the RIAA is also deflecting blame away from the labels, pointing to streaming services – not labels – as the big culprit.  “This is an important subject,” the organization continued.  “Too many artists, songwriters, labels and publishers today are being paid below market rates – or not at all — by many streaming services and radio platforms. That needs to change.”

Hang on. Streaming services don’t just set their payouts arbitrarily. They all pay more-or-less the same rates that they had to negotiate with record labels, music publishers, performing rights collectives and copyright boards. THEY set the fees, not the streaming companies. All those organizations are supposed to have the needs and bests interests of the artists in mind at all times.

Keep in mind, too, that a company like, say Spotify, pays their fees to the record labels and other members of the food chain who then distribute that money to artists and composers. What trickles through is paid to the artist.

So how can the RIAA say with a straight face that it’s the streaming services that are to blame? Am I missing something?


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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