By and large, UK politicians don’t pay too much attention to the music industry, but a couple of weeks ago MPs on the Select Committee on Digital Culture, Media and Sports gathered to hear evidence of streaming revenue.
This is of course a hot button theme for musicians. With streaming now the dominant channel for music delivery in the UK, with revenue per game ranging between 0.1 and 0.3 cents, the musicians lined up to tell MPs that the current payment system is unfair.
Lights in attendance included over-producer Nile Rodgers (via video link) and Elbow’s Guy Garvey. The message was pretty consistent. The current level of payments threatens the existence of the music industry. As Guy Garvey put it, “Musicians cannot afford to pay rent. We don’t have the music of tomorrow. ”
But maybe there is a bigger problem here – transparency. Pay-per-stream is what it is – and there’s a lively debate about what it should be – but there’s also a big problem with musicians keeping in mind the royalties they’re entitled to from a variety of sources to keep. In addition to streaming revenue, artists are entitled to royalties if their music is played in live locations, relayed to customers in cafes, used in films, or used in advertisements and promotional campaigns. The problem is that even in this data-rich age, it is not always easy (or possible) for musicians to know when, where and how often their music is being played, either on their home turf or in countries around the world.
For a number of reasons, the technology that allows music to be easily distributed around the world is arguably part of the problem, but it also offers a solution. In the days surrounding the MEPs hearing on streaming, I spoke to some UK entrepreneurs looking to help songwriters and composers collect global royalties through data-driven solutions.
The ad puzzle
Melos Publishing is now four years old and has developed a tracking system that benefits composers who write music for advertising.
As CEO Richard Cottrell explains, the flow of money between advertisers and television companies is, perhaps surprisingly, two-way. First and foremost, a brand pays to have its advertisement shown. However, if music is used, the broadcasters return 50/50 split money to the composer and brand.
The amount repaid by broadcasters around the world is fixed (i.e. the grand total is not based on plays) but must be shared between composers. Due to a lack of data, Cottrell says that this division of prey is often not done fairly. “Every time an ad is posted, a license fee is generated,” he says. “But millions of dollars are not paid out,” he says. In fact, Melos estimates that around $ 650 million is available for music used for promotional purposes, only a fraction of which is claimed.
To secure royalties for composers, Melos tracks ads in 29 countries. “We use a combination of audio recognition and media data,” he says.
But does anyone really care? Composers are paid by brands who, in turn, expect to pay for ad space. With first-class television slots that represent a large investment. So does everyone really count the money that goes the other way? According to Cottrell, the brands themselves are beginning to see the benefit of tracking revenue as it falls due. So, big names like Burger King, SC Johnson, Wrigley and Mars use Melos.
“Brands believe that when there is money, they should raise money. But we also point out the advantages for your composers. “Writers, he says, can benefit from tens of thousands of dollars.
Cottrell believes that Melos provides an example of how a platform can create transparency in an industry where data would not otherwise work in the best interests of the composer.
The publishing problem
In the meantime, Henry Marsden’s vision is to make life easier for all songwriters and composers – especially those who receive significantly less license fees than they should. As a touring musician – including a stint with Elton John – he was a producer before founding Bespoke Records.
And as he explains, it quickly became clear that a label by itself wouldn’t necessarily meet the demands of the songwriters it wanted to attract and record. “People said we don’t need a label, we need a publisher.”
The distinction was important. A record label markets music and distributes royalties to the artists it has signed based on records sold, downloaded, and streamed. But unless the company is also a publisher, it doesn’t provide full service to songwriters. For example, if a song written by one of its artists is recorded by someone else or used in a TV show or movie, for example, the label doesn’t necessarily track revenue across multiple distribution channels. “So I turned my record label to become a publisher,” says Marsden.
And now he’s raised £ 170,000 in seed capital to begin building a platform called Creatr, which will allow musicians to collaborate and socialize, and give songwriters the opportunity to see where their songs are being played, recorded and recorded to be spread. The project is supported by Symvan Capital and Accelerator Propelia.
Why is this needed? In the UK, the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society and Performing Rights Society raise money for members, with the former focusing on CD, vinyl and streaming, and the latter collecting data on radio plays, live performances and recorded music played in public spaces such as cafes will. There are similar organizations all over the world. Why is a new platform required?
Marsden believes that there is a need for a better and more transparent system so that songwriters can see exactly what is owed them around the world. In order to receive license fees, musicians also have to deal with a lot of administrative work, e.g. B. Listing songs they played in a radio session or performing live and returning the appropriate performing rights society. “Musicians are often not very good at managing,” he adds. Its aim is to simplify this process.
The task is therefore to provide composers with an easy way to submit data locally and internationally while also providing them with all the information they (or their publishers and labels) need to generate their income. “I want to empower the songwriter,” says Marsden. It’s a big job and the first job is to interview musicians to see exactly what they want.
That brings us back to the streaming debate. Many in the music business – including Marsden – feel that streaming saved the industry, but as UK MPs have heard, many individual musicians are struggling. Songwriters and composers in particular have the opportunity to increase their income through other channels. Marsden and Cottrell are trying in their own way to maximize their income opportunities.
Lobbying by musicians can ultimately push streaming payments to a slightly higher level, but technology can also help generate increasingly important revenue from other sources. The future of music can depend on it.