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#FIXSTREAMING DEBATE RAGES ON

A debate over streaming royalty pay-outs is raging in the U.K. under the hashtags #BrokenRecord and #FixStreaming, where musicians, songwriters and composers are questioning fair remuneration. Entertainment Retailers Association CEO Kim Bayley is the latest to weigh in on the conversation.  

In defense of streaming services, which have been receiving widespread criticism, "You don’t mend a #BrokenRecord by smashing the record player," Bayley said. 

The conversation started with a campaign titled Keep Music Alive from The Musicians' Union and The Ivors Academy earlier in May. In light of live income lost as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the two orgs urged stakeholders to create an “equitable, sustainable and transparent” model for royalty distribution in the streaming era.

Since then, a fierce debate has erupted online. PRS Director and musician Tom Gray has been one of the most outspoken on Twitter about how little some writers and musicians earn in music royalties, and has called for a shake-up of royalty splits, which he says are currently weighted unfairly towards the recorded music sector. 

While Bayley has welcomed the debate, she warns that the debate is being distorted by misleading claims. “The streaming revolution saved the record business,” she said. “It would be short-sighted and self-defeating if in attempting to #FixStreaming, we ended up undermining it.”  

Among the distorted claims she identifies is the complaint that streaming services pay “only” around 70% of subscription fees for the music they offer. “The reality is that this is almost identical to the percentage of revenue paid for downloads and that in turn is little different to the margin on physical sales,” she said. “If it is ‘fair’ to reduce the money Amazon or Deezer or Spotify, for instance, retain to run their businesses, it must be equally fair to do the same to iTunesHMV and even Rough Trade, and no one is seriously suggesting that.” 

Ivors Chair and songwriter Crispin Hunt recently pointed out that he would have needed nearly 63m streams on a co-write to earn his Spotify subscription. "Spotify claim losses, yet pay $100m for a podcast, further diluting my livelihood," he said. "I’ve now cancelled my Spotify sub to stream with Apple Music as more respectful partners." Many musicians have added to the debate by publishing their own streaming royalty pay-outs.

Bayley said the fact that some artists have relatively low earnings from streaming is not in itself evidence of unfairness, pointing out that the biggest physical record store in the world stocks no more than 100k albums, while the biggest streaming services have the equivalent of more than 4 million. 

“The fact is that the larger the number of tracks, the larger the number of low earners as well as high earners. An easy way to increase the average earnings of musicians on streaming services would be to dramatically cut back the number of tracks on those services, but no one is suggesting that.”

She concluded: "Putting the interests of creators as well as consumers at the heart of all we do is one of ERA's five key priorities. But DSPs cannot change current practices alone as their contracts are not with the artists. The whole music industry needs to work together and recognize the value each part of the industry brings to the table.”

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