Streaming payments 'threatening the future of music', top artists warn
Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien and singer-songwriter Nadine Shah have given evidence to an inquiry about the impact of streaming, and warned the future of music in the UK is under threat.
Garvey told the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee that “tomorrow’s music” is at risk of being lost because many artists are unable to afford their living costs.
Shah, a Mercury Prize nominee, said she was “embarrassed” to talk about it publicly but admitted she falls into that bracket, saying that despite her success her earnings from streaming are not “enough to keep the wolf away from the door” and that she is “struggling”.
O’Brien said he was an “exception to the rule”, having signed a record deal with Radiohead in 1991, but the issue is affecting younger artists. While there have always been “imbalances”, it is “more acute now”, he said.
He also told the meeting he was due to tour as a solo artist in 2020, and his band and crew have had to find other work.
“These are proper technicians and engineers,” he said of his crew. “And most of them I know have become become delivery drivers, Amazon drivers.”
Platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Google Play have come under increased scrutiny in 2020, with artist revenue from live performances pretty much wiped out by COVID-19.
According to the Broken Record campaign, artists receive around 16% of the total income from streams – while record companies take around 41% and streaming services around 29%.
The Musicians’ Union and Ivors Academy have described streaming royalties as “woefully insufficient” and the DCMS committee is looking into the issue.
Garvey, 46, best known for songs such as One Day Like This and Grounds For Divorce with Elbow, told the hearing: “We were lucky enough to work with record labels that got us from bedrooms and garages to a Mercury nomination on our first album.
“The reason I have come here today, and I can speak for Ed and Nadine here as well, is that the system as it is is threatening the future of music. That sounds very dramatic but if musicians can’t afford to pay the rent, if they can’t afford to live, we haven’t got tomorrow’s music in place.”
Shah told MPs the way artists are paid through streaming is “alien” to many musicians, who are often told to “leave the nitty gritty” and given the message: “Don’t worry your pretty little head, essentially.”
She told the committee. “I could be asked many questions about the intricacies of what I earn and how many streams.
“All I do know is that my earnings from my streaming, they are not significant enough to keep the wolf away from the door.
“I am in a position as an artist with a substantial profile, a substantial fanbase, critically acclaimed, but I don’t make enough money from streaming, I am in a position now where I am struggling to pay my rent.”
Shah added: “I am embarrassed to talk about these issues publicly. I am embarrassed to talk about them for many reasons, because money to an extent is an indication of success.
“But here that is not really the case with me because I am a successful musician, I am just not being paid fairly for the work that I make.”
Spotify recently introduced a function giving fans the opportunity to donate to their favourite artists through a so-called “tip jar”, which Shah described this as “insanely condescending”.
Broken Record campaign founder Tom Gray, a member of the Mercury Prize-winning band Gomez, told MPs the issue needs to be addressed.
“If we rebalance, this money goes into the UK economy. It goes into UK PLC. It goes into every single one of your constituencies,” he said.
“It seems like a bit of a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. We need to protect our talent pipeline.”