The music industry isn’t in turmoil, but it’s undeniably in the midst of a transformation. These days, services like YouTube, Pandora and Spotify make it easier than ever for fans to discover new music and listen to old favorites. At the same time, many musicians have expressed concern that the economic model of a streaming-based music economy simply isn’t viable.
During a roundtable discussion on copyright issues at Belmont University in Nashville this week, songwriter Kevin Kadish said that he earned just $5,679 for more than 178 million streams of the song “All About That Bass“, a hit song he co-wrote for singer Meghan Trainor.
“That’s as big a song as a songwriter can have in their career and No. 1 in 78 countries,” Kadish explained. “But you’re making $5,600. How do you feed your family?”
According to Kadish, the general rule of thumb as it pertains to streaming profits is that 1 million streams will typically yield about $90.
One of the congressmen in attendance, Representative Doug Collins from Georgia, has been trying to generate support for legislation called the Songwriter Equity Act that would increase the streaming profits for music publishers and songwriters.
Collins said it was useful to hear from creators on the impact of the fast-growing streaming marketplace. The Recording Industry Association of America reported on Monday that streaming revenues have eclipsed $1 billion. But songwriters and publishers argue they’re not getting their fair share of the pie.
This of course isn’t the first time we’ve heard of singers and songwriters complaining of being shortchanged by streaming sites. Just a few months ago Taylor Swift made waves when she took Apple to task for originally not planning on paying artists during Apple Music’s free three-month trial period. After a string of bad press, Apple finally relented and reversed course.
You might also remember that Pharrell last year said that he only earned $2,700 in royalty payments after his hit song “Happy” was played over 43 million times on Pandora.
As for why songwriters like Kadish are pleading their case before members of Congress, Ars Technica points out that songwriters are paid on a per play basis at a rate that’s decided by the government. In other words, songwriters aren’t in a position to negotiate with streaming services because the rate is already set in stone. The goal of the Songwriter Equity Act would be to tilt things back in favor of songwriters.
Royalty payments remain a thorny issue and it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. What makes it all so complicated that there are so many entities entitled to a piece of the pie that it’s hard to come up with a system that keeps everyone — from theartist to the distributor to the record label to the songwriter — happy.