Trickle-Down Streaming Mechanical Royalties Will be Be Up for Discussion

You may have noticed that a cost of living adjustment for statutory royalties was front and center in the recent (and still ongoing) physical mechanicals rate setting. Unfortunately, the idea of a COLA seems to have disappeared in the streaming mechanicals proceeding.

Note that it’s different music users on the physical mechanicals than on streaming. The physical mechanicals are paid by record companies and streaming mechanicals are paid by some of the biggest corporations in history, namely Amazon, Apple and Google and other wealthy public companies like Spotify and Pandora/SiriusXM. All these companies have market capitalizations greater than the gross national product of some countries. 

You may have also noticed that after years of frozen subscription rates, Apple is the first of the streaming subscription services to raise rates by $1 on several of its services including Apple Music. Tim Ingham is asking if Spotify will follow (you know, one of those price fixing agreements inferred from conduct). Who knows, but what’s interesting about this is the effect it will have on streaming mechanical rates, or more pointedly the effect that the Big Tech cartel would like you to think it will have.

The calculation for streaming mechanicals is absurdly complicated. You do have to wonder which of the genii came up with that one. About the only thing that is certain is that the negotiation of that rate every five years (and judicial appeals occasionally) guarantees employment for lots of lawyers and lobbyists on both sides, although definitely skewed toward Big Tech’s share of the 46 lawyers on the docket.

The streaming rates are so bizarre that the Copyright Royalty Judges seem to have lost trust in the process and have issued two separate orders instructing the participants in the streaming mechanical proceedings to either disclose or “certify” that they have come clean with the Judges as to any side deals that may have artificially lowered the rates–the second order makes for interesting reading.

Unlike the physical mechanical, the settling parties rejected a cost of living adjustment in these historically inflationary times. Why they rejected a COLA is hard to understand aside from the fact that they thought they could get away with it.

One thing that is clear, however, is that any argument that a COLA is not necessary with streaming mechanicals because the rate is theoretically based on increases or decreases in revenue is a particularly insulting form of trickle down gaslighting. 

It must be said that the record company group of music users that pays the physical mechanical rate voluntarily agreed a COLA on their rates that is currently pending approval by the Judges. There really is no excuse for the streaming services to rely on the discredited trickle down theory to pawn off their Rube Goldberg royalty structure on songwriters for streaming mechanicals.

Streaming Remuneration:  An answer to global cultural dominance by European/US Streaming Services

By Chris Castle

[from MusicTech.Solutions]

Streamers Lack of Local Cultural Contribution

Look at Spotify’s “Global Top 50” playlist on any day and the world’s biggest music service will show all or nearly all English language songs. With few exceptions these songs are performed by Anglo-American artists released by major record companies.  

These “enterprise” playlists largely take the place of broadcast radio for many users where Spotify operates and Spotify competes with local radio for advertising revenue on the free version of Spotify. 

Spotify’s now former general counsel told the recent inquiry into the music streaming economy conducted by the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, “Our job is sucking users away from radio[2] and Spotify uses its market power to do just that.  

However, Spotify has not been subject to any local content protections that would be in place for local radio broadcasters.  Enterprise playlists that exclude local music contributes to the destruction of music economies, including performers.  Local performers struggle even more to compete with Anglo-American repertoire, even in their own countries.  

Due to this phenomenon, local artists are forced to compete for “shelf space” with everyone in their local language and then the Anglo-American artists and their record companies.  This also means that local artists compete for a diminishing share of the payable royalties.  The “big pool” revenue share method of royalty compensation is designed to overcompensate the English-language big names and reduce payments to artists performing in other languages in their own country.

Local Content Rules 

Many countries implement local content broadcast rules that require broadcasters to play a certain number of recordings performed by local artists or indigenous people, songs written by local songwriters in local languages, or recordings that are released by locally-owned record companies.

Because streaming playlists, especially Spotify enterprise playlists or algorithmically selected recordings, are an equivalent to broadcast radio, there is a question as to whether national governments should regulate streaming services operating in their countries to require local content rules.  Implementing such rules could benefit local performers and songwriters in an otherwise unsustainable enviornment.

The Fallacy of Infinite Shelf Space

Because Spotify adds recordings at a rate of 60,000 tracks daily (now reports of 100,000 tracks daily) and never deletes recordings, there is a marked competitive difference between a record store and Spotify.  In the record store model, artists had to compete with recordings that were in current release; in the Spotify model, artists have to compete will all recordings ever released.  

Adding the dominant influence of Anglo-American recordings on Spotify, the “infinite shelf space” simply compounds the competitive problems for non-English recordings.

Streaming Remuneration Helps Solve the Sustainability Crisis

The streaming remuneration model requires streaming services—not record companies—to pay additional compensation to nonfeatured and featured performers.  Streaming remuneration would be created under national law and is compensatory in nature, not monies in exchange for a license.  Existing licenses (statutory or contractual) would not be affected and remuneration payments could not be offset by streamers against label payments or by labels against artist payments.

Each country would determine the amount to be paid to performers by streaming services and the payment periods.  Payments would be made to local CMOs or the equivalent depending on the infrastructure in the particular country.

European Corporate Dominance 

It must also be said that the two founders of Spotify hold a 10:1 voting control over the company through special stock issued only to them.  This means that these two Caucasian Europeans control 100% of the dominant music streaming company in the world.  For comparison, Google and Facebook have a similar model, while Apple has a 1 share 1 vote structure as does Amazon (although Jeff Bezos owns a controlling interest in Amazon).  

The net effect is that the entire global streaming music industry is controlled by six Caucasian males of European descent.  This demography also argues for local content rules to protect local performers from these influences that have produced an English-only Global Top 50 playlist.

Local governments could consider whether companies with the 10:1 voting stock (so-called “dual class” or “supervoting” shares) should be allowed to operate locally.

Countries Can Respond to Streaming’s Homogenized Algorithmic Playlist Culture

Many national cultural protection laws have a history of sustaining local culture and musicians in the face of the Anglo-American Top 40 juggernaut. There is no reason to think that these agencies are not up for the task of protecting their citizens in the face of algorithms and neuromarketing.

Will the Copyright Royalty Board approve Big Tech’s attempted cover-up? 

By Chris Castle

[This MusicTechPolicy post appeared on Hypebot]

There’s an old saying among sailors that water always wins. Sunlight does, too. It may take a while, but time reveals all things in the cold light of dawn. So when you are free riding on huge blocks of aged government cheese like the digital music services do with the compulsory mechanical license, the question you should ask yourself is why hide from the sunlight? It just makes songwriters even more suspicious. 

This melodrama just played out at the Copyright Royalty Board with the frozen mechanicals proceeding. Right on cue, the digital services and their legions of lawyers proved they hadn’t learned a damn thing from that exercise. They turned right around and tried to jam a secret deal through the Copyright Royalty Board on the streaming mechanicals piece of Phonorecords IV. 

To their great credit, the labels handled frozen physical mechanicals quite differently. They voluntarily disclosed the side deal they made with virtually no redactions and certainly didn’t try to file it “under seal” like the services did. Filing “under seal” hides the major moving parts of a voluntary settlement from the world’s songwriters. Songwriters, of course, are the ones most affected by the settlement–which the services want the CRB to approve–some might say “rubber stamp”–and make law.

To fully appreciate the absolute lunacy of the services attempt at filing the purported settlement document under seal, you have to remember that the Copyright Royalty Judges spilled considerable ink in the frozen mechanicals piece of Phonorecords IV telling those participants how important transparency was when they rejected the initial Subpart B settlement.  

This happened mere weeks ago in the SAME PHONORECORDS IV PROCEEDING.

Were the services expecting the Judges to say “Just kidding”? What in the world were they thinking? Realize that filing the settlement–which IF ACCEPTED is then published by the Judges for public comment under the applicable rules established long ago by Congress–is quite different than filing confidential commercial information. You might expect redactions or filings under seal, “attorneys eyes only,” etc., in direct written statements, expert testimony or the other reams of paper all designed to help the Judges guess what rate a willing buyer would pay a willing seller. That rate to be applied to the world under a compulsory license which precludes willing buyers and willing sellers, thank you Franz Kafka. 

When you file the settlement, that document is the end product of all those tens of millions of dollars in legal fees that buy houses in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vinyard as well as send children to prep school, college and graduate school. Not the songwriters’ children, mind you, oh no. 

The final settlement is, in fact, the one document that should NEVER be redacted or secret. How else will the public–who may not get a vote but does get their say–even know what it is the law is based on assuming the Judges approve the otherwise secret deal. It’s asking the Judges to tell the public, the Copyright Office, their colleagues in the appeals courts and ultimately the Congress, sorry, our version of the law is based on secret information.

Does that even scan? I mean, seriously, what kind of buffoons come up with this stuff?  Of course the Judges will question the bona fides and provenance of the settlement. Do you think any other federal agency could get away with actually doing this? The lawlessness of the very idea is breathtaking and demonstrates conclusively in my view that these services like Google are the most dangerous corporations in the world. The one thing that gives solace after this display of arrogance is that some of them may get broken up before they render too many mechanical royalty accounting statements.

To their credit, after receiving the very thin initial filing the Judges instructed the services to do better–to be kind. The Judges issued an order that stated:

The Judges now ORDER the Settling Parties to certify, no later than five days from the date of this order, that the Motion and the Proposed Regulations annexed to the Motion represent the full agreement of the Settling Parties, i.e., that there are no other related agrements and no other clauses. If such other agreements or clauses exist, the Settling Parties shall file them no later than five days from the date of this order.

Just a tip to any younger lawyers reading this post–you really, really, really do not want to be on the receiving end of this kind of order.

Reading between the lines (and not very far) the Judges are telling the parties to come clean. Either “certify” to the Judges “that there are no other related agreements and no other clauses” or produce them. This use of the term “certify” means all the lawyers promise to the Judges as officers of the court that their clients have come clean, or alternatively file the actual documents.

That produced the absurd filing under seal, and that then produced the blowback that led to the filing of the unsealed and unreacted documents. But–wait, there’s more.

Take a close look at what the Judges asked for and what they received. The Judges asked for certification “that there are no other related agrements and no other clauses. If such other agreements or clauses exist, the Settling Parties shall file them no later than five days from the date of this order.”

What the Judges received is described in the purportedly responsive filing by the services:

The Settling Participants [aka the insiders] have provided all of the settlement documentsand, with this public filing, every interested party can fully evaluate and comment upon the settlement. The Settling Participants thus believe that the Judges have everything necessary to “publish the settlement in the Federal Register for notice and comment from those bound by the terms, rates, or other determination set by the” Settlement Agreement, as required under 37 C.F.R. 351.2(b)(2). The Settling Participants respectfully request that the Judges inform them if there is any further information that they require.

Notice that the Judges asked for evidence of the “full agreement of the Settling Parties”, meaning all side deals or other vigorish exchanged between the parties including the DSPs that control vast riches larger than most countries and are super-conflicted with the publishers due to their joint venture investment in the MLC quango.

The response is limited to “the settlement documents” and then cites to what the services no doubt think they can argue limits their disclosure obligations to what is necessary to “publish the settlement”. And then the services have the brass to add “The Settling Participants respectfully request that the Judges inform them if there is any further information that they require.” Just how are the Judges supposed to know if the services complied with the order? Is this candor?

It must also be noted that Google and the NMPA have “lodged” certain documents relating to YouTube’s direct agreements which they claim are not related to the settlement to be published for public comment. These documents are, of course, secret:

[And] are not part of the settlement agreement or understanding of the settling participants concerning the subject matter of the settlement agreement, and do not supersede any part of the settlement agreement with respect to the settling participants’ proposed Phonorecords IV rates and terms. Further, the letter agreements do not change or modify application of the terms to be codified at 37 C.F.R. 385 Subparts C and D, including as they apply to any participant. Rather, the letter agreements simply concern Google’s current allocation practices to avoid the double payment of royalties arising from YouTube’s having entered into direct agreements with certain music publishers while simultaneously operating under the Section 115 statutory license.

You’ll note that there are a number of declarative statements that lets the hoi polloi know that the Data Lords and Kings of the Internet Realms have determined some information involving their royalties is none of their concern. How do you know that you shouldn’t worry your pretty little head about some things? Because the Data Lords tell you so. And now, back to sleep you Epsilons.

So you see that despite the statements in the group filing to the CRB that the “Settling Participants” (i.e., the insiders) claim to have provided all of the settlement documents required by the Judges, Google turns right around and “lodges” this separate filing of still other documents that they think might be related documents with some bearing on the settlement that should be disclosed to the public but they apparently will not be disclosing without a fight. How do we know this? Because they pretty much say so:

Because the letter agreements are subject to confidentiality restrictions and have each only been disclosed to their individual signatories, each such music publisher having an extant direct license agreement with Google, Google and NMPA are lodging the letter agreements directly with the Copyright Royalty Judges, who may then make a determination as to whether the letter agreements are relevant and what, if anything, should be disclosed notwithstanding the confidentiality restrictions in each of the letter agreements.

Ah yes, the old “nondisclosure” clause. You couldn’t ask for a better example of how NDAs are used to hide information from songwriters about their own money.

The Judges noted when rejecting the similar initial frozen mechanical regulations that:

Parties have an undeniable right of contract. The Judges, however, are not required to adopt the terms of any contract, particularly when the contract at issue relates in part, albeit by reference, to additional unknown terms that indicate additional unrevealed consideration passing between the parties, which consideration might have an impact on effective royalty rates. 

So there’s that.

What this all boils down to is that the richest and most dangerous corporations in commercial history are accustomed to algorithmically duping consumers, vendors and even governments in the dark and getting away with it. The question is, if you believe that sunlight always wins, do they still want to hide as long as they can and then look stupid, or do they want to come clean to begin with and be honest brokers.

As Willie Stark famously said in All the King’s Men, “Time reveals all things, I trust it so.”

Thinking Outside the Pie: @legrandnetwork Study for GESAC Highlights Streaming Impact on Choking Diversity and Songwriter Royalties

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared in MusicTech.Solutions]

Emmanuel Legrand prepared an excellent and important study for the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC) that identifies crucial effects of streaming on culture, creatives and especially songwriters. The study highlights the cultural effects of streaming on the European markets, but it would be easy to extend these harms globally as Emmanuel observes.

For example, consider the core pitch of streaming services that started long ago with the commercial Napster 2.0 pitch of “Own Nothing, Have Everything”. This call-to-serfdom slogan may sound good but having infinite shelf space with no cutouts or localized offering creates its own cultural imperative. And that’s even if you accept the premise the algorithmically programed enterprise playlists on streaming services should not be subject to the same cultural protections for performers and songwriters as broadcast radio–its main competitor.

[This] massive availability of content on [streaming] platforms is overshadowed by the fact that these services are under no positive obligations to ensure visibility and discoverability of more diverse repertoires, particularly European works….[plus]  the initial individual subscription fee of 9.99 (in Euros, US dollars, or British pound) set in 2006, has never increased, despite the exponential growth in the quality, amount of songs, and user-friendliness of music streaming services.

Artists working new recordings, especially in a language other than English, are forced to fight for “shelf space” and “mindshare”–that is, recognition–against every recording ever released. While this was always true theoretically; you never had that same fight the same way at Tower Records.

This is not theoretically true on streaming platforms–it is actually true because these tens of millions of historical recordings are the competition on streaming services. When you look at the global 100 charts for streaming services, almost all of the titles are in English and are largely Anglo-American releases. Yes, we know–Bad Bunny. But this year’s exception proves the rule.

And then Emmanuel notes that it is the back room algorithms–the terribly modern version of the $50 handshake–that support various payola schemes:

The use of algorithms, as well as bottleneck represented by the most popular playlists, exacerbates this. Furthermore, long-standing flaws in the operations of music streaming platforms, such as “streaming fraud”, “ghost/fake artists”, “payola schemes”, “royalty free content” and other coercive practices [not to mention YouTube withholding access to Content ID] worsen the impact on many professional creators….

This report suggests solutions to bring greater transparency in the use of algorithms and invites stakeholders to undertake a review of the economic models of streaming services and evaluate how they currently affect cultural diversity which should be promoted in its various forms — music genres, languages, origin of performers and songwriters, in particular through policy actions.

Trichordist readers will recall my extensive dives into the hyperefficient market share distribution of streaming royalties known as the “big pool” compared to my “ethical pool” proposal and the “user centric” alternative. As Emmanuel points out, the big pool royalty model belies a cultural imperative–if you are counting streams on a market share basis that results in the rich getting richer based on “stream share” that same stream share almost guarantees that Anglo American repertoire will dominate in every market the big streamers operate.

Emmanuel uses French-Canadian repertoire as an example (a subject I know a fair amount about since I performed and recorded with many vedettes before Quebecoise was cool).

A lot of research has been made in Canada with regards to discoverability, in particular in the context of French-Canadian music, which is subject to quotas for over the air broadcasters which however do not apply to music streaming services. The research shows that while the lists of new releases from Québec studied are present in a large proportion on streaming platforms, they are “not very visible and very little recommended.” 

It further shows that the situation is even worse when it is not about new releases, including hit music, when the presence of titles “drops radically.” It is not very difficult to imagine that if we were to swap Québec in the above sentence with the name of any country from the European Union [or any non-Anglo American country], and even with music from the European Union as a whole, we could find similar results.

In other words, there may be aggregators with repertoire in languages other than English that deliver tracks to streamers in their countries, but–absent localized airplay rules–a Spotify user might never know the tracks were there unless the user already knew about the recording, artist or songwriter. (Speaking of Canada, check the MAPL system.)

This is a prime example of why Professor Feijoo and I proposed streaming remuneration in our WIPO study to allow performers to capture the uncompensated capital markets value to the enterprise driven by these performers. Because of the market share royalty system, revenues and royalties do not compensate all performers, particularly regional or non-featured performers (i.e., session players and singers) who essentially get zero compensation for streaming.

Emmanuel also comments on the imbalance in song royalty payments and invites a re-look at how the streaming system biases against songwriters. I would encourage everyone to stop thinking of a pie to be shared or that Johnny has more apples–when the services refuse to raise prices in order to tell a growth story to Wall Street or The City, measuring royalties by a share of some mythical royalty pie is not ever going to get it done. It will just perpetuate a discriminatory system that fails to value the very people on whose backs it was built be they songwriters or session players.

We must think outside the pie.

Do Songwriters Want the Cheese or to Escape the Trap in Phonorecords IV?

By Chris Castle

Here it is.  The US economic data is undeniably leading to a stagflationary outlook reminiscent of the 1970s.  If you don’t have first hand knowledge of the inflation that started under Nixon and Arthur Burns, burned through Ford and Carter and finally came to rest with Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volker and President Ronald Reagan that ultimately resolved in the low inflation that began trending downward in 1983, trust me; it was awful.  

This is why it is insane–if not actually cruel–to force songwriters to take a fixed five year mechanical rate with no downside inflation protection in the form of a cost-of-living adjustment. What is bizarre is that this just happened in the streaming mechanical for the Phonorecords IV proceeding, in case you didn’t hear it over the sound of the backslapping.

It appears that songwriters will get the cost of living adjustment (or “COLA”) on the physical mechanical side–you know, the one the smart people told us was unimportant–but failed to get it on the streaming mechanical side which the smart people tell us is critical to the continuation of life as we know it. Even though it certainly looks more likely than not that growth of the money supply and government debt produces the rocket fuel for the inflation that took 1200 points off of the DJIA in one day. 1970s all over again, including James Taylor crooning “Fire and Rain.”

But economists are beginning to remind us that what makes anyone think the 1970s is the worst it can get?  There’s a tendency to think of 1970s stagflation as a downside boundary.  It’s not.  It just happens to be the worst sustained economic times in living memory as the Depression-era Greatest Generation settles into the silence of old age.  However, there’s nothing magical about the 1970s. 

As it stands today, over 40 countries already have an inflation rate in the double digits, America is a debtor nation, Wall Street has sold a huge number of jobs off shore, productivity growth is lower than the 1970s and we’ve gone along with the central banks’ zero interest rate policies in the years since the 2008 crash.  The piper must be paid for the Lehman Bros. of this world leading us all over the cliff in the great recession, even though the central banks’ easy money policy has delayed that payback.  All of these are reasons why there must be a cost of living adjustment in any government imposed statutory rate that takes away bargaining rights. But wait, there’s more.

When Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell changed the Fed’s inflation targeting (remember “transitory inflation”?), he blew an opportunity to start fixing the real problem.  But no more.  The chickens are coming home to roost with increases in interest rates and yet-to-materialize promise of quantitative tightening. Now that Mr. Powell was reconfirmed for another term.

If there’s even a chance—any chance—that 1970s style stagflation and depression-level demand destruction may be the best we can hope for, anyone setting a wage control like the statutory mechanical royalty rate simply cannot order that rate for five years and fail to take into account the potential for a coming inflation spike even if the smart people sign a suicide pact.  Yet this is exactly what just happened with the settlement of the streaming mechanical rates for Phonorecords IV at the Copyright Royalty Board.

Admittedly, the Copyright Royalty Judges are boxed in given the preference for voluntary settlements baked into the Copyright Act.  That gives the smart people far too much credit and fails miserably to allow the Judges to do what judges do—bring contemplative thought to the problem.  This is what judges do, it is not what lobbyists and their lawyers do.  But unless the public raises the failure to include a cost of living adjustment in comments, so far there’s little basis for the Judges to correct the defective settlement.

It is essential that the Judges are allowed to do their job outside the hurley burley of the commercial relationship with the biggest corporations in history whose lawyers are hell-bent on conducting a scorched earth litigation campaign to crush songwriters.  This is especially true of Google, Amazon and Spotify who have demonstrated truly vile behavior during the entire proceeding, a bully-fest beyond category.

George Johnson hit upon a potential solution in his recent comment. If one applies the COLA to the royalty pool after the mind-numbing “greater than/lesser of formula” created by those seeking full employment for lobbyists, lawyers and accountants, that’s actually a pretty elegant solution. I would quibble a little bit with the idea and apply the COLA as an uplift to the actual royalty statement so that the royalty recipients could see how that uplift was arrived at (which in theory would make them less likely to audit the MLC). That “show your work” approach would allow the payee to see how the MLC got there and make it easier to audit upstream for obvious mistakes.

It will also make it easier for the Judges to add the COLA because the building blocks of the calculation won’t change from the voluntary settlement (TCC, revenue share, etc.).

If songwriters are forced to stay in the confines of the statutory license trap, at least a COLA keeps the cheese from melting before their eyes. Plus they’re not required to guess today what the cost of food at home, shelter and gasoline will be five or six years from now.

The Judges would also have the opportunity to bring the services into a new era of fairness and wipe out the bullying of process as punishment that we all had to endure through two different proceedings.

Remember, as you have probably read or realized yourselves, all the US needs is one more good exogenous roundhouse shock to the economy (such as the world abandoning petrodollars for a basket of currency such as the ruble, the renminbi and the real to pick a few out of thin air), and we are in serious economic straights with hyperinflation as the real bugaboo.

Remember also that the US bonds pay interest at less than the inflation rate.

The decline of the dollar as the premier world reserve currency will put a stop to that interest/inflation spread practically overnight. The US government will not be able to borrow from a seemingly bottomless pit of lenders paying US dollars for US bonds at any price for the stability and transferability. What happens then? Probably interest rates will increase–a lot–to make it worth the lender’s money. Which means the debt service will take up an even bigger chunk of the US budget which will give us less to spend on the “Cross of Iron” weaponry that got us into the petrodollar business in the first place. And so it goes.

Songwriters may not be able to do anything tangible to stop cataclysmic economic events, but they can demand at least a bare minimum of downside protection through a COLA.

You may say, why so cynical? I’m not altogether cynical, I hope that I’m just cynical enough. The numbers don’t lie. If you know anyone who was a child during the Great Depression, or is the child of that person, ask them what it was like.

The overarching point is why would you want to take a chance and bet it all on the smart people?

The cheese or the trap. Which will you have?

@MMercuriadis on the @CMAgovUK’s Whiff on the Streaming Report

Hipgnosis CEO Merck Mercuriadis had a strong statement in Music Week about the Competition and Markets Authority’s swing and a miss at the obviously absurd music streaming system as it was clearly identified by the groundbreaking report from the Digital Culture Media and Sport Select Committee of the UK Parliament. Given the good work done by the DCMS committee, the CMA report is simply insulting to those Members of Parliament.

Bob Welch and Reggie Jackson, Game 2 1978 World Series

Unfortunately the CMA report reads like a lobbyist’s press release and Mercuriadis lays it down and calls them out. Even though this is a little inside baseball in the UK, Trichordist readers understand that the underlying issues involve every songwriter and involve every artist regardless of where you live and regardless of where you claim as home. Mercuriadis is exactly right, the money is there it’s just not getting to the right people.

The battle continues.

“[Hipgnosis] would like to thank the Competition and Markets Authority for acknowledging in its report today the lack of transparency in the music streaming market, and for highlighting the continued dominance of the market by the major labels and recorded music, along with the severely adverse impact this is having on songwriters’ ability to earn a living,” he said. “However, with 70% of all those responding to the CMA consultation calling for reform, it is regrettable that the CMA is not minded to investigate and address the clear failures its study identified.

“The Digital Culture Media and Sport select committee in its July 2021 report on the economics of music streaming – ‘Music streaming must modernize. Is anybody listening?’ – called for the CMA to address the economic impact of the music majors’ dominance.

“Today the CMA has not acted to address the impact on the creative songwriting community, and this is a missed opportunity to follow up on those concerns raised by Members of Parliament on the Digital Culture Media and Sport select committee. It is a disappointment for songwriters who earn pitiful returns from streaming, not because there is not enough to go round, but simply because it is not being shared fairly and equitably.”

Mercuriadis added: “Hipgnosis will continue to call for fundamental reform of a broken system which does not recognise the paramount role of the songwriter in the music ecosystem. We have always believed that the ultimate solution lies within the music industry itself and we will continue to advocate on behalf of songwriters with the major recorded music companies to push for a fair and equitable split. There would be no recorded music industry without songwriters.

“Legislative and government authorities have the power to redress the economic imbalance where major recorded music companies that own and control the major publishing companies are purposefully undervaluing the songwriter’s contribution. The Intellectual Property Office [UK’s Copyright Office] has a key role to play in redressing the imbalance and we will continue to support its work and efforts.

“Hipgnosis will continue to campaign for change at the highest levels, using our success to advocate and fight on behalf of the songwriting community and to take the songwriter from the bottom of the economic equation to the top.”

The @CMAgovUK UK Competition and Markets Authority’s Missed Opportunity: Reaction from @MrTomGray #BrokenRecord

The literature suggests that in the presence of…positive feedbacks [from the Get Big Fast strategy], firms should pursue an aggressive strategy in which they seek to grow as rapidly as possible and preempt their rivals. Typical tactics include pricing below the short-run profit-maximizing level (or even below the cost of goods sold), rapidly expanding capacity, advertising heavily, and forming alliances to build market clout with suppliers and workers and to deter entry of new players. Intuitively, such aggressive strategies are superior because they increase both industry demand and the aggressive firm’s share of that demand, stimulating the positive feedbacks described above.

Limits to Grown in the NEw Economy: Exploring the Get big Fast strategy in ecommerce https://scripts.mit.edu/~jsterman/docs/Oliva-2003-LimitsToGrowthInTheNewEconomy.pdf

By Chris Castle

You may have seen that the UK Competition and Markets Authority released a report on music streaming in the UK. Of course, because the same players dominate the UK market like they do in France…sorry, I meant Germany…sorry I meant Canada…sorry I meant Sweden…sorry I meant the United States…how different could the competition issues be for US artists and songwriters? You have the biggest corporations in commercial history (Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google) and the “get big fast” wannabes like Spotify (and Pandora in the US) on one side, the three major labels and the music publishing affiliates on the other side and the artists, songwriters, indie labels, indie publishers and especially the session musicians and vocalists squeezed in the middle.

Plus you have all of the biggest of Big Tech companies as well as wannabe Get-Big-Fast acolytes like Spotify and Pandora setting almost identical price points and freezing them there for a decade while refusing to exercise pricing power and nobody finds that just a trifle odd? Then in the grandest of grand deflections passing this off as the “pie” that everyone should look at instead of acknowledging that it’s the poptart served at the kid’s table in the nursery instead of the feast at the adult’s table in the dining room where the gravy bowls of shares of public stock are handed out dot-bomb style with a side of advertising barter. All while singing an apologia for payola and consumer welfare based on cheapness? You know there’s another way to get really, really cheap goods for consumers that ain’t quite so well received in history.

And yet somehow the Competition and Markets Authority passes this off as good for the consumer? With no meaningful discussion of the Malthusian and anticompetitive effects of the pro-rata model and pretty much summarily ignoring the actual revenue earned by “successful” artists in the beggar-thy-neighbor pricing and revenue charade. Not to mention the complete failure to discuss the supervoting stock at Spotify, Google and Facebook and all the other accoutrements of power that give Daniel Ek, Martin Lorentzen, Tim Cook, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos control over the global music industry–pale males one and all and also looking pretty stale around the edges the singularity notwithstanding. And then there’s Bytedance and Tencent.

The logic of the CMA in avoiding these issues rivals the Warren Commission’s Single Bullet Theory. But makes total sense as the triumph of the lobbyists for the biggest corporations in commercial history. And sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

We will continue to dig into this latest report and its methodology as will others like Tom Gray, the dynamic founder of the hugely effective #BrokenRecord campaign that led to this investigation which is not over by a long shot. Tom had this reaction to a what’s next question and we take his guidance:

The CMA’s initial findings are:

the music market doesn’t have much competition;

the actions of the Majors and DSPs actively reduce that competition;

artists and songwriters are mostly, if not entirely, doing badly out of it;

but they accept the status quo using the narrowest paradigm of competition and its value to the consumer. It doesn’t go near the fact that the Majors used market power to create the very ‘norms’ the report resigns us to.

A difficult read: one which points to the weakness or indifference of national ‘authorities’ in the face of the gross expansion of multi-nationals unfettered by regulation. Monopolies should be broken to protect citizens and workers, not only to defend consumerism’s need of a saving.

What’s most ironic is you could take the CMA’s findings to a different authority with a more progressive outlook and get a completely different result. They simply don’t seem to have considered it their job to care about the hugely visible negative consequences of concentrated power on musicmakers.

If you would like to tell the Competition and Markets Authority what you think about their statements they want to hear from you.

Streaming Mechanical Complexity Begets Complexity Begets Legal Fees

Remember how the physical mechanical increased from 9.1¢ to 12¢? And it applies to each record sold? If a songwriter got a cut and the artist sold 100 records, the songwriter got $12. That’s $12 today, next month, six months from now. You could plan. You could complain about a statement to the record company. If the record company wanted you to write more songs for their artists, they’d listen and might even fix an error on your statement. Remember: On records and downloads, the record companies pay.

But what about streaming? The record companies don’t pay on streaming, Big Tech pays. The biggest corporations in the world pay: Spotify, Amazon, Apple, Google, Pandora, and their dozens of lawyers. Artist Rights Watch posted a series of Tweets that shows excerpts from the proposed regulations to calculate streaming royalties–and remember this is the one that we’re told is the important one, the one that dozens of lawyers spend millions in legal fees to come up with. It reads kind of like a drunk you can smell a block away but who sits down next do you and asks how do they look for three days?

The first think you realize is that unlike the 12¢ rate for physical, there’s no way anyone call tell a songwriter how much they’re going to make today or next year on a per play. They can’t even tell you how much you’re going to make today for a burger next Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. But one thing you definitely know is that the lawyers are going to make bank writing this crap, appealing this crap, renegotiating this crap. This section here is a big part of what the fight is all about, can you believe it? This is what the Big Boys and Girls think is important and you can understand why. It puts more legal fees on the table and you know who eventually pays for the legal fees one way or another? Take a look in the mirror.

And understand this: If you get a royalty statement for streaming royalties, take a look at the per-stream rate! It usually starts three or four or even five zeros to the right of the decimal place. It’s even worse than the recording royalty. And DIMA wants us to fight among ourselves against the record companies after all this?

Must See Documentary: The Way the Music Died: Why You Should #DitchSpotify

Big thanks to Jon at Camden Live for posting about this really important documentary about the deep, down and dirty effects of Spotify on music, musicians and the creative process.

It’s always been a hard road for musicians to make money from their songs. Nonetheless, selling tons of singles and albums was at least a target and something bands could dream about.  Of course, there were many ways the labels could work the sales figures to get their shares out first, and only then the bands might see something. Despite the conflict between the often industrial-strength labels and the upcoming artists, there was at least hope that money was flowing back to the content creators.  Now though in the age of streaming music, the connection between making music and making a living is profoundly broken.

This schism is the subject matter for Lightbringer Production’s documentary film “The Way The Music Died” featuring insights from musicians and industry pros, including Mishkin Fitzgerald from Birdeatsbaby.  The film probes the spirit of artists determined to keep writing songs in the face of the meager payouts from the giant and ever-growing music stream service Spotify. Find out why this is ripping-out the heart and soul of new music.

@artistrightsnow Op-Ed: Spotify’s New ‘Discovery Mode’ Is Just Payola — Artist Rights Watch

Getting discovered in the music business has never been easy. Before the pandemic, artists could at least rely on the industry’s historic mainstay to break through — playing as many gigs as possible and hoping to build a following. But with that path closed for now, artists and their label partners are increasingly dependent on Spotify, the undisputed king of music streaming, and its black box algorithms.

That’s why Spotify’s cynical decision to use this moment to launch a new pay-for-play scheme pressuring vulnerable artists and smaller labels to accept lower royalties in exchange for a boost on the company’s algorithms is so exploitative and unfair. Artists must unite to condemn this thinly disguised royalty cut, which apparently has just been released in “beta” mode and is soon expected to enter the market in full force. 

Read the post on Rolling Stone