Copyright Office Regulates The MLC: Selected Public Comments on the Copyright Office Black Box Study: The DLC Spills the Beans, Part 3

[Read Part 2 here.  This is the last of 3 parts]

The services tell us in their Copyright Office comment that the whole point of the Music Modernization Act was this (largely secret) deal to get them a new retroactive safe harbor so their massive infringement couldn’t be stopped by songwriters.  (That’s their third statutory safe harbor counting DMCA and Section 230.)  What do you think that MMA safe harbor is worth to them to avoid what they call “ruinous litigation”?

Let’s use Spotify’s market cap as a proxy for the value of the safe harbor–imperfect, yes, but at least it is transparent unlike anything else having to do with Title I of the MMA.

SPOT Safe Harbor Value

Around October of 2018 when the MMA was signed into law, Spotify traded at $189.  A recent closing price for SPOT is $268.  Is it fair to say that the MMA was the rocket fuel that made Daniel Ek a billionaire?  Not entirely.  You can see from the graph that Spotify actually broke through a $190 per share support level to the downside right after the MMA was signed and bounced around below that price for a year or more.

The clear driver of Spotify CEO for Life Daniel Ek’s wealth and profiteering is the COVID virus.  Make no mistake, human misery–not the MMA safe harbor–is what provided the rocket fuel for Spotify’s 2020 growth.  In fact, the same rocket fuel of misery seems to have benefited each of the exploitative cohort as this graph shows using Live Nation as a proxy for the collapse of touring:

COVID MISERY INDEX 8-22-20

So it could be said that the entire “ruinous litigation” argument from the DLC is simply so much bullshit that these companies fed to the MMA negotiators by the plateful.  What is not bullshit, however, is that the one thing the negotiators could have scored that they didn’t is a waiver of the services appeal rights in the Phonorecords III rate setting decision.  This is the appeal that the services recently won when the appeals court handed the negotiators heads to them.  There could also have been a settlement since they seem to like those so much.  The negotiators didn’t do either.  We’ll see how the do-over turns out, but one thing we know is that there will be millions in legal fees that songwriters will have to eat one way or another that could easily have been avoided.

What is also not bullshit is the other side of the MMA transaction:  The loss to songwriters of this heretofore secret deal.

You will note that none of the music services appear to have paid out jack in the way of newly matching the previously “unmatched” in the years since the signing of the MMA. Why?  Because the MMA negotiators did not require any interim payments of matched funds or any public reconciliation of black box to matching efforts.  No, no, the first time the black box gets disclosed publicly is when those funds are paid to the MLC, not to the songwriters who earned the money.  Round and round and round it goes, and where it stops, nobody knows.

If you believe as we do that the services have not lifted a finger to increase their matching efforts (and based on the DLC’s disclosures seem to have already paid out pre-MMA black box on a market share basis), you will better understand why we think this was a colossally terrible deal for songwriters.  You will also understand why this part of it was largely kept secret or downplayed.

The Eight Mile Style complaint against Spotify and the Harry Fox Agency (which is the same Harry Fox Agency that is now going to be handing your royalties for The MLC, how curious) has an informative passage about the timing of this retroactive safe harbor:

In addition, the retroactive elimination of the right to profits attributable to infringement, statutory damages, and attorneys’ fees under the MMA is an unconstitutional denial of substantive and procedural due process, and an unconstitutional taking of Eight Mile’s vested property right, and this Court should so declare.

It is settled law that an infringement claim is a property right that vests in a plaintiff the moment the infringement occurs. The Bill that ultimately became the MMA, written by the NMPA, with input from Spotify, became law in October 2018, but provides retroactively that a plaintiff who did not file an action by December 31, 2017, could lose any right to profits attributable to infringement, statutory damages, and attorneys’ fees if successful in a case against Spotify or other DMPs of interactive streams. On information and belief, the MMA, according to the NMPA’s own announcements, lobbyist spending, and congressional testimony on Capitol Hill, was jointly crafted by members of the NMPA (whose three top markets shares and dues-paying affiliated companies own equity in Spotify) and Spotify, DiMA, and other interactive streaming companies.

They knew what they were doing….

[W]ith the removal of these remedies, it cleared the last hurdle for Spotify to go public, thereby reaping tens of billions of dollars for its equity owners, including the major music companies as mentioned above. The unconstitutional taking of Eight Mile’s and others’ vested property right was not for public use but instead for the private gain of private companies.

The reference to timing on Spotify “going public” means Spotify filing their “DPO” to sell stock on the public markets–the really big money.  That’s relevant to the MMA negotiation because the MMA bill was introduced on December 21, 2017.  Spotify filed a confidential paper with the Securities and Exhange Commission on January 3, 2018 and Spotify’s stock started trading on April 3, 2018.  The MMA allowed them to show the markets that they were doing something about their systemic copyright infringement problem and gave fuel to the specious argument that lawsuits against them were merely opportunistic gotcha lawsuits and not a bellweather for their utter incompetence and cavalier treatment of songwriters.

Why is this timing important?  Because the MMA was filed on December 21.  What happened on December 22?  Congress closed for the holidays and would not reopen until after January 1, 2018.  That meant there would not be an official version of the bill until after January 1, 2018, the deadline to sue before the retroactive safe harbor would eventually take effect.  Various copies leaked, but since the entire music industry was also shut down for the holidays, it was unlikely that any songwriters would see it, particularly because we can’t find that their so-called “representatives” ever brought it up in any public messaging before the January 1 deadline had passed.

Do you think that timing is a coincidence?

As Eight Mile Style tells us:

The proof is in the pudding: Spotify was sued many times prior to December 31, 2017, for similar acts of copyright infringement as alleged herein, but not once since December 31, 2017. This is because the Bill that ultimately became the MMA first publicly leaked shortly before December, 2017, leaving music publishers with little or no time to investigate or file a lawsuit for infringement, even if they somehow became aware of the Bill at that time.

It just happened that Wixen Music Publishing was already on a war footing from opposing the various Spotify settlements and was able to easily pivot to filing its own lawsuit against Spotify before the December 31, 2017 deadline in a move worthy of General Patton at Bastogne.  But Wixen was alone.  No one else probably even knew the deadline was passing or what it meant.

The value of what the “negotiators” gave away cannot realistically be measured for the reason that Eight Mile Style clearly states, which is also the same reason that the retroactive safe harbor is unconstitutional:

The only practical or realistic remedies in these cases is the statutory damage remedy, and profits attributable, together with the ability to receive attorneys’ fees, and the drafters of the MMA knew it. The elimination of these remedies takes away from Eight Mile and others who may be similarly situated any practical or realistic remedy, immunizes complying DMP’s from suit, and should be declared an unconstitutional deprivation of due process and a taking of a vested property right.

So what’s the value that songwriters gave up in the MMA?  Wixen sued for $1.6 billion.  You figure it out.

Copyright Office Regulates The MLC: Selected Public Comments on the Copyright Office Black Box Study: The DLC Spills the Beans, Part I

We once had a mechanical licensing system in the U.S. that worked well enough for songwriters for 100 years.  The problem with the mechanical licensing system wasn’t so much the licensing function it was the royalty rate.  The government held down songwriters for 70 years to a 1909-based royalty rate that for some reason was frozen in time (more on frozen mechanicals here).  But if users failed to license, songwriters could at least sue for statutory damages.

After the Music Modernization Act passed in 2018, they managed to even give away songwriters’ rights to sue.  The songwriter part of the three-part MMA is called “Title I” and that’s the part that gave away the one hammer that songwriters had to be heard when their rights were infringed.  They called it the “limitation on liability” and it was retroactive to January 1, 2018—before the bill was actually passed by Congress and signed into law.

It’s entirely possible that even if you knew about the MMA, you didn’t know about this new safe harbor created by the same uber-rich companies that wrote themselves the DMCA safe harbor that has created the value gap and plagued artists for years and the “Section 230” safe harbor in the “Communications Decency Act” that services use to profit from human trafficking and revenge porn stalkers.  And now there’s the MMA safe harbor.

Only a handful of insiders got to be at the table when they gave away your rights in Title I without your even knowing what they were up to.  Don’t get us wrong, there are great things in the other parts of MMA dealing with closing the pre-72 loophole, some important changes to the rules for ASCAP and BMI with rate courts, and the fix for producers getting a fair share of SoundExchange royalties.  These are all good things.

The part that sucks is Title I that created this new safe harbor give away that will bedevil songwriters for generations to come.

So you may be asking how do we know this?  Since the so-called “negotiations” for the Title I give away happened behind closed doors, how do we even know what happened?  The answer is that we didn’t have the proof because anyone who tried to offer constructive criticism to the “negotiators” for songwriters was menaced, threatened and stabbed in the back.  Nobody was talking about the safe harbor give away.

But now we do have the proof courtesy of the music services representative at the “Digital Licensee Coordinator” who opened the kimono in their recent comments to the Copyright Office about the black box.  (Read the entire DLC comment here.)  Their comments make for quite a read, not only about the so-called “negotiations” by the unrepresentatives of songwriters but also about the run-up to the MMA in the private settlements that nobody sees.

The first issue is that the Copyright Office has proposed some well-meaning regulations to increase the likelihood that the black box will actually get paid to the songwriters who earned the money.  The services seem to be all in a huff about rules applying retroactively when they’ve been using old rules to organize their data.  You know, they don’t like this retroactive thing unless it’s a retroactive expansion of their safe harbor.  Then they like it just fine.

“The DLC emphatically opposes the Office’s proposal to retroactively expand the required reporting of sound recording and musical work information beyond that which is required by the existing regulations in 37 C.F.R. § 210.20. Those regulations were issued in interim form in December 2018, and finalized in March 2019, and unambiguously required collection of reporting information under the existing monthly statement of account regulations in 37 C.F.R. § 210.16. The Office has now proposed, in paragraph (e) of the proposed rule, to change the required reporting elements for the individual tracks, nearly two years after the MMA’s enactment and months before cumulative statements of account are due to be served.”

Sorry, but we think that the richest companies in commercial history, with trillions and trillions of dollars in market capitalization and the most advanced data mining capability in the known universe, can manage to figure out how to pay songwriters in a way that will actually result in songwriters getting paid. The truth is that they are so used to screwing songwriters that they are not going to lift a finger to help beyond the absolute minimum they have to do.

They got their retroactive safe harbor to give away, so don’t come whinging about retroactivity if it makes the distributions more likely to get to the right person, something the services have uniformly failed to do from their founding.

But now it gets interesting.

“It is well-known that—prior to enactment of the MMA—a number of DMPs entered into industry-wide royalty distribution agreements under the auspices of the NMPA, structured to allow all unmatched works to be claimed by their owners and all accrued royalties to be paid out, in what became the model for the MMA. These agreements were designed to, and did, put tens of millions of dollars in statutory royalties in the hands of copyright owners—money that they had been unable to access due to the broken pre-MMA statutory royalty system.”

First of all—“money that they had been unable to access due to the broken pre-MMA statutory royalty system” is utter crap.  The reason that services didn’t pay out is because they didn’t clear the songs but exploited them anyway.  For example, that’s also why Spotify got sued so many times and is still getting sued.  It’s not that the system was broken, it’s that the services didn’t care and handled licensing in an incompetent manner. In case you missed it, that’s what they want to keep doing by extending into the future the same sloppy practices they got sued for in the past.  The only thing new and improved about it is their absurd and undeserved safe harbor.

We don’t know what these “industry-wide royalty distribution agreements” were all about, but one thing we know for sure is that they weren’t “industry-wide” and the NMPA wouldn’t have had the authority to make those deals “industry-wide” in the first place.  “Industry-wide” seems to mean “with the major publishers” or with NMPA members or just plain insiders.  The implication is that “industry-wide” means everyone, which it clearly does not and cannot if you think about it for 30 seconds.

And if the copyright owners were owed a payment with their own money, the only reason that they couldn’t “access” the funds is that the services wouldn’t let them.  When you owe somebody money, you should pay them because you owe them, not act like you’re doing them a favor.

But here it comes:

Congress in the MMA’s limitation on liability provision enacted a compromise among stakeholders’ interests: elimination of the uncertainty of litigation facing DMPs in exchange for the transfer of accrued royalties to the MLC.

In other words, the services sat on the money and refused to pay until they got the MMA safe harbor.  That was the “trade”—do something the services were already required to do in return for something the songwriters were never obligated to do.  The songwriters paid for the safe harbor with their own money.

“As set forth in the relevant statutory provision, in exchange for payment of accrued royalties from “unmatched” usage prior to license availability date (and related reporting), DMPs are protected from the full brunt of copyright damages in any infringement lawsuits based on alleged failures to comply with the requirements of the prior mechanical licensing regime. The provision provides a clean slate for any past failures under the prior licensing regime for those DMPs who pay those back royalties and provide associated reporting. It provides requirements for DMPs that seek to take advantage of the limitation on liability, ensuring that DMPs that pay accrued royalties to the MLC can do so without having to second-guess whether the payment was worth it—that is, whether they qualify for the limitation.

This was the heart of the deal struck by the stakeholders in crafting the MMA: to provide legal certainty for DMPs, through a limitation on liability, in exchange for the transfer of accrued royalties.

Which “stakeholders” were these?  Did they include any of the plaintiffs who were then suing the services?  No.  Did they include anyone who didn’t drink the Kool-Aid?  No.

So let’s be clear—the reason that the services deigned to actually pay money they owed for failing to license properly is because they didn’t want to be sued for screwing up.  They wanted a vig of a new safe harbor, and as the DLC tells us very, very clearly this issue was at the core of the deal you didn’t make for Title I.

More in Part II

 

 

 

 

Guest Post by @poedavid: “Dance Like Nobody’s Paying?” Spotify isn’t

by David Poe

Spotify’s disastrous “dance like nobody’s paying” ad campaign has now been demolished in the national press, garnering negative coverage in Newsweek, Billboard, NME, Hypebot, and more. Sometimes big corporations slip up and show us what they really think of us, and this was one of those times.

6a00d83451b36c69e20240a4bb7b77200b-450wi

But what’s Spotify’s plan?  Here, Variety’s Patrick McGuire suggests Spotify’s intent is to divide listeners and musicmakers:

Similar to the way many people bite into a cheeseburger with no consideration for the cow and farm of its origin, campaigns like Spotify’s widens the growing divide between listeners and creators. Audiences intellectually understand that music doesn’t magically materialize out of nothingness for the exclusive purpose of entertaining them, but as music continues its irreversible transition to all things digital, listeners are becoming less aware and interested in how artists create, record, produce, and share music. With a 2017 Nielsen Music report showing that, on average, Americans now spend over 32 hours a week listening to music, it’s clear that music is hugely important in the lives of listeners — just not in ways that provide meaningful visibility and support to musicians.

Ever heard that song “Put another nickel in / In the Nickelodeon”? It’s from 1950 (written by Stephen Weiss & Bernie Baum.)

Everyone loves streaming. But more than half a century later, most streaming services contend that a song isn’t worth a penny. I respectfully disagree.

Because a song isn’t really a song until someone listens to it, no  musicmaker should be faulted for utilizing all available platforms. But streaming in 2019 forces music makers and fans into the middle of a moral hazard. Music enthusiasts should be able to listen to streaming music without having to compromise their scruples, or that of their favorite bands.

Despite the lack of transparency in the music industry, The Trichordist has managed to cobble together an annual Streaming Price Bible.  It is the most credible summary I’ve found on what each streaming service pays, which may impact where Spotify listeners choose to put their dough-re-mi:

2018_streamingbible

How Bad Is it for Music Makers?

You can easily see from the chart what each service pays for recordings.  At about $0.003 per stream, Spotify pays little but has the greatest market share.  At about $0.0002 per stream, Google/YouTube is even worse.

Very different companies. Their commonality: free music, which has made them rich from ad revenue and data scraping, but mostly from their stock price increasing at the expense of musicmakers.

Let’s put this in context.  To earn a monthly US minimum wage, an artist on Spotify would need 380,000 streams by some estimates.

To make the same monthly salary as the average Spotify employee, a songwriter would need 288,000,000 streams.

Frozen Mechanicals

For reference, the statutory rate for a song on a CD or download is 9.1 cents — 4.1 cents more than ye olde Nickelodeon of the 1950s.

FROZEN MECHANICALS 1909-1977

You might say that’s better than the old days—but it isn’t as good as it looks, because the song rate was frozen for 68 years before it began gradually increasing … only to be frozen again in 2009, where it will stay until 2022.

FROZEN MECHANICALS 2009-2022

Clearly, streaming has all but replaced CDs and downloads, but without replacing revenue from songs to musicmakers.

Money is being made from streaming if you look at it on an industry-wide basis.  But—due to the hyper efficient market share distribution of the “big pool” revenue share accounting instead of a user-centric model (or the “ethical pool,”) individual music makers are far worse off.  More than ever, streaming revenue is not paid to music makers who don’t share in the big advances or Spotify stock.

You Can’t Compete With Free

The vast majority of Spotify users are in the “free tier”. By offering free access, Spotify artificially distorts the streaming market and disallows competition amongst streaming companies. As musicians have learned the hard way, you can’t compete with free.

Spotify likes to say it’s artist-friendly, a tool for music discovery.

Guilty of chronic copyright infringement, Spotify was founded by a former pirate.  It’s a corporate ethos built on theft.  The Music Modernization Act essentially gave Spotify a new safe harbor, but its tactics haven’t changed.

There’s additional shadiness here: allegations of gender discrimination and equal pay violation,expensive, state-subsidized offices, executive  bonuses,corporate lobbyists,a dicey DPO and of course, the “fake artist” scandal.

Spotify’s ongoing lobbying campaign against artist rights continues despite the unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act in Congress last year (and the jury is out on the MMA and Spotify’s safe harbor).  Shocker—Spotify apparently reneged on agreements it made to accept the Copyright Royalty Board’s mandated increase in songwriter pay.  Another bonehead move that was publicly rebuked by songwriters from Spotify’s “secret geniuses” charm offensive, including Nile Rodgers and Babyface.

Spotify was joined by Amazon, Google, and Pandora in “suing songwriters” to appeal the Copyright Royalty Board’s ruling that increased the paltry streaming mechanical rate, which Spotify lawyer Christopher Sprigman argued against in court.

Apple Music does not have a free tier and yet was the only major streaming service that did not challenge the new royalty (44% more, which means 0.004 instead of 0.003, which is still bullshit.)  

This may be because Apple recognizes that music helped save its ass from financial ruin 20 years ago. Math is not my strong suit, but numbers indicate music (via the iPod, a now-obsolete door stop) generated nearly half of Apple’s accumulated wealth not to mention introducing a new audience to Apple’s other awesome products.

Or it could just be that Apple understands creators and may actually like us.  There’s a thought.  We were early adopters—Macs have been in every recording studio and creative department for decades.   

Apple Music’s intent to increase artist pay to a penny per side is its best yet, but now long overdue.   Which is a shame, because a trillion dollar market cap company could afford to redistribute some wealth.  If Apple offered a fair alternative, most would run screaming from the competition.

The Generational Problem

There are many who are more expert than me, some quoted in this post. I’d rather be staring into space strumming guitar and writing a song than here discussing music and money.

But I’m concerned for the next generation of artists, especially the musical innovators. Here’s why:

There used to exist a sort of musical middle class. Artists in all mediums expected financial struggle but there was the possibility of making a living and even growing as an independent artist.  That might include a record deal or selling CDs at a gig in order to make it to the next town.

Songwriters could get an album cut and get by or even do well if the album sold (Jody Gerson has a great explanation of this.)  Musicians of quality could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Streaming has “disrupted” all of that.

Light’s out.

Bands’ streaming access may—may—help build an audience that may somehow convince talent buyers to book gigs that route your tour, which is awesome. But sustaining a career is still cost-prohibitive for many.

Thus the Top 40 is full of the children of the affluent.

Not children of millionaires: Stevie. Dylan. John & Paul. Aretha.

Those of us who have been making music for awhile will remember the optimistic, 1990s-era “monetize the back end” argument: bands on the road can make up income lost to streaming by selling merch.

I tour, too. I wish the best to every band who does so.

But not every musician can travel … or got into music to sell a fuckin hat.

Another common sense rebuttal to “shut up and tour:” INCOME FROM LIVE SHOWS WAS NEVER MEANT TO REPLACE THAT OF MUSIC SALES — plus both have investment costs and overhead to produce.

Gas costs what gas costs.

Mics cost what mics cost.

Streaming doesn’t pay what music costs.

Sorry to yell. Just sick of this lie that to make up for streaming losses all recording artists, especially senior citizens, should tour forever. Or the assumption they are all rolling in dough! Tell that to the punk rock drummer, alto player, the cellist, the songwriter.

Note: It’s almost impossible to buy a new car or laptop that plays a CD. Low income streaming has effectively replaced higher income physical sales.

So if streaming is to be the primary method of music distribution — if not the only one — then pay artists fairly.  Or it really will be lights out, if not for the huge artists who regularly celebrate stupidity then for the ones whose songs you want played at your funeral.

Without musicmakers, Spotify has nothing. When Spotify says “dance like nobody’s paying,” it’s because they don’t.

Given support from listeners and lawmakers, this era of economic injustice via streaming may one day be a footnote.  Fans should not be paying for music they don’t listen to which is what has been happening and is a hallmark of streaming gentrification.

Now, listeners must demand fair pay for musicians they claim to love, whether it is higher streaming royalties or a user-centric royalty allocation—or both.

#IRespectMusic

[This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]

Guest Post @musictechpolicy: Another Bad Artist Relations Week for Spotify

By Chris Castle

Spotify released one of their groovy ad campaigns last week.  This time celebrating their freebie subscription campaign.

D_SMUJEW4AAwd6c

You really do have to wonder where they find the people who come up with these things.

Blake Morgan, David Lowery and David Poe all laid into Spotify with their own tweets.  Just like Lowery’s seminal “Letter to Emily” post, but much faster, social media began driving traditional media with the story.

Billboard, Newsweek, Variety and New Music Express all picked up the story in 24 hours, and many others are also picking up the story.  I did a short post that Hypebot connecting the dots from the giveaway campaigns to user-centric royalties.

But the capper was the Godwin’s Law moment when Spotify’s lawyer and NYU professor Christopher Sprigman went after both Blake and David Lowery on Twitter for reasons that are frankly lost on me.  Professor Sprigman had something of a bizarre moment when he compared Lowery to Alex Jones which culminated in this exchange (recall that Alex Jones was deplatformed):

Sprigman 1

It should not be lost on anyone that Professor Sprigman supported Professor Lessig’s losing argument in the Eldred v. Ashcroftcase and apparently was co-counsel with Lessig in another losing argument in the Kahle v. Gonzalescase.  It also must be said that David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick’s class action against Sprigman client Spotify and Lowery’s case against Rhapsody were probably among the most consequential copyright cases (along with BMG v. Cox)  in the last five years.  Some would say that the Lowery cases set the table for the Music Modernization Act (and it should come as no surprise that David was asked to serve on one of the committees).

So while Professor Sprigman may find that Lowery “isn’t important”, there is a crucial difference between Professor Sprigman’s big copyright cases and David’s.  Want to guess what it is?

Some are speculating that Sprigman is retaliating on Blake and David Lowery for their successful commentary on his client Spotify–but I’d want to see a lot more proof.  Until then, you’d have to say Charlie has a point when he says that Sprigman is kind of an academic Bob Lefsetz.

Sprigman 2

And Spotify stumbles across the finish line of another bad media week of dissing artists.  Whew. Thank God it’s Monday, right?

No, Streaming Is Not Saving Us. Revenues still down by Half.

We’ve been hearing an alarming narrative that “record labels are making more money than ever from streaming, but they’re just not paying musicians”. To be clear, we certainly have our issues with major labels, however we also need facts and to be truthful.

The truth is, that a decade after losing half of it’s revenues due to piracy as reported by CNN (click here), record labels are now only getting back up to half of what the peak business was in 1999. Half of where we were in 1999, twenty years later. Let that sink in. As unpopular as he was twenty years ago, Lars Ulrich was right.

Twenty years later, and we’re still only half of where we were in 1999.

There are only three numbers that matter when looking at the record industry post-piracy and here they are:

1999 : $14.6b = $22.01 in 2018 Dollars
2009 : $6.3b = $7.37 in 2018 Dollars
2018 : $9.8b = $9.8b in 2018 Dollars

This is clearly illustrated in the chart below provided by the RIAA, the trade group responsible for tracking these figures. At their lowest point in 2014, revenues from record sales were less than one third of their peak.

What this chart also shows is a decade long loss of $10b or more annually, which is over $100b in lost revenues to labels and artists. That’s $100b in lost revenues to labels and artists in just the past decade.

If we track total lost revenue to labels and artists since the launch of Napster in 1999 it totals just under $200 Billion Dollars in the USA alone.

The fundamental problem remains the same. There’s a hole in our bucket and all that revenue falling out though the bottom leads more or less to advertising funded piracy and YouTube. Many have suggested that YouTube is effectively the largest ad supported piracy platform. As we reported earlier this year in our updated Streaming Price Bible, the YouTube Value Gap is very, very real.

In future posts we’ll offer solutions and suggestions that should be under consideration at every major label. Not the least of which is transitioning subscription streaming models to incorporate a per stream transactional baseline, or a minimum wholesale price per stream.

In streaming, consumption does not grow revenues. More consumption and more streams do not generate more money. Revenue can only be generated by charging more for subscriptions, generating more advertising revenue (ad supported only, obviously) and expanding into more markets (gaining new subscribers). But eventually, everything flattens.

So the biggest question remains. What happens to overall revenues as streaming matures and cannibalizes the remaining revenue sources into purely niche markets. Digital Downloads will account for less than 10% of recorded music revenues by the end of the year, if not already. The CD market continues drop, and vinyl also declined slightly from 2017 (4.4%) to 2018 (4.3%).

Will streaming compensate for the lost revenues in other formats and continue to grow revenues towards a true recovery? It’s possible, but there will have to be some changes to address the economics presented to consumers despite what Goldman Sachs says. For the year of 2018 the industry reported $9.8b in revenues. To make that $37.2b by 2030 the industry needs to add nearly $3b a year for the next 10 years!

We don’t know what else they’ve got in that crystal ball that can predict revenues over a decade into the future but even by their bullish estimate of $37.2b in 2030, that is only $28b in 2019 dollars. Right now we’re still about $20b short.

 

 

 

2018 Streaming Price Bible! Per Stream Rates Drop as Streaming Volume Grows. YouTube’s Value Gap is Very Real.

Here we go again. To see previous years, click [here].

This data set is isolated to the calendar year 2018 and represents a mid-sized indie label with an approximately 250+ album catalog now generating almost 1b streams annually. 2018 is the year we saw streaming truly mature as the dominant source of recorded music revenues.

In parsing the data provided we find that digital revenues are 86% of all recorded music revenues globally (RIAA Reports Digital Revenues as 90% of Total). Streaming is 80% (or more) of Digital Music Revenues. Downloads are about 20% of digital music revenues for the year, however if we isolate Q4, it would appear download revenues could be less than 15% of digital revenues. The transition from downloads to streaming is well beyond the tipping point and we wonder how long the major services (Apple, Amazon, Google) will continue to support the format.

As we dig down into the physical revenues much of the gross is eroded by manufacturing, shipping and inventory costs of both CDs and Vinyl. In short, the recorded music business is now the streaming music business. Whatever charm there is to vinyl, it is at best still a truly niche business in terms of meaningful net revenues.

Every year there are surprises in the data and this year is no exception. As always we present this data as a single sample, but one we feel is fairly representative of the state of the business. As such, we welcome comments from others with access to similar data to report on their findings. Some of the percentages may vary dependent upon the genre of music and the size of the label or artist. However, we generally don’t find trends that are completely contradictory to our sample where it matters most, in reporting on stream rates and relative marketshare.

We’ve also simplified the chart this year. Just one chart, and only the Top 20 streamers which represent  99.35% of all streaming dollars. The Top 10 streamers account for over 97% of all music streaming revenues. The Top 5 account for over 88% of all streaming dollars. What we see below is a maturing marketplace with a small number of dominant players. Anyone who thought the digital revolution would remove so called “gate keepers” are painfully wrong.

If you want to compare these numbers against the RIAA’s official report for the first half of 2018, click [here]. That data is for the USA and only through June of 2018. It’s hard to get “apples to apples” reporting, so everything should be taken as different perspectives on the overall business. If you are an artist or label, see how your own data compares.

The biggest takeaway by far is that YouTube’s Content ID, (in our first truly comprehensive data set) shows a whopping 48% of all streams generate only 7% of revenue. Read that again. This is your value gap. Nearly 50% of all recorded music streams only generate 7% of revenue.

 

The Spotify per stream rate drops again from .00397 to .00331 a decrease of 16%. Apple Music gains almost 3% for an total global marketshare of about just under 25% of all revenue.

Apple’s per stream rate drops from .00783 to .00495 a decrease of 36%. We need to state again, that 2018 saw a massive shift of revenues from downloads to streaming and no doubt this expansion of scale, combined with more aggressive bundling (free trials) as well as launching into more territories was bound to bring down the overall net per stream.

Apple Music still lead in the sweet spot with about 10% of overall streams generating 25% of all revenue (despite the per stream rate drop). Spotify by comparison has nearly triple the marketshare in streams than Apple Music but generates less than double the revenues on that volume.

The biggest takeaway by far is that YouTube’s Content ID, (in our first truly comprehensive data set) shows a whopping 48% of all streams and only 7% of revenue. Read that again. This is your value gap. Nearly 50% of all recorded music streams only generate 7% of revenue. Apple Music and Spotify combined account for just short of 40% of all streams and 74% of all revenue.

We don’t know how the powers that be at the major labels can continue to allow for this gross inequity. It will be interesting to see how YouTube Red numbers evolve over this year. YouTube Red, the newly rebranded version of the disastrous “Music Key” is off to a slow start in a competitive subscription music marketplace. One has to ask, what incentive is there really for Google/YouTube with the Red subscription service when they already benefit from service 48% of all streams while paying only 7% of the overall revenue?

In looking at the per stream rates for song and album, you might want to read this article by Billboard on the current calculation of how many streams equal and album for the purposes of charting. We don’t know if YouTube Content ID streams count towards charting, but they absolutely should not. The report states that, “The Billboard 200 will now include two tiers of on-demand audio streams. TIER 1: paid subscription audio streams (equating 1,250 streams to 1 album unit) and TIER 2: ad-supported audio streams (equating 3,750 streams to 1 album unit).”

In the coming year Amazon’s Unlimited Music service shows promise. We also wonder about Google Play. The payouts on Google Play are fair, but when bundled into the YouTube ecosystem is largely inconsequential in terms of both streams served and revenue. As smart home assistants grow there could be a larger market segment for paying subscribers to have streaming music catalogs available and on demand.


These numbers are from one set of confidentially supplied data for global sales. If you have access to other data sources that you can share, we’d love to see it.

  • HOW WE CALCULATED THE STREAMS PER SONG / ALBUM RATE:
  • As streaming services only pay master royalties (to labels) and not publishing, the publishing has to be deducted from the master share to arrive at the comparable cost per song/album.
  • $.99 Song is $.70 wholesale after 30% fee. Deduct 1 full stat mechanical at $.091 = $.609 per song.
  • Multiply the above by 10x’s and you get the album equivalent of $6.09 per album
[EDITORS NOTE: All of the data above is aggregated. In all cases the total amount of revenue is divided by the total number of the streams per service  (ex: $5,210 / 1,000,000 = .00521 per stream). In cases where there are multiple tiers and pricing structures (like Spotify), these are all summed together and divided to create an averaged, single rate per play.]

[royalties][streaming royalties][music royalties][royalty rates]

Spotify’s Big Lie, Streaming Habits Mirror Purchasing Habits

One of the biggest lies told by Spotify is that streaming will provide more revenue over the life of a record because every play will be monetized. This as opposed to the one time payment earned from a transactional purchase where all the revenue from the purchase of the record is paid at once. There is however, a very big problem with this theory, which is that the consumption curves of streaming match the consumption curves of transactional sales.

So, what about that so called long tail? Well, it doesn’t exist. Not for music consumption. Or we should say, it doesn’t exist any different for streaming than it did has for transactional sales. What do you think is more profitable in generating revenue? Is it the album sales of artists catalogs, or is streams?

Keep in mind, streaming is a fixed cap market. So it does not matter how much the market grows in actual consumption, the revenue is capped by the amount of revenue earned by the hosting provider. If consumption doubles, but revenues stay flat, every stream is worth half of what it was previously.

We’re already seeing this trend as we noted earlier this year that Spotify per stream rates appear to be dropping steadily by about 8% per year. This is likely a combination of both the growth of consumption and the slowing of revenue across both subscriptions and advertising.

If anyone truly believes streaming is going to generate more revenues than transactional sales, we have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you cheap. The fix is simple. The industry must move towards adopting an industry standard streaming penny rates. Only by setting fixed per stream rates will compensation scale with consumption.

[NOTE:] Chart from a mid size indie label showing revenues from Downloads and Streaming. The Spikes indicate new release activity / hits which reveals that revenue tails off for streaming the same way it does for transactional downloads.

How Spotify (and others) Could Have Avoided Songwriter Lawsuits, Ask The Labels.

This is simply a story about intent. Daniel Ek is the co-founder of Spotify, he was also the CEO of u-torrent, the worlds most successful bit-torrent client. As far we know u-torrent has never secured music licenses or paid any royalties to any artists, ever.

Spotify could have completely avoided it’s legal issues around paying songwriters.  The company could have sought to obtain the most recent information about the publishing and songwriters for every track at the service.  The record labels providing the master recordings to Spotify are required to have this information. All Spotify (and others) had to do, was ask for it.

Here’s how it works.

For decades publishers and songwriters have been paid their share of record sales (known as “mechanicals”) by the record labels in the United States. This is a system whereby the labels collect the money from retailers and pay the publishers/songwriters their share. It has worked pretty well for decades and has not required a industry wide, central master database (public or private) to administer these licenses or make the appropriate payments.

This system has worked because each label is responsible for paying the publishers and songwriters attached to the master recordings the label is monetizing. The labels are responsible for making sure all of the publishers and writers are paid. If you are a writer or publisher and you haven’t been paid, you know where the money is – it is at the record label.

Streaming services pay the “mechanicals” at source which are determined by different formulas and rules based upon the use. For example non-interactive streaming and web radio (simulcasts and Pandora) are calculated and paid via the appropriate performing rights society like ASCAP or BMI. These publishing royalties are treated more like radio royalties.

The “mechanicals” for album sales from interactive streaming services are calculated in a different way. It is the responsibility of the streaming services to pay these royalties. CDBaby explains the system here and here. Don’t mind that these explanations are an attempt to sell musicians more CDBaby services, just focus on the information provided for a better understanding of this issue.

Every physical album and transactional download (itunes and the like) pays the “mechanical” publishing to the record label directly, who then pays the publishers and writers.  This publishing information exists as labels providing the master recordings to Spotify have this information. All Spotify (and others) have to do, is ask for it.

Record labels have collectively and effectively “crowd sourced” licensing and payments to publishers and songwriters for decades. Why can’t Spotify simply require this information from labels, when the labels deliver their masters? It’s just that simple. Period.

The simple, easy, and transparent solution to Spotify’s licensing crisis is to require record labels to provide the mechanical license information on every song delivered to Spotify. The labels already have this information.

The simple solution is for Spotify to withdraw any and all songs from the service until the label who has delivered the master recording also delivers the corresponding publisher and writer information for proper licensing and payments. Problem solved!

No need for additional databases or imagined licensing problems. Every master recording on Spotify is delivered by a record label. Every record label is required by law to pay the publishers and songwriters. This is known and readily available information by the people who are delivering the recordings to Spotify!

There is no missing information, and no unknown licenses. Why is this so F’ing hard?

This system would mean that the record labels would have to provide this information. It’s also possible that some of that information is not accurate. Labels would probably fight against any mechanism that would make them have to make any claims about the accuracy of their data, which is fine. If it’s the most update information it’s a great place to start.

Of course, we know that both sides (both labels and streamers) will reject any mechanism that introduces friction into the delivery of masters. However, with the simple intent of requiring publisher and songwriter info for every song master delivered there will no longer be a problem at the scale that currently exists.

To be completely fair to Spotify they did work to make deals with the largest organizations representing publishers and songwriters (NMPA and HFA). However those two organizations leave out a lot of participants. So back to square one. If publishing information is required upon the delivery of masters, the problem is largely solved. Invoking a variation on Occam’s Razor, the best solution is usually the most simple one.

You’d think that in the times before computers this would have been harder than it is now, but like all things Spotify you have to question the motivations of a company whose founder created the most successful bittorrent client of all time, u-torrent.

Oh, and of this writing Spotify is now claiming they have no responsibility to pay any “mechanicals” at all. Can’t make this up.

 

If Only Artists and Managers Had Listened To Us : Spotify Per Stream Rates Keep Dropping

We hate to say we told ya so, but… Below is our post from September 2015. Two years ago we predicted the inevitable truth of the all you can eat Spotify subcription model. Like many of our predictions and proposals (example; windowing titles) we’ve had to wait for the industry to catch up to us. Today, two years later, Digital Music News confirms our prediction.

Read the report from Digital Music News by clicking the headline link here.

Exclusive Report: Spotify Artist Payments Are Declining In 2017, Data Shows | Digital Music News

Our original post from 2015 is below…


Spotify Per Play Rates Continue to Drop (.00408) … More Free Users = Less Money Per Stream #gettherateright

Down, down, down it goes, where it stops nobody knows… The monthly average rate per play on Spotify is currently .00408 for master rights holders.

PerStreamAvg_Jun11_July15

48 Months of Spotify Streaming Rates from Jun 2011 thru May 2015 on an indie label catalog of over 1,500 songs with over 10m plays.

Spotify rates per spin appear to have peaked and are now on a steady decline over time.

Per stream rates are dropping because the amount of revenue is not keeping pace with the  number of streams. There are several possible causes:

1) Advertising rates are falling as more “supply” (the number of streams) come on line and the market saturates.

2) The proportion of  lower paying “free streams”  is growing faster than the proportion of higher paying “paid streams.”

3) All of the above.

This confirms our long held suspicion that as a flat price “freemium” subscription service  scales the price per stream will drop.  As the service reaches “scale” the pool of streaming revenue becomes a fixed amount.  The pie can’t get any larger and adding more streams only cuts the pie into smaller pieces!

The data above is aggregated. In all cases the total amount of revenue is divided by the total number of the streams per service  (ex: $4,080 / 1,000,000 = .00408 per stream). Multiple tiers and pricing structures are all summed together and divided to create an averaged, single rate per play.

After 16% drop in Per Stream rates, Spotify asks for another 14% Reduction…

We can’t make this up. We’ve stated many times before, as the consumption of streams increase (and those services grow) the per stream rate will drop as revenues level off. This is simply because revenues can not keep up with consumption, and there is no fixed per stream rate.

In our latest look at streaming rates we found that Spotify streaming rates had dropped 16% from 2014 to 2016. Now, Hypebot is reporting that Spotify is asking for another 14% reduction in royalty payments.

Please someone break out a calculator… that would be a 30% reduction in per stream rates in two years! It’s just math. Wow.

Read the full story at Hypebot:

Spotify’s Latest Offer To Labels: A 14% Lower Royalty Rate | Hypebot