Introduction – Rebalancing the song economy
After half a decade of streaming-driven growth the global music business hit a speed bump in the shape of the pandemic. Live music stopped in an instant, radio boomed then dipped and physical sales plummeted as stores closed. The music business will recover, but this enforced slowdown has had an important, unintended consequence: artists and songwriters have had to adjust to often dramatic falls in income – a light has been shone on music royalties.
While debates and controversies around music royalties far pre-dated the effects of the pandemic focused the minds of creators on a new scale and intensity. The most visible evidence of this is the #brokenrecord debate surrounding streaming royalties (as well as a DCMS-led public inquiry into streaming in the UK) but the emerging creator dialogue goes further and wider. catalysed concerns about imbalances in the system, concerns that previously did not always get widespread attention as the music industry’s growth wheels spun fast and a key objective for many artists was to sell tickets to live shows. The enforced slowdown created the space for reflection and perspective, but at the same time the well dried up for live touring has been a tragic and painful experience for many and at the time of writing still has not neared its end. However, one small positive that may emerge is that it can act as a chapter marker in the evolution of the century music business. The first decade of the millennium was defined by disruption and decline, the second by innovation, growth and rapid change. As with any transition, this rapid shift has been characterised as much by legacy models trying to adapt as it has by the emergence of entirely new ones. In the rush to win back consumer engagement and spending, some fundamental industry growing pains have not been given the attention they needed. The result has been minor cracks developing into major fault lines.
Perhaps the most important of these is the plight of the songwriter in the streaming era. Whereas performing artists have, until been able to build diversified careers with streaming acting as fuel for the live engine, songwriters have in contrast seen their income horizon narrow. But in the interconnected, interdependent global music business, the outlook for songwriters directly affects performing artists and by extension all rights holders. The royalty equation needs rebalancing, but in a way that is sustainable for the entire music streaming ecosystem. The songwriter’s plight is the music business’ plight.
In this report we provide an evidence-based view of how the songwriter fits into today’s music business culturally, creatively and commercially. We look at what works well, what does not, and why. We then take this analysis to propose a series of potential solutions that could rebalance the songwriter equation. While these solutions may not be easy, they are necessary. We have tried to build a vision that is bold but also pragmatic, one that understands that fixing one part of the value chain only to break another is unlikely to work. The way forward must consider the music business in the round and be sensitive to the competing needs of all its constituents. We hope that these industry constituents will take a similar view of helping rebalance the music economy.