David Byrne has been a vocal critic of the paltry royalties artists receive from both streaming platforms like Spotify and commercial radio broadcasts. In a new op-ed for the New York Times entitled “Open the Music Industry’s Black Box,” Byrne once again takes on artist payment, calling for greater transparency in the way that revenue generated by streaming is divided. “Before musicians and their advocates can move to enact a fairer system of pay,” he says, “we need to know exactly what’s going on. We need information from both labels and streaming services on how they share the wealth generated by music.”
In the piece, Byrne details his struggle to get any real information out of companies like YouTube and Apple Music about where the money actually goes:
I’ve asked basic questions of both the digital services and the music labels and been stonewalled. For example, I asked YouTube how ad revenue from videos that contain music is shared (which should be an incredibly basic question). They responded that they didn’t share exact numbers, but said that YouTube’s cut was “less than half.” … I asked Apple Music to explain the calculation of royalties for the trial period. They said they disclosed that only to copyright owners (that is, the labels). I have my own label and own the copyright on some of my albums, but when I turned to my distributor, the response was, “You can’t see the deal, but you could have your lawyer call our lawyer and we might answer some questions.”
One industry source also told Byrne that major labels assign streaming income to artists “on a seemingly arbitrary basis,” not necessarily determined by number of streams or revenue generated, and other sources of revenue for labels — “advances from the streaming services, catalog service payments for old songs and equity in the streaming services” — are not available to the artists themselves. “By opening the Black Box,” Byrne writes, “the whole music industry, all of it, can flourish. There is a rising tide of dissatisfaction, but we can work together to make fundamental changes that will be good for all.”
Read the full op-ed here.