Radiohead, Elbow Members Call For Streaming Royalty Reform
Elbow frontman Guy Garvey and Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien were among the artists and industry analysts who testified at the opening of a UK Parliament inquiry into the sustainability and economic impact of the music streaming business on Tuesday, Billboard reports. “The system, as it is, is threatening the future of music,” Garvey warned, calling for higher royalty rates and increased transparency in record contracts and accounting practices.
With the pandemic putting a stop to touring and live music, the income that artists make from streaming has become more important than ever. COVID-19 “has provided an opportunity for us to really see what we’re making from recorded music [and] it’s pretty horrific,” Tom Gray of the UK rock band Gomez told the committee, citing a “very successful” songwriter friend who recently received £70 from YouTube for a million plays of his music.
Spotify paid labels and rights holders a blended per-stream rate of $0.00366 last year; Apple Music’s rate is about $0.0070 per stream and YouTube gives $0.0033 for ad-supported official videos. Garvey and Gray both advocate for a shift to a user-centric payment model where artists will be paid every time their music is directly streamed, instead of the current system where royalties are distributed on a pro-rata model based on market share.
Artists also criticized outdated clauses in recording contracts like the physical damage clause, in which labels automatically deduct 10% of artists’ royalties to cover the cost of records and CDs broken in transport. After hearing about Warner Brothers, Sony, and Universal’s “suspiciously similar” artist contracts, Julie Elliott MP said it sounded like the three major music labels were operating “like a cartel.”
“There have always been imbalances in the system, and they need to be addressed, but it’s more acute now,” Ed O’Brien told Parliament. “It’s interesting to see your reaction to the testimony this morning because you’re becoming aware of the unfairness and the opaqueness within the business, and then you’re bolting on this digital model. And it’s not working,” he added.