A new report published by a lobbying coalition called Re:Create – we’ll get to who that is in a bit – is trying to put some numbers to the independent creative economy in the US.
The report is deliberately narrow in focus, attempting to calculate how much musicians, filmmakers, artists and other creators earned from nine platforms in 2016: Amazon Publishing, eBay, Etsy, Instagram, Shapeways, Tumblr, Twitch, WordPress and YouTube.
The headline findings: “14.8 million independent, American creators earned a baseline of almost $6 billion from posting their music, videos, art, crafts and other works online in 2016,” claims the coalition.
The data is broken down by platform and by US state rather than by artform, so there’s no figure for ‘music’ within this. The most relevant claim is the one about YouTube, which the report estimates generated $3.23bn of revenues for just under 1.8 million American creators in 2016.
So, who published this report? The Re:Create Coalition bills itself as “innovators, creators and consumers united for balanced copyright”, campaigning for issues like fair use, and against “efforts to turn US Copyright law into a one-way ratchet”.
Its members include the Consumer Technology Association, the Computer and Communication Industry Association and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Sonecon, the consultancy firm that produced the report, counts Google among its clients. Useful context when reading the findings.
This doesn’t mean the report should be written off as pure propaganda, any more than studies commissioned by music-industry bodies to support their policy goals should be.
Indeed, this particular report could be a good spur for a dedicated (and independent) study of the independent music economy, to understand how that is growing.
Such a study would need to include other platforms: like Bandcamp (which paid out $70m to artists in 2017); like Patreon (which was on course to process $150m of payouts in 2017, albeit for all kinds of creators rather than just musicians); like Kickstarter (which has raised more than $190m for music projects since its launch). YouTube would undoubtedly figure, as would earnings for independent artists operating through music distributors.
There’s a story to be told about how independent musicians are using online platforms to create a sustainable income – not as a weapon to be wielded in the copyright-reform battle, but as a positive example of the opportunities available to modern musicians with drive, a real connection with fans, and (of course!) good music.