Much of the UK’s music industry are clearing their diaries schedules and grabbing several bags of popcorn in readiness for this morning’s sessions at the British parliamentary inquiry into music streaming economics. The three major labels’ UK bosses will be fielding questions from MPs on their business practices – we’ve been led to expect that those questions will be punchy, to say the least – while collecting societies PRS for Music and PPL will also be in the spotlight.

British labels body the BPI has got out in front of the anticipated grilling with some new stats defending its members’ role in the music ecosystem. “Around 1,800 artists achieved more than 10 million streams in the UK alone in the past 12 months – 72% more than the total of 1,048 artists who achieved the equivalent 10,000 album sales in the CD, LP and download market of 2007,” announced the body.

“Streaming has also made the market more “democratic”: the top 10 artists dominated less of streaming (5%) in 2020 than was the case for CD sales (13%) in 2005. Moreover, global streaming data show that the top 1,500 artists in the UK generate on average nine times as many streams outside the UK as they do at home… with 300 British artists now achieving 100 million global streams or more annually.”

The BPI also claims that artists are receiving a higher share of revenues from streaming than they did from CD sales – a 20-30% share versus 15-20% minus deductions. The body also broke down the £4.33 of gross revenues that labels receive from a typical £9.99 streaming subscription: it said £1.33 goes to artists on average, while labels spend £2.49 of their £3 share on “investment into artists such as A&R and global marketing”.

The announcement is a preview of the arguments that UMG’s David Joseph, Sony’s Jason Iley and WMG’s Tony Harlow will be keen to get across during their session today. The BPI would like the committee to train its attention more on “addressing issues with certain user-upload services” (hi YouTube!) as well as tackling “industrial-scale piracy, which continues to drain some £200 million annually from the UK recorded music economy”, supporting exports and helping the live sector get back on its feet after Covid-19.

It’s fair to say sensitivities are currently heightened around the streaming economics debate. Witness the undignified Twitter row yesterday between Broken Record founder Tom Gray and Ditto Music CEO Lee Parsons, following the latter’s guest article for MBW offering his view that “this is a historically amazing time to be a recording artist: especially an independent recording artist”, and criticising the “noisy anti-streaming tone that much of the lobbying around the Committee’s investigation has taken”.

It’s discouraging to see two people who, really, are on the same side – getting musicians paid – going at it online. And that’s the wider story here: within independent and major labels alike there are plenty of those people too, working hard to make the most of streaming for their artists. It’s right that this debate acknowledges that, just as it’s right that the business practices and deals of those labels and their DSP partners are poked and prodded in public too.

Sitting on the fence tends to end in both sides lobbing garden implements at you, but if the ultimate goal is a music industry that works fairly for everyone, this kind of inquiry and its surrounding debate should be less of a war and more of a parley. But as ever, we’re optimists! Today’s sessions start at 10am UK-time: you can watch live here, and we’ll be publishing a full report later in the day.

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Music Ally's Head of Insight

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