naomi pohl

This guest column is by Naomi Pohl, Deputy Secretary of the Musicians Union:

“During the pandemic, we have turned to streaming music more and more as the world has moved online. While we have valued recorded music more than ever, many artists whose works are available on streaming services have not received fair payment.

Some are on outdated deals that were written before music streaming even existed and songwriters are receiving a smaller share of streaming revenue than they deserve, with the major labels taking the lion’s share.

Music industry organisations and campaign groups have considered various fairer payment systems and a few organisations have made improvements but they are in the minority. Soundcloud have moved to a user-centric payment system, for example, which means money paid by subscribers is divided among the artists they actually listen to.

Sony Music has pledged to pay artists royalties even if they have unrecouped legacy debts, which means they will start to receive royalties for the first time; something that Beggars Group put into practice over five years ago. So, change is afoot in the music industry but we still have a way to go to fix all the problems with streaming economics.

The way streaming revenue is divided between record labels and performers isn’t as equitable as for radio broadcast, for example. This is one reason why Kevin Brennan MP, musician and member of the Musicians’ Union, has put forward a Private Members Bill titled Copyright (Rights and Renumeration of Musicians, Etc.) which is backed by MPs from across the House.

This really matters to musicians whose royalties make up a major part of their income. The DCMS Select Committee report into the Economics of Streaming is due to be published very soon, and unless we can ensure streaming pays fairly, the next generation of artists will struggle financially and may even be deterred from a career in music.

I am not alone in calling for a better deal for musicians and songwriters from streaming. The Musicians’ Union, the Ivors Academy, Tom Gray’s #Broken Record campaign and MPs from across the House have received the support of over 234 high profile artists, including the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Emeli Sande and Sir Tom Jones.

We are calling for fairer deals and better, guaranteed payments. This bill comes at a time when musicians’ earnings have been devastated by the closure of the live music sector due to the pandemic and our members have lost 70% of their work. Kevin Brennan’s bill will bring copyright law up to date and create a right to guaranteed royalties for performers when their music is played on streaming platforms. Something they desperately need.

We have a fantastic opportunity here to grow the UK’s music ecosystem and support emerging talent with reforms to streaming economics being long overdue. The UK is a world-leader in creating music but there is global competition, and we must not fall behind.

I want artistic talent and the revenue it generates to remain in the UK. The gap in law means most of the money generated by streaming platforms ends up in the pockets of the major record labels, rather than the artists and creators whose music we listen to and love.

Just a two-word change is necessary to bring copyright law up to date and protect musicians’ livelihoods. It won’t cost the taxpayer a penny. Instead, by paying UK based artists and creators more fairly, it will put money in the pockets of UK taxpayers and raise revenues for our public services and NHS.

We can fix streaming. Let’s put musicians’ earnings back where they belong – in their hands.”

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