This is a guest column by songwriter-producer Niclas Mollinder, one of the co-founders – along with fellow songwriter-producers Björn Ulvaeus and Max Martin – of rights-data startup Session. Their platform aims to help artists attach the right metadata to their music, and in this column he argues that this is not merely a rights and data issue – it’s a personal one, with a direct and tangible impact on the humans behind the songs.
The black box problem
The ‘black box’ of music streaming is undeniably the biggest problem affecting the global music industry today, as royalty payments to the tune of roughly £500million each year fail to reach the correct creditors. The root cause of the issue is data mismanagement and, with 60,000 tracks added to DSPs such as Spotify each day, the black hole will only continue to grow unless the proper tools and education are made available to the next generation of music creators.
The industry has come a long way in acknowledging this issue and positive steps are being made to address it. For example, Spotify recently announced the results of its second Loud & Clear Report into the economics of music streaming. The data shows that in 2021, streaming revenue alone exceeded total industry revenue in each year from 2009 to 2016. While this is a promising statistic, there is still a long way for the industry to go, as industry experts demonstrated that it is still only 0.2% of the 8 million artists on its platform that generate upwards of $50,000 per year.
It is therefore essential when looking at overarching streaming distribution data to consider the other side of the coin – the personal impact of data management and remuneration on music creators.
Frustration and fairness
As with many in the industry, my personal story with music royalties is one of continued frustration. This feeling piqued when I was running a publishing company and had to manage the metadata of others – the artists and creators I worked with were amazing, but I couldn’t access the correct data to make sure everyone was credited and paid fairly.
As a publishing example, when two of my writers were in New York they ended up writing a song with someone they met there and just hit it off. When they got back and we needed to register the song, all they could tell me was that the other writer was known as ‘DJ P’ and all they had was a phone number, which then turned out to be incorrect.
I spent weeks trying to track down ‘DJ P’ and their representatives, but I never received their industry identifiers. This reinforced to me the need to have a simple but effective way to capture all the key data items in real time.
This was the inspiration behind Session, the company I co-founded alongside Max Martin and ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus. With Session Studio’s free studio tool, music makers are able to input their data in the studio at the point of creation, setting royalty splits ahead and ensuring that all information is captured accurately before sending it downstream to labels, publishers and societies as part of its digital footprint.
To understand how music streaming affects music production stakeholders today, we interviewed prominent songwriters, producers and musicians on our new music industry vodcast ‘In Session with’.
Here are a few of the important things we learned:
For producer and songwriter Steph Marziano (Hayley Williams, Rhys Lewis, Matilda Mann, Tamzene, Kasabian [engineer], Sam Smith, Radiohead [assistant engineer]), credit is about far more than payment as she now makes it her mission to accurately record credits, to ensure that everyone feels valued and motivated. Steph said: “I remember what it was like being that assistant engineer working those 20-hour days and not getting a credit on the record – and how devastating it was in those moments.”
For Laura White, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter (Rita Ora, Bugzy Malone, Example, Galantis) it was a different story as her journey began. She felt that as an independent artist, the Spotify situation was a saving grace. Getting her music heard on major platforms through collaborations with bigger artists, Laura suddenly had a much fairer situation in remuneration than when it was just down to the labels. Laura said, “I think it has helped independent artists, and it’s a much easier world than it used to be.”
Ultimately, every artist has one thing in common: their experience with data management and remuneration is very different from the next person’s. By standardising this process, and removing any misinformation or doubt over documentation and data, the industry will go a long way to solving the problems created.