It’s that time of year again. Somebody’s working round the clock to get ‘The Idiot’s Guide to Mastodon’ written in time for Christmas gifting. Noddy Holder is pondering a 35th wing for the mansion. And Music Ally is continuing our series of end-of-year roundups looking back at 2022
Every working day in December, we’re publishing a new article drawing together some of the big music industry stories and trends that we’ve covered this year. Today’s focuses on the fights for artists’ rights (and higher royalties) in the streaming era.
A quick note: this isn’t a chart or ranking of importance: it’s more of a narrative of the year’s moments around this topic.
Also, there’s nothing here on the activism for diversity, equity and inclusion in music. We’re gathering those stories from 2022 (many of which relate to artists) for their own 2022 roundup article later this week.
So read on – and you can see our full lineup of 2022 recap articles here.
01 A resolution for Phonorecords III AND Phonorecords IV
Titled like blockbuster movies, with about as much drama. These were the two rate-setting processes for publishing royalties from on-demand streaming in the US, overseen by the Copyright Royalties Board. Phonorecords III covered rates for 2018-22, but an appeal by streaming services meant that the final rates weren’t confirmed until this year, only a couple of months before the DSPs and publishing industry bodies sprang a surprise by agreeing the Phonorecords IV rates (for 2023-27) between themselves. Both these processes had been hugely divisive, with a lot of anger directed at the streaming services in particular. There is now clarity over rates, and space to rebuild bridges.
02 A full set of major-label unrecouped-artist policies
Something positive: 2022 was the year when both Warner Music Group (in February) and Universal Music Group (a couple of months later) both announced measures covering ‘unrecouped’ musicians. That’s those who haven’t yet paid off historic advances, and thus might not be receiving streaming royalties. The balances were not wiped, but both labels joined Sony Music – which announced its policy in 2021 – in committing to pay through royalties anyway for eligible musicians. It was a welcome step, and validation of the importance of artist-focused campaigns like Broken Record (more of which later).
03 France’s minimum streaming royalties agreement
Announced in May as a deal brokered between French industry bodies SNEP and SCPP, this was a very significant moment of progress towards rethinking streaming royalties in a way that labels and musicians alike might be able to get behind. In short, the deal guaranteed musicians a “minimum remuneration for the exploitation of their streaming recordings”, setting that rate as well as a system to provide additional royalties once certain listening thresholds were crossed.
04 Rashida Tlaib’s House Concurrent Resolution 102
No, it’s not the snappiest of titles, but this piece of legislation introduced in the US by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is very much something to keep an eye on as we go into 2023. It’s in similar territory to the French deal (albeit as legislation rather than a voluntary industry agreement) in its intent to “establish a new statutory royalty program” for music streaming: in other words, a royalty paid directly to musicians rather than through their rightsholders.
05 The push for the American Music Fairness Act
Sticking with the US for the moment, the American Music Fairness Act is a piece of legislation that isn’t focused on streaming, but rather on radio: forcing terrestrial broadcasters to start paying performance royalties for the music that they play. Originally introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021, this year brought its next legislative step: being also introduced in the US Senate. There has been fierce lobbying going on around the bill (and another piece of legislation backed by the radio industry, the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would rule out such royalties). The wheels of new US legislation may move slowly, but in this case that movement was still welcomed by musicians and industry bodies in 2022.
06 The CMA declines a full music market investigation
All eyes were on the UK’s competition regulator the CMA this year, as it conducted a ‘market study’ of music and streaming, which had the potential to broaden out into a full-blown ‘investigation’ (a more serious probe) if it found concerns. However, the CMA’s July interim report revealed a decision not to escalate, which its final report in November then confirmed. In its view, while there were issues to address in the industry, they didn’t need addressing through a competition lens. Labels cheered and artists’ bodies booed. However, the CMA’s final report was still a detailed analysis of the challenges for musicians, and certainly not a clean bill of health for the industry just yet.
07 Four Tet and Domino settle their royalties lawsuit
The major labels’ recoupment policies were the latest light shone on deals from the pre-streaming days. That era is also causing some issues in the independent sector. Electronic artist Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) had sued his former label Domino in 2021 over digital royalties from recordings he released in the 2000s. In June 2022, the case was settled out of court, with Hebden saying that Domino had accepted his view that he was due a 50% royalty on those streams and downloads, rather than the 18% he’d been paid. Resolution, then, albeit not in the form of a legal judgment that would govern future lawsuits of this type.
08 Defected talks about its minimum digital royalty rate
It’s always important to know when you’re talking about old, pre-streaming deals (a number of which are… less than artist-friendly) and the new deals being signed today (which in light of the wider debates are often better). And it’s always good when labels talk about some of those improvements, to give the industry a sense of the trends. Witness independent label Defected’s announcement in 2022 of a minimum digital royalty rate of 30% for its artists, accompanied by writing off unrecouped balances from more than 10 years ago. This isn’t an isolated example of one label being a hero: it’s emblematic of the wider, positive trend.
09 The return of the UK’s music streaming inquiry
In 2020 and 2021 we covered the UK’s parliamentary inquiry into music streaming economics heavily, because of the light it shone on industry workings that felt relevant widely beyond the UK. Besides sparking that CMA study (above) the inquiry’s report also led to the formation of industry working groups to tackle some of the issues raised. So, November 2022’s follow-up sessions to gauge progress so far were an important moment. We reported on both of them (here and here) and got a sense of some steps forward; frustrations at inertia around tackling the question of actual payouts; and – perhaps – hints at some kind of French-style minimum royalties agreement as the ultimate endgame for that.
10 Spotify’s update to its Loud & Clear website
Spotify continues to be a lightning rod for criticism of the streaming economy. Whenever it makes an announcement or publishes new figures – such as those on its Loud & Clear website, which is essentially its defence of its role in that economy – the criticism sharpens. Yet taking a step back from the heat of the debate, Loud & Clear is an important data source for streaming’s critics to get their teeth into, particularly around artist payouts. And in its 2002 update, the claim that there are around 200,000 ‘professionally aspiring musicians’ felt like an important calculation for the purposes of the wider debates.
11 The US physical and downloads mechanicals settlement
You wait years for a US music royalties settlement to come along, then a whole bunch of them turn up at once! May saw publishers and labels reach agreement (pending approval by the Copyright Royalty Board) on new mechanical rates for “physical phonorecords, permanent downloads, ringtones and music bundles”. The headline was a 32% increase in payments for songwriters and publishers, but the fact that it was agreed was also a very positive sign, and a harbinger for the settlements reached later in the year around streaming.
12 Artist campaigns over merch cuts taken by venues
Early this year, an online discussion broke out in the UK over the cuts that some venues were taking of artists’ merchandise sales. A campaign ensued from the Featured Artists Coalition called ‘100% Venues’, encouraging venues to commit to letting artists keep 100% of merch sales. Hundreds signed up, and it has since sparked a sister campaign in the US led by FAC and UMAW.
13 Manifestoes for a fairer streaming market
As we noted in our point about the UK’s streaming inquiry, a lot of light has been shone on the workings of the streaming economy in recent years. In 2022, we saw several efforts to draw those lessons together into manifestoes for improvements. May’s ‘Song Royalties Manifesto’ from management body the MMF for example, which outlined three steps to getting songwriters paid faster and more accurately. GEMA went eight steps further the same month by publishing its 11 demands for “more fairness, transparency and sustainability in the music streaming market”. It was all important food for thought.
14 The Ivors Academy gets a new chair
On the face of it, Tom Gray’s appointment as chair of songwriting body The Ivors Academy early this year was simply one prominent advocate for musicians replacing another (outgoing chair Crispin Hunt). Yet it felt like an important moment beyond that: Gray’s ‘Broken Record’ campaign essentially started as a Twitter thread criticising the streaming economy, but it would become a campaign that sparked the parliamentary inquiry (and certainly drove the focus of its investigations). But in his new role, he’s not just an outsider shouting in any more: he’s in the rooms where what happens next will be thrashed out.
15 An important warning about tough times ahead
We’re really sorry to end on an almighty down-note, but charity Help Musicians’ recent research was a vital reminder of why the debates around royalties and the sustainability of music careers matter. It surveyed more than 500 professional musicians and found that nearly half have serious concerns that they’ll be forced to leave the industry, while 90% are worried about affording food and 84% about mortgages or rent in the months ahead. In a year of ongoing concerns about the post-lockdown realities of touring as a middle-tier artist, this kind of research is a bleak, but vital reminder of who may need support over the winter to come – and what we risk losing if they don’t get it.
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