UK Houses of Parliament

One of the outcomes of the UK’s parliamentary inquiry into the economics of music streaming was a pair of working groups, set up by the government to bring industry bodies, campaigners and experts together to thrash out some of the key issues.

There were two groups: one on metadata, and the other on contract transparency and rights revocation. But campaigners wanted a third, to focus on how musicians are paid in the streaming economy, and whether models like equitable remuneration and user-centric payouts should be introduced.

After getting backing for this request from the committee that held the original inquiry, their wish has been granted. The UK government has announced plans to create a working group to “explore and develop industry-led actions that support fair remuneration for existing and future music creators as part of a successful and globally competitive music industry”.

It’s not hard to gauge who’s happy and not so happy about this from the early reactions.

“An important step down the road,” tweeted Tom Gray, Ivors Academy chair and founder of the Broken Record campaign. Gray had previously addressed the topic when giving evidence to a follow-up session of the inquiry in November 2022.

“One of the reasons they didn’t set up a working group around remuneration at the beginning was to avoid us immediately getting into a row,” he said then. “There was some good sense in that, but in terms of not introducing a real conversation around it at some point over the past year, I would say has probably not been the wisest decision.”

Who’s not so happy with the group’s creation now? Labels body the BPI.

“We are concerned the environment being fostered in the UK will disincentivise investment in our creative ecosystem at a time when labels are fighting hard to grow exports and protect the rights of artists in the era of AI,” said its interim CEO Sophie Jones.

“Over the past three years our sector has been subjected to multiple inquiries and investigations, culminating in a CMA market study that found competition is working effectively and delivering good and improving outcomes for consumers and creators across the sector,” she added.

Although this is true, there is some more context to the verdict in that report by the UK’s competition regulator. It was very specific in its conclusion that it didn’t see competition issues – too much power concentrated among the biggest labels or streaming services – as the problem. But it stopped short of giving the streaming market a clean bill of health overall.

“The issues concerning creators would not be addressed by measures intended to improve competition, but instead would need other policy measures in order to be addressed,” claimed the CMA, neatly passing the buck. “The issues raised by creators could be further considered by government and policymakers as part of their ongoing work following the DCMS Select Committee’s inquiry into the economics of music streaming.”

Ongoing work like, well, working groups! We’d expect the BPI and other industry bodies to be part of the new remuneration group, and (coming back to Tom Gray’s quote) we’d expect there to be a chance that everybody involved will immediately get into a row. And yet once that dust settles a bit…

There are a lot of ideas swirling around in the music industry at the moment about how to improve the streaming economy, from Broken Record’s calls for ER and user-centric payouts to Universal Music Group’s current drive for new ‘artist-centric’ models.

Perhaps now is a good time for the various parties to be regularly put in a room together, in a government-backed format that brings with it a certain degree of transparency in terms of reporting back on what was discussed and decided. Music Ally remains, as ever, incorrigibly optimistic.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee behind the original streaming inquiry will be watching closely, according to its chair Dame Caroline Dineage.

“The Government must now make sure the group is more than a talking shop and leads to concrete change so the talented creators and performers we have in this country are properly rewarded for their creativity,” she said.

“The Committee will be keeping a close eye on progress and also looking more widely at artist and creator remuneration to ensure everyone who works in our creative industries can share in its successes.”

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