MONDAY 15 JANUARY 2024

As a new year gets underway, we have been reading with interest the upbeat new year messages written by the bosses of some of the major music companies, and the positive facts and figures being published about the recorded music market in 2023.

It is great that more music is being consumed than ever before and that recorded music revenues continue to surge. However, for many professional music-makers these are incredibly challenging times, as last year’s UK Musicians Census confirmed. So, we felt compelled to send our own memo outlining why this is, and how you can help address some of the ongoing issues.

It has always been a challenge pursuing a full-time career in music. Some of today’s challenges are the result of increased competition in the marketplace, a negative outcome of otherwise positive developments: the fact it is so easy to release music, the fact catalogue is now so easily accessible. However, some of the challenges are caused by the policy decisions made by streaming services and major record companies. And this is where you can help.

To address these challenges the following needs to happen:

  • Music-makers must play a central role in evolving the streaming business model and identifying commercial opportunities in AI – ensuring a digital music business that is truly ‘artist-centric’. It is not acceptable for a few major players to meet in secret, agree a self-serving business model and then present it to the world as a fait accompli.
  • The record companies must enter into a frank and honest conversation about the inequities in streaming which are caused by their policies, especially those that disadvantage the music-makers behind the industry’s incredibly valuable catalogue. All music-makers must be fairly remunerated whenever their music is streamed.
  • Music and digital companies must make transparency a top priority. It is unreasonable, unconscionable and anti-competitive to force music-makers to run the digital side of their businesses blind, without the information they need to understand their income, audit their royalties, and pick the best business partners to represent their rights.
  • Everyone in the music rights industry – including music-makers – need to ensure comprehensive and accurate data is provided with every new release. Bad data means music-makers go uncredited and songwriters lose money. Fixing this problem isn’t just the job of data experts: every single person in the industry needs to play their part.

THE YEAR JUST GONE
There were two big conversations in the music rights industry last year: the evolution of the music streaming business model, and the challenges and opportunities created by AI.

Music-makers have been calling for changes to the music streaming business model for years. The major record companies used to tell us the model was fine, we just needed to “grow the digital pie” so that everyone earned more. But then, at the start of 2023, the major labels joined music-makers in calling for change and demanded a number of reforms.

We were told those reforms would make the streaming business model ‘artist-centric’. Given artists had no involvement in developing the original model – and were in agreement with the majors on many of the specific issues they had raised, such as streaming fraud – this was a chance for the whole industry to come together to discuss the specific challenges faced by each stakeholder group, and to identify and agree equitable solutions. 

Instead the majors and the streaming services again met in secret and instigated changes without consulting any artists. This is as far from artist-centric as it is possible to be.

Music-makers likely support some of the changes being made. However, with zero consultation and little communication, it is impossible for us to properly understand the reforms, or to assess the impact, and form an informed opinion on whether they are fair.

Plus, none of these changes address any of the well known issues around music-maker remuneration that were outlined by UK MPs in their 2021 report on the sector, which are summarised in the Council Of Music Makers’ five fundamentals for streaming.

And all the same mistakes made in streaming are now being made in AI. The major players are developing business models in secret, without properly consulting the music-maker community, while claiming to be champions of human creativity.

Lucian Grainge has hailed Universal Music’s alliance on AI with YouTube because it “gives artists a seat at the table”. On the face of it this is a positive development, however this small group of artists has been selected by Universal and do not represent the wider community. 

When the Council Of Music Makers sought reassurance from the majors that music-maker consent will be sought before allowing their music to be exploited by AI companies, we were met with a wall of silence. 

Letters from artists and their managers asking to discuss the opportunities in AI went unanswered. Attempts to discuss the CMM’s five fundamentals for the ethical use of music in AI were ignored.

THE YEAR AHEAD
In his recent memo, Lucian Grainge promised that, for Universal Music Group, 2024 will be an “extremely exciting and transformative year”. Robert Kyncl said that, for Warner Music Group, it will be a year when “we move at velocity to set ourselves up for a winning decade in the new world”.

With your help we can transform the wider industry to benefit the people who make the music – the brilliant music-makers without whom no one can be a winner in this business.  

We understand that in big companies it can be hard for all but the most senior people to influence the big policy decisions. And when decisions have been made, the crucial information often doesn’t flow through for you to share with your artists.

However, the good news is that there are UK government initiatives already under way which we can use to address these issues, and where you can play a positive role.

Remuneration
The UK government is convening a group to discuss music-maker remuneration in streaming. This group also provides a template that the industry should employ to properly consult with music-makers on the changes to the streaming model and opportunities in AI.

We need you to put pressure on your bosses to properly engage with the group and other similar forums, to accept that they will need to change long-standing inequitable policies, and to come to the table with proposals for tangible solutions rather than yet more excuses.

Transparency
The music industry is about to sign a transparency code, with music and digital companies committing to make more information available about streaming business models and digital royalties. The commitments in the code are pretty basic, but are a good starting point.

We need you to find out about the code and how your company plans to implement it, and to consider the role you can play in providing the transparency music-makers need and deserve. We need music companies to stop hiding behind NDAs and using the excuse “it’s complicated”, and to instead ensure music-makers have all the information they need to succeed.  

Data
Last year the industry signed a metadata code, in which everyone commits to try harder to get more data into the system around new releases. You have a crucial role to play in that. Educate yourself about the data we are talking about, and your role in collating and delivering it.

We need everyone in the supply chain to understand that music hasn’t been properly released until everybody involved in the track is fully credited, and the system knows exactly what song is contained in the recording and which songwriters need to be paid.

We hope you can join us on this journey and help deliver a music industry that truly works for everyone, and especially the people whose creativity powers the entire business. We thank you in advance for the role you are going to play.