JAIMIE VERNON: UN-MERRILY DOWN THE STREAM
This week came the revelation that digital music streaming services are both ripping off artists AND generating no revenue. Rarely has there been a non-story generating so much sucking and blowing simultaneously.
The industry is incensed with the idea that music can be listened to a la carte and with all the precision of terrestrial radio but with less begging for your disposable income and zero interruptions by talking heads. It’s the equivalent of the Air Conditioning and Heating industry melting down over the sale of plug-in Glade Air Fresheners.
Kevin Kadish is the writer of Meghan Trainor’s monster hit “All About That Bass”. He claims that after 178 million streams of the song on Pandora’s streaming service alone (no figures were given for Spotify) he was paid a paltry $5,679. Kadish has made a big stink about this – complaining that a career making song like this should be able to feed a family for life, but instead, has generated a ludicrously unfair remuneration. Especially if you take into account that he was only paid 1/3 of the usual $900 per million streams.
But Kadish has failed to give full disclosure. He didn’t write that song for FREE. He was paid to co-write the song by either a publisher, a production team, a record label or all three. Meghan Trainor was being groomed to be the next female superstar – as a coquetish version of Katy Perry or a more fun-loving version of Lady GaGa. The song was co-written by Kadish with Trainor on a made-to-order basis and sessions would have commenced either on a speculative deal based on a combination of Trainor’s record sales and airplay or both plus perks if the song was chosen as a single.
The song was included on Trainor’s debut EP, ‘Title’, in 2014. It was then released as a single in June of 2014 and then became the title track to her debut album, ‘All About That Bass’, earlier this year. It received airplay on terrestrial radio in 33 countries around the world – whose performance royalties, though varied from country to country, is paid out to the songwriter (not the performer) on average at about a nickel a spin split between Kadish and Trainor. The numbers aren’t yet available for total worldwide airplay but it’s not over stating the fact to say that the revenue will be measured in the millions of dollars for performance royalties once the smoke clears, divided between Kadish and Trainor (less whatever advances he was given as part of his deal).
Each of those countries also had hard copy album sales and digital downloads, to date, of 7,231,000 units. A mechanical royalty is paid to the songwriters for the inclusion of the song on each of those album sales (regardless of retail price of the release). The global average is around $0.08 per song/per album. That’s $578,480 split between him and Trainor. And counting.
There would have also been a synchronization royalty paid out for use of the song in Meghan Trainor’s official video. A video that’s been streamed 1,039,416,613 times on YouTube. That’s ONE BILLION, folks. YouTube pays for streaming. At a higher rate than Pandora because YouTube monetizes its videos with advertising – a percentage of which is shared with Trainor’s record label.
Then there’s cover versions, parodies and remixes of the song – and accompanying videos. Wikipedia lists dozens of variations of the song that are worthy of note (i.e. have received enough attention to garner airplay or video play of their own) which also generates a mechanical license fee that goes back to both Kadish and Trainor.
Oh, and did I mention that Kadish co-wrote EVERY song on the album? And produced it? Both activities which would have tripled, if not quadrupled, much of the revenue shown above? In other words, Kadish is a whiner. There’s no immediate homelessness in his artistic future. However, setting aside his strawman argument about digital streaming being the death of songwriters it does set off clarion alarm bells especially when you take into account the other big digital streaming news story this week – that retro vinyl formatted music sales are generating more revenue than digital streaming. There’s two issues at work here. First of all – it’s an apples vs. car tires comparison because one is a sum of physical sales while the other relates paying subscribers of virtual airplay. Secondly, streaming is now a necessary subsidiary of music promotion.
Pundits and music business acolytes would have us believe that streaming is the new Napster. It is a means by which regulated, but cleverly unscrupulous corporations have found a way of monetizing music – without having to pay anyone else for its use. What we used to call pirating. Remember the “Home taping is killing music” and “P2P is killing music” from 40 and 20 years ago respectively? Not coincidentally, streaming comes almost 20 years after the Napster scare.
It’s because the music industry always needs a boogieman. How else to distract everyone from the fact that they’re peddling inferior product and anything musical that is decent requires a Swiss Guard of protectionism just to wring an eyedropper of revenue out of it?
Streaming is a music ninja assassin. Or at least that’s what the fear mongers would have us all believe while simultaneously fostering and feeding these musical hostage takers (several record labels are partial investors in these services – which makes them complicit in underpaying their artists/songwriters). Clearly streaming matters to the labels or they would have attempted to have the services taken down (the illegal Grooveshark notwithstanding). If streaming were killing music they’d revoke the copyright use on the master recordings – just like in the early days of radio where record labels had to grant permission for airplay use. But labels got greedy, and lazy and acquiesced to a system that presumes copyrights are granted wherever fine airplay and streaming occurs.
And yet, there’s a lot of bitching from the top selling Kadish’s of the world and artists who aren’t seeing their fair share of royalties from the ubiquitous flow of music coming out of digital devices worldwide. How upset are they, REALLY, about the paltry pittance they’re getting paid by Spotify, Pandora, et al? Want to take a stand? Pull the tracks. Go all Taylor Swift up the asses of the streaming services. That’ll show ‘em. The $5,679 was an INSULT!! Artists aren’t going to put up with this anymore! “Eff You, Streaming Services…we’ll just have to make do with our other million dollar revenue sources while we make our point!!”
The truth is that few of them will. The compensation, though unpleasant and unfair, accounts for only one of many revenue grabs available to all these artists now (independent and struggling artists notwithstanding). Streaming is only one piece of the puzzle. In days gone by there would have been no money at all there. So you either take a stand…or suck it up. I’m thinking there will be a lot of sucking up as the streaming services continue to proliferate and offer worse and worse deals for the copyright creators. It will eventually become a tipping point and the artists will have a real reason to whine. But greed is all-consuming – whether you’re the perceived victim or the perp.
Just look at the TIDAL streaming service created earlier this year where artists banded together to soak subscribers for $20.00 to listen to the same shit you could have previously heard on Spotify for $9.99. Clearly they’re not against streaming as a delivery system…they’re against other people making money off their backs. Fair enough. One less entity to share the pie with means more money for me, me and me.
What artists are really saying here is: stop paying for our stuff from greedy corporations who don’t pay us well, and buy directly from us where we have an over-inflated sense of what our value is. You can expect when this model fails there will either be a fire sale with subscription prices plummeting to the competitive level of Pandora and Spotify or the artists will once more go back to these streaming services where the promotional reach alone is worth losing money over. We call that the cost of doing business. That’s provided there is a business. While all this infighting’s been going on no one’s bothered to ask music listeners if they’ll be tuning in.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon