In this post Napster, post iTunes, post everyone has a smart phone/tablet/computer world wherein we find ourselves residing, music has manifested a strange financial relationship between artist and fan/consumer. Small files sizes, a glutted market, general cultural malaise, and ease of free access to a huge swath of musical content have created a situation where an artist’s ability to directly monetize his/her/their fan base has been rendered practically a thing of the past. Music as owned intellectual property has become a mechanism by which the owners of that property find themselves in a position where they must give their property away to the public in order to draw enough attention to themselves and their material to garner interest from third parties who are in a position financially to reward the owner of the property(music in this case) with some kind of financial side deal.
The current largest factor in the promulgation and growth of this reality for musicians and music writers are streaming sites/apps.
On the surface these new music collection areas, where fans can freely frolic amongst a seemingly endless array of material which they can manipulate and corral and listen to until their hearts desire, appear to be wonderful new tools for music to be heard and disseminated to hordes of new fans eager to fill their ears and machines with music they otherwise would never have experienced. But dig only slightly deeper and an ugly truth emerges. Musical access is being sold to the companies that control these sites/apps for pennies on the dollar with no set(and I would posit legal) royalty rate in place. What does this mean? To put it simply, that small fee fans pay per month to have unlimited access to any music enabled within the streaming site goes to the owners of the site…..not a penny of that goes to artists. The only money that gets into the ever shrinking pockets of musicians and writers are tidbits of an arbitrary royalty that must be pulled from the set amount of money recording companies agreed to take from “Generic Streaming company”. To clarify further…….let’s assume that one of these companies paid “Generic Music Company” collectively $100 million dollars for an unlimited access to their catalogs for a five year period. That means the streaming company can use as much music as needed and never pay another dime during the negotiated period. No artist…..no matter who they are can ever see any further money from the use of their music by the site no matter how many times it gets streamed. Neither can they benefit from advertising being attached to their music on the site. Attached solely because that music has been streamed millions of times. They can only receive a tiny, arbitrary, and would suggest again, possibly illegal royalty rate for the usage and utter exploitation of intellectual property by these sites. Meanwhile that monthly fee that the streaming companies and, to me quite surprisingly, music critics in places such as Billboard magazine have touted as a victory to the music business…..a means to bring it back from the brink of financial ruin……that money never sees the hands or pockets of artists or even the recording companies ever again. It goes straight to the corporate coffers of the companies who own these sites/apps. Crisp, clean, and, on the surface, legally manipulated exploitation.
Now it might appear that I am anti streaming.That I consider what has happened reprehensible and an outrage to all artists, especially musicians. That is not entirely the case. If I had come up with such an all encompassing scam wherein I could make money willy nilly of the work and financial investment of others I would probably jump on the chance. And you can hardly blame the public who find themselves awash in free and close to free music at all times. Why wouldn’t they take it……it’s practically being shoved down their throats!
Who is mostly to blame…….that doesn’t matter. How to fix the situation? Ah, there’s the rub! Stayed tuned for future blogs where I will put forth several new models for musical success!