Artists and music industry leaders discussed the state of royalties from streaming services this past week. And AEG was investigated for fair trade violations surrounding ticketing in the United Kingdom. Also, artist manager, music-industry executive and international consultant Jeff Rabhan made some detailed predictions about the future of the music industry.
Artists Streaming Royalties Still Paltry
Fans, artists and music industry entrepreneurs weighed in about streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and even YouTube in an article published in The New York Times. Together, they painted a picture of how streaming services are really reshaping the overall landscape.
Spotify began nearly five years ago in Sweden and has been seen by many of the future of digital music. Sam Broe, a music fan from Brooklyn, was one of the first to sign up when it hit the U.S. in the summer of 2011. Broe said that using Spotify’s premium service has helped cut his monthly music budget from $30 to $10: “The only time I download anything on iTunes is in the rare case that I can’t find it on Spotify.”
Spotify, Pandora and YouTube have caused excitement within the ever-digitizing industry, which continues to struggle with piracy issues. However, even as digital companies explode into multi-billion-dollar entities, meager royalties have caused artists and others to worry about their livelihood.
Indie cellist Zoe Keating illustrated what streaming is actually earning for artists in 2012. She posted spreadsheets to her Tumblr blog that explicitly showed the royalties she earns from different music services, all the way down to the ten-thousandth of a cent. After her songs had been played over 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. And on Spotify, 131,000 plays earned her $547.71, about .42 cents per listen.
She stated, “In certain types of music, like classical or jazz, we are condemning them to poverty if this is going to be the only way people consume music.”
However, low streaming music royalties only continue to reinforce the music industry transformation that has been in progress for decades. Record royalties have been a fraction of the sale price since the age of 78 r.p.m. records. And services like iTunes have only brought artists 7-10 cents after retailers, record companies and songwriters take their cut, giving birth to the industry term “a river of nickels.” But streaming has turned nickels into micropennies.
Will these micropennies ever add up? Chief executive of BMG Rights Management Hartwig Masuch says that only those artists who are aggressive about playing live shows will ever be able to be successful professional musicians.
However, Spotify board member, co-creator of Napster and former Facebook president Sean Parker said he believes that Spotify will one day get enough paying subscribers to help bring the industry back to the lucrative days before his company Napster began to change everything: “I believe that Spotify is the company that will make it succeed … It’s the right model if you want to build the pot of money back up to where t was in the late ‘90s, when the industry was at its peak. This is the only model that’s going to get you there.”
For mega pop artists, streams of hits have actually been providing significant revenue. A Google executive said that Psy’s “Gangnam Style” earned $8 million from YouTube when it was watched 1.2 billion times. However, most artists do not go viral.
Also, each service pays a different rate. Pandora’s, for example, are set by Copyright Law. And while Spotify did not officially confirm its rates, many executives who have worked closely with the company said it pays about .5 – .7 cents per stream ($5,000 – $7,000 per million plays) under its paid service and often 90 percent less for plays under its free service. And despite the fact that Pandora and Spotify have grown sharply in value, they still have not added significantly to the American industry’s $7 billion-per-year revenue. Downloads from iTunes and others made $2.6 billion in sales in 2011.
Cliff Burnstein, owner of the company that manages Metallica said that as long as paid subscriptions keep going up, there is still hope for streaming services to make a positive impact: “There is a point at which there could be 100 percent cannibalization, and we could make more money through subscription services.” The point is estimated to be at about 20 million subscribers worldwide.
Top industry lawyer Donald S. Passman, author of All You Need to Know about the Music Business said that royalty rates will go up for artists in the same way they have every time new technologies hit the industry: “Artists didn’t make big money from CDs when they were introduced either … They were a specialty thing, and had a lower royalty rate. Then, as it has become mainstream, the royalties went up. And that’s what will happen here.”
AEG Struggling against Monopoly Claims in the UK
AEG and Live Nation are in a battle for control over Hyde Park, Wembley Arena, the Olympic Stadium and several of London’s other biggest venues, said an article in The Guardian. As a result, AEG is being investigated by the authorities and accused of raising ticket prices and giving fans few choices when it comes to buying tickets to see big acts.
The live music market has been taken over by U.S. companies Live Nation and AEG. In 2012, Live Nation coordinated ticket sales for tours by Bruce Springsteen and Coldplay. While Live Nation recently took over the rights to shows at the Olympic stadium in East London, AEG has managed to snag exclusive rights to other huge venues like London’s 02 Arena, Caesar’s Palace’s The Colosseum in Las Vegas and many festivals, such as Coachella. AEG also owns LA Galaxy and is an L.A. Lakers investor.
But it was AEG’s recent ability to take over Wembley Arena, which had been controlled by Live Nation for seven years that set off alarms. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) started officially investigating AEG in early January, concerned that the Wembley deal in particular might lead to a “substantial lessening of competition” within the live music industry of London.
A regulator decided in 2000 that Live Nation and Gaiety Investments needed to get rid of Hammersmith Apollo and The Forum before they could buy into Academy Music Group. One music industry source said AEG is facing a similar problem: “If AEG have control of the management of the two biggest venues there is of course the issue that they could look to impose ticket price increases, and exert more control over the artists and types of events.”
A Live Nation insider claimed that the company is grabbing venues to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for live music: “Live Nation is in favour of anything that promotes competition, choice and access to different music genres for audiences, not just in London, but across the UK … The company is committed to meeting that demand in 2013, including in the Olympic Park.”
Paul Bedford, the head of live events at a company that has helped set up festivals such as Creamfields and Field Day in Victoria Park said small ticketers will be critical to keeping live music alive in the UK: “It would be a crying shame for everyone if all the parks and key venues put out contracts to just one operator. Smaller, independent players are like indie record labels, fleet of foot [compared] to the major companies and essential for discovering new talent.”
Jeff Rabhan, on the Future of the Music Industry
Jeff Rabhan weighed in about what the future will hold for the music industry in a guest post in the ReverbNation blog. As an artist manager, music industry executive, international consultant and Chair of the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he discussed what the climate could look like in the next few years for those looking to make careers for themselves in the business, which has changed more in the last ten years than it has in the previous 50. He explored four key areas: record labels; live shows; radio; licensing.
In terms of major record labels, Rabhan believes their rosters will shrink significantly, and they will shift focus to only acts that are a fit for radio. Labels will likely specialize in certain genres of music: “Imagine a Sony Music that only releases female pop records like Beyonce, Adele, and Shakira. Or an Interscope that becomes a hip-hop only label.” And this will open up the playing field for independent labels, who have already started grabbing more of the marketplace. They earned 32.6 percent of U.S. album sales in 2012, according to Soundscan.
And a “catchy song” will not be enough anymore to attract label attention. Artists will be responsible for building an interesting story for themselves that will appeal. Rabhan advised artists that are still looking for a record deal: “Continue to think global but start by acting local. Take a look at the labels in your area that may be a good fit first and truly assess if you belong on a major label. Chances are you don’t in the new world.”
Rabhan also said that live music will start moving towards the online environment. Mega artists are currently making most of their money off concerts and brand partnerships. And the way fans and artists perform live is already changing. Most are buying tickets to shows online, causing the death of hard ticket stubs.
And the fan experience is also changing significantly. Fans are not seeking the live experience at large arena and stadium shows anymore. Instead, they are flocking to online “venues,” watching festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella as they stream live on YouTube and attending personal artists’ online performances.
Rabhan predicted that streaming concerts will continue to grow, especially for arena shows, because fans “would rather enjoy the show in the privacy and comfort of their own home and … because it gives artists another income stream.”
This means artists need to get comfortable with technology: “Posting flyers to get the word out and making tickets available only at the venue hurts your chances of reaching maximum fan potential. Work with your venue to sell tickets online or experiment with streaming shows for a small fee either live or after the fact. Get creative with your YouTube channel and make live content a bigger part of your fan experience.”
Even though terrestrial radio is still the top way people discover music, that situation could already be changing. But is local radio or Internet radio/streaming a better option for artists?
The Internet Radio Fairness Act (IRFA) could reduce royalties paid through services like Pandora, and record labels and artists feel it will strip rights holders of income. Rabhan predicts the bill will not pass. But the debate over it will still affect the future of radio. While radio will likely always exist, the way people access it will change as wireless service becomes more widespread and networks gain more power.
“Look for smarter recommendation-based software and more interactive and personalized experience – a theme that will repeat itself over and over in the growth of digital media and the technological advances that accompany it.”
This means that artists searching for exposure through radio will likely not get it unless they have a major label. And even now, “the sea of artists found on Spotify makes a breakthrough difficult and new artists are rarely ‘discovered’ via recommendation-based software platforms like Pandora. Look for local radio, specialty shows, college radio and a strong, creative Internet presence to get your music out.”
Rabhan stressed that the future for music licensing looks bright, as the opportunities for television, film and video games music placement grow. Though TV and film license fees have declined, artists are making up the loss through video games and using them to reach new audiences.
Also, the Internet is getting smarter, and many outlets are creating exclusive content that can only be found online: “Artists can now have their songs placed on everything from a Hulu original series to a series on Netflix.”
What will become of YouTube? It will be getting an overhaul in the next few years and add premium content and niche channels. Rabhan said, “YouTube has the potential to become the go-to platform for building business media in the future. They aim to develop channels that are topic specific and interactive – meaning viewers will get exactly what they want.” And the company’s investment in its future will help it form partnerships with other companies and products like Google.
This means artists will need to create lists of outlets, gaming properties, shows and online networks where they can pitch music: “Unsigned, up-and-coming acts regularly get placements on networks programs these days and that trend is going to continue. Make music licensing a centerpiece of your story.”