David Byrne has written about the business of streaming in the past. He argued that free streaming services should go away, that artists should be paid significantly more, that streaming platforms hinder discovery, and that subscription-based services could threaten the overall monetization of creative endeavors. In a new op-ed for The New York Times, he’s calling for transparency in how streaming revenues are split.
Byrne’s piece, titled "Open the Music Industry’s Black Box", outlines that it’s nearly impossible to know how a listener’s subscription payments get divvied up. He argues that knowing the full breakdown of revenues is key to creating a "fairer system of pay".
He discusses some of his attempts to contact companies like YouTube and Apple Music to have the revenue breakdown explained, but said those conversations hit dead ends.
I asked Apple Music to explain the calculation of royalties for the trial period. They said they disclosed that only to copyright owners (that is, the labels). I have my own label and own the copyright on some of my albums, but when I turned to my distributor, the response was, “You can’t see the deal, but you could have your lawyer call our lawyer and we might answer some questions.”
Other problems he posed are the "seemingly arbitrary" way labels have reportedly assigned income to artists on their roster, saying that the number of streams doesn’t necessarily determine who gets the most money. He also says other avenues of monetization between labels and streaming services are hidden from artists, including "advances from the streaming services, catalog service payments for old songs, and equity in the streaming services themselves."
Byrne is on the Board of Directors for SoundExchange, the nonprofit digital royalty collection and distribution organization. He’s been working with SoundExchange advocating for the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, "which would force AM and FM stations to pay musicians when their recordings are broadcast."
Read our Cover Story "Station to Station: The Past, Present, and Future of Streaming Music".