Record companies are siphoning money from streaming websites into secret “black box” accounts, instead of paying royalties to the artists who recorded the songs, David Byrne has claimed.
The former Talking Heads frontman called for more transparency from major labels and streaming services over the fees which musicians receive when their music is played on platforms like Spotify and the recently-launched Apple Music.
Byrne, curator of this Summer’s Meltdown festival at the Southbank, accused record companies of deliberately masking how much cash they make from streaming websites, which pay artists pennies per play.
Writing in the New York Times, Byrne claimed that “about 70% of the money a listener pays to Spotify (which, to its credit, has tried to illuminate the opaque payment system) goes to the rights holders, usually the labels, which play the largest role in determining how much artists are paid.”
Record Store Day 2015: Best UK exclusives
Record Store Day 2015: Best UK exclusives
1/10 The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
Firstly, it’s naturally going to be pressed on red and white vinyl which will look super cool. Secondly, Jack White has announced he won’t be touring for a ‘long period of time’ after Coachella so this can be your reminder of his greatness and thirdly, it’s the album’s 10th anniversary, so it just makes sense. Never before released on vinyl, amazingly.
2/10 Jimi Hendrix – “Purple Haze”/ “Freedom”
It’s on purple vinyl! Limited to 1000 copies and reissued on 7” from 1967, this is a live recording of the guitar master in action. His mainstream career spanned just four years but Hendrix remains right up there in all influential guitarist lists. Hard to beat.
3/10 Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible
There are 1500 copies of this special 20th anniversary picture disc from our favourite Welsh alt-rockers. The group’s lyricist and guitarist at the time this album was recorded, Richey Edwards, went missing soon afterwards, and no more of his work has ever been heard.
4/10 Mumford & Sons – “Believe”/ “The Wolf”
Take from upcoming third album Wilder Mind and pressed on deluxe 7”, there are just 1,000 copies available of this one, all hand numbered and hand stamped. Time to decide whether you can bear the lack of banjo or not.
5/10 David Bowie – “Changes”/ “Eight Line Poem”
Finally, the “Changes” picture disc is here, so collectors can no longer bemoan its absence from the 40th anniversary series. First released in 1972, the famous song was the first of two singles taken from Hunky Dory (the other was “Life on Mars?”). The mono image on this vinyl is a previously unpublished shot from the album recording session.
6/10 Brian Eno – My Squelchy Life
Some tracks from this rare “lost” album featured on Eno’s subsequent releases after it was suddenly withdrawn in 1991. Now, 750 vinyl lovers have the chance to get their mitts on it, and will enjoy never-before-heard additional track “Rapid Eye” for their efforts.
7/10 Foo Fighters – Songs From the Laundry Room
Dave Grohl is a firm fan of Record Store Day and is joining in the fun this year. Expect a cover of Kim Wilde’s 1981 hit “Kids in America” on this four-track 10” release, that also promises early versions of “Big Me” and “Alone + Easy”. There’s a new track too, “Empty Handed”.
8/10 Brand New – Deja Entendu
The double 12” has been re-pressed on 180g black vinyl especially for Record Store Day. Fans can expect a lyric book insert, download card and sticker sheet with the purchase, which could be made to celebrate the Noughties band re-entering the studio to make some more sweet music recently.
9/10 Courtney Barnett – “Kim’s Caravan”/ “Close Watch”
This Aussie singer-songwriter is making quite the name for herself with her deadpan vocal style and witty lyrics. Her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit was released last month and “Kim’s Caravan” is one of its best tunes. The B-side to this vinyl, a cover of “Close Watch” by The Velvet Underground’s John Cale, is pretty special too
10/10 Run The Jewels – “Bust No Moves”
This EP features previously unreleased track “Bust No Moves” ft. rapper SL Jones, alongside four other songs from past albums – “Pew Pew Pew”, “Love Again” and “Blockbuster Night Pt. 2”. EI-P and Killer Mike don’t like to disappoint, and this one will excite their fans no end.
“The labels then pay artists a percentage (often 15% or so) of their share. This might make sense if streaming music included manufacturing, breakage and other physical costs for the label to recoup, but it does not. When compared with vinyl and CD production, streaming gives the labels incredibly high margins, but the labels act as though nothing has changed.”
Byrne, who founded the acclaimed Luaka Bop world music record label, asked Apple Music to explain the calculation of royalties for its three-month free 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.’”
Byrne quoted a leaked email which showed that Spotify had agreed to pay the Sony Music giant more than $40 million in advances over three years, in return for its catalogue.
However the singer discovered that artist royalties from streaming disappear into a pot called “Black Box revenue” – a name given to income collected by record companies from streaming which is not directly linked to a particular artist or song. Byrne said the money was distributed arbitrarily, citing Sam Smith’s massive hit Stay With Me as an example. “They might give him 3% (of gross revenue) - or 10%. What's to stop them?”
Byrne wrote: “Even as the musical audience has grown, ways have been found to siphon off a greater percentage than ever of the money that customers and music fans pay for recorded music. Many streaming services are at the mercy of the record labels (especially the big three: Sony, Universal and Warner), and non-disclosure agreements keep all parties from being more transparent.” The musician added: “By opening the Black Box, the whole music industry, all of it, can flourish.”
Byrne praised Taylor Swift for forcing Apple to “back off a plan not to pay royalties during the three-month free trial period for Apple Music - but we still don't know how much Apple agreed to pay, or how they will determine the rate.”
Byrne, who co-wrote the musical Here Lies Love with Fatboy Slim, said Spotify had help save a piracy-ravaged music industry. The streaming service this week unveiled an exclusive track from Prince, who had previously withheld his music and is racking up more than 3m plays a day from the new One Direction single, Drag Me Down, a surprise release on the platform.
A report into “Transparency and Money Flows in the Music Industry”, published last month by the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, supports Byrne’s contention. “Despite all technological possibilities to track digital music streams at any time in any place on the Net, the money flows has become more obscure than ever before,” it found. “It is nearly impossible for artists to control if their royalty payments are correct. They have to trust in the music streaming services and record labels reporting.”Reuse content