Songwriter Aloe Blacc–best known in recent years for his work with Avicii–has spoken out against the extremely low income for songwriters when it comes to royalties from streaming services, even for multi-platinum selling hits such as Wake Me Up.
The crux of Aloe’s argument is simple, and he cites Pandora as an example. Wake Me Up is the 13th most played song on the service with 168 million plays–that’s more the population of Russia or Japan. You’d expect then that as one of the three songwriters behind one of the biggest dance tracks in recent years, Aloe would be rolling in cash from those streams alone. The reality, however, is that all those plays produced a total royalty figure of only $12,359, which means that by the time the publishers and other songwriters had taken their share, Blacc got less than $4000.
So if one of the principle songwriters of such a huge smash hit is earning less than the price of a second-hand car from a major streaming service, it’s no wonder many musicians feel that they’re being unfairly treated. After all, many songwriters are relative unknowns, even if they’re writing hits for major pop acts, and they don’t even have the luxury of earning income from the live market. Aloe has therefore taken it upon himself to stand up for the rights of his fellow writers, arguing that the music licensing laws–last updated in 2001 and pre-dating iTunes–should be brought into the modern era.
Many questions remain over what is an extremely complex issue. People from all sides of the industry, from advertisers and publishers to musicians and writers, all have sound arguments as to why they should be getting a larger slice of the pie. Meanwhile, the consumer continues to demand more for less–this is 2014, after all, and “free” streaming is increasingly treated as a right rather than a privilege. Pandora is the world’s largest streaming service in terms of customers, but just 3.3 million of their 79 million users pay a subscription. The “free” users do generate revenue, but it’s normally via rates negotiated directly with labels, and income generated by advertising, making for an even lower royalty rate for artists.
Crucially, what Aloe has done is bring attention to the issue by revealing some figures. It has always been taboo to discuss income in the music industry–indeed in any industry–but now that it’s becoming more and more clear that even for the big-boys it isn’t all ivory towers and gold-plated yachts, maybe more of the industry should open up about the reality of their alleged income problems.