Let’s welcome Sony’s forward-thinking transfer on unrecouped artists. However let’s maintain going.
The following MBW op / ed is from Annabella Coldrick, the CEO of the Music Managers’ Forum (MMF). The UK-based MMF has more than 950 members including managers representing artists such as Arctic Monkeys, Robbie Williams, Elton John, Radiohead and Paul McCartney.
Sony Music Entertainment’s announcement on Friday could be a seismic moment for the music business. It effectively pledges to write off unpaid balances for all artists who signed with the conservatoire prior to 2000, opening a door for those who earn royalties from streaming and other online use of their works. In many cases for the first time.
It does, of course, as dissatisfaction with inequality in the distribution of streaming revenue grows. Although these differences have long been evident – we at the MMF have been highlighting them for over five years through our Dissecting The Digital Dollar project – dissatisfaction has been accelerated by the pandemic that spread to British politicians in the UK’s DCMS Select Committee. The economics of streaming is now headlines.
In this regard, Sony’s move is clear, strong and sensible.
The “ownership” of the catalog created the basis for the big labels to benefit enormously from streaming – it offers almost complete leverage in license negotiations and creates a real cash cow in the process. With repertoire signed, marketed, and paid for in the analog age, and on contract terms where the vast majority of artists were unlikely to win back, a significant portion of streaming revenue went straight to the labels’ bottom line. More than $ 1 million an hour.
In theory, that is starting to change under Sony’s Artists Forward initiative, which opens the door to all Sony-affiliated artists signed before 2000 to benefit from a market that is now the majority of the world recorded revenue.
Additionally, Sony’s definition of “participants” appears to be generous, including producers, JV partners, and other distributed labels who have worked with the major, while payments are reportedly retroactive to January 1, 2021.
That is all to be welcomed. In addition to the financial benefits, such a recalibration could also mean a much-needed cultural and spiritual reconnection with streaming.
Of course, Sony wasn’t the first here. The Beggars Group has been proactively displaying its artist-friendly qualities for years – not only by deleting unredeemed credit after 15 years, but also by introducing minimum fees for digital license fees. BMG also made important commitments to fairness and transparency this year. It is important that we recognize these pioneers.
However, a big music company committed to change feels even more significant in some ways – it sends a clear message to shareholders and competitors that the status quo is unsustainable. Now is a great opportunity for the other major labels to step forward. It’s hard to see how they can do it any other way.
Clearing historical unpaid credits was just one of the recommendations of the MMF and the Featured Artists Coalition in our joint filing of evidence to the DCMS committee. However, other reforms are also needed. With regard to old contracts, for example, we consider it essential to update the digital license fees and disregard contractual remnants from the analog era (such as packaging or “technological” prints).
On the other side of the equation, urgent reforms are also needed for songwriters, particularly to address the inefficiencies in the allocation of “license chains” and “black box”. Both are issues that prevent hundreds of millions of pounds from pouring into music makers’ pockets, and both are issues that the industry can address itself.
So this is our message to the broader industry. It is right that we recognize this forward-looking move by Sony Music, but let’s move on. We’re just getting started here, and there is more work to be done to ensure that all artists benefit from the boost from streaming.
This is not the time to step back and applaud, it is the time to step up to embrace more changes to make the music business fairer, more artist friendly and more sustainable. The dynamic here feels unstoppable.
As one of the best and most famous artists in Colombia once put it, you don’t need a weather man to know from which direction the wind is blowing.
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