The Talking Heads frontman David Byrne generated some buzz with an op-ed in the New York Times calling for royalty transparency when paying artists monies they are due. Streaming is a form of residual income that artists should be able to depend on, but often can’t for a multitude of reasons.
It’s clear Byrne has had enough and he is not alone. Most of the blame is placed on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, but that’s only half the battle. The real problem lies with the major labels (Universal, Sony, and Warner Brothers) and an environment for artists who lack access to orchestrating their own advances as well as a basic understanding of how labels distribute their music to streaming services.
This lack of transparency is what Byrne is calling the “music industry’s black box.”
“One industry source told me that the major labels assigned the income they got from streaming services on a seemingly arbitrary basis to the artists in their catalog,” writes Byrne. “Here’s a hypothetical example: Let’s say in January Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ accounted for 5 percent of the total revenue that Spotify paid to Universal Music for its catalog. Universal is not obligated to take the gross revenue it received and assign that same 5 percent to Sam Smith’s account. They might give him 3 percent — or 10 percent. What’s to stop them?”
Elsewhere, Byrne notes that incoming royalties can be obscured, leaving artists with little information to correct any wrongdoing. “The labels also get money from three other sources, all of which are hidden from artists,” notes Byrne. “They get advances from the streaming services, catalog service payments for old songs and equity in the streaming services themselves.”
Read Byrne’s full op-ed article on royalty transparency.