David Byrne Attacks The Secrecy Of The Streaming Industry


Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has been calling for greater transparency in the distribution of income generated from streaming sites such as Spotify and Youtube. Writing for the NY Times, Byrne raises a number of pertinnet issues, decrying the opaqueness of a system that is simply unwilling to explain just what goes where. 

"I’ve asked basic questions of both the digital services and the music labels and been stonewalled," he writes, before adding-

"Putting together a picture of where listeners’ money goes when we pay for a streaming service subscription is notoriously complicated. Here is some of what we do know: About 70 percent 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…

"The labels then pay artists a percentage (often 15 percent 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 goes on to question the fact that a label does not have to assign the income they receive from streaming in any logical way, as he has it,

"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. 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?"

Byrne finishes his article calling for greater transparancy, and essentially feeling fairly optimistic for the future. Whatever happens, it's very likely things wil change, if only because young artists are less likely to sign the deals that are now resulting in albums written in the 90s hitting streaming platforms and paying the musicians behind them next to nothing – something Portishead's Geoff Barrow knows all about: