Music is more widely available than ever, but artists struggle to be paid. How can musicians be fairly rewarded in the digital age?
1. Use tech to pay musicians directly
“Songwriters, producers and musicians are the first to put in any work, and the last to see any profit,” says singer Imogen Heap. She aims to make the ‘messy’ online music industry more efficient by adding a blockchain ’rights and payments layer’ to files. She is building a music ‘ecosystem’ called Mycelia: it tracks downloads and pays artists at point of use.
Imogen Heap, image: Fiona Garden
2. Reward live performances with fair pay
Despite the digital boom, demand for live experiences is high, offering a potentially stable income stream in a fast-changing industry. But smaller artists are often unfairly paid and even expected to pay venues. The UK’s Musicians’ Union has launched a Fair Play Venue scheme in response: 100 venues have so far committed to pay artists fairly.
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3. Summon the power of the crowd
Crowdfunding allows artists to bypass record labels, hopefully leading to greater creative freedom, control, and a bigger slice of the financial pie. Via platforms like Artist Share and Feed The Muse, fans can help unsigned bands and big acts alike. After leaving their record label, hip-hop group De La Soul (pictured below) released their first studio album in 11 years in 2016 this way.
4. Improve legislation
The EU and US are reviewing laws that allow user-generated streaming services to avoid paying full royalties. The likes of the world’s biggest music streaming service, YouTube, are currently only required to remove content if notified by the rightsholders. The subscription model of streaming services such as Spotify is considered slightly fairer – but not by much.
5. Know your audience
Experts say there are now 20 ways to release an album, from live streaming gigs, to hooking fans in with free downloads. For some artists, retro is the way to go: vinyl sales reached a 25-year high in 2016. Knowing your market is key. Signed artists get a similar cut for physical and digital album sales (around 23 per cent), but returns on physical sales tend to be higher.