Access vs. Ownership on the New Musical Frontier
Recently Ambient Visions spoke with artist Matt Coldrick in an interview that was posted on AV. During that discussion for a question I had posed to him about streaming vs. sales of music he suggested that I speak to the Creative Director of Pink Lizard Music as he might be able to better articulate the various considerations that go into just how you determine which would be better, access vs. ownership, for the artist in terms of them being fairly compensated for the time and effort put into composing and recording their music. Tris Taylor is that Creative Director and when I got back his reply to those questions I realized that there was enough material there for an intelligent article to offer up to the readers of Ambient Visions. So if you are up for an interesting disertation on the ins and outs of the streaming model vs. the ownership model then this should be a good read for you. I'll start with the question that I asked Matt and what follows is Tris' thoughts on the question. For the entire interview with Matt Coldrick click here. I appreciate Tris taking the time out to go through and try to explain what for many has become a very complicated issue in regards to how these streaming royalties work and how they are determined and tracked. Enjoy!-- Michael
AV: Are you happy to see your older albums getting back into circulation? Are they going to be available in streaming formats or on the streaming services like Spotify? What are your feelings about streaming music vs. physical CD sales?
TT: I’d be happy to, though I apologise that I have not found a brief way of thoughtfully speaking to these questions.
From my point of view we simply won’t have comparable data for about 20 years, or perhaps for about 10, which I think begins to be a fair comparison point for looking at income from CD/download sales against income from streaming.
Added to that, I think there are a number of confounding variables, including accurate, competent registration of music rights, transparent reporting of sales and usage both now and before, and opacity & variability in the deals done with streaming services.
If you talk to reasonably successful electronic music labels, they may still be investing thousands into promotion for a release that’s viewed as popular and end up with total sales of 140 or less. So you are at a loss straight away. Sales are heavily, heavily down, which completely changes the business model.
Now, I personally like access instead of ownership as a model. It seems, at least theoretically, fairer to the people whose music gets listened to more. Of course, that listenership will still be unduly influenced by marketing spend, which is always where indies are at a disadvantage compared to majors. But really, I’ve bought plenty of indie CDs and vinyl that turned out to be disappointing – and if I listen to Patti Labelle more than Ishq, it’s fair that she should get more of my money. What I can also see from a recent soundtrack release is that, while it sold single figures, it was streamed by listeners in more than 20 countries. So, streaming, for those of us who are looking to increase the size of our audience, is better, I think.
Nevertheless, this change from a relatively small number of reasonable transactions – £5 here, £1 there, £10 there – to thousands of tiny ones – £0.007 here, £0.001534 there – completely changes the administrative demands on the organisations tasked with collecting that money. How do you deal with mistakes? Realistically, you don’t fix them manually, because a manual fix on a misallocated line of, say, 87 streams that are worth £0.13857 is going to cost far, far more than that in the salary of the person tasked with fixing it.
This is precipitating an immense, extremely difficult change in the collection process, and forcing people who may previously have been OK simply pressing a CD, giving it to a distributor, and collecting their sales a few months later, into a stark choice – deal with the imposition of a totally different model, or give up.
We are not experts in ambient music – Pink Lizard Music looks after a family of unique independent artists from across all genres. So I can’t offer observations about ambient as a specific niche of our industry. What I can say is that before I started this company, I considered myself an artist with a good understanding of music rights and music industry business models. However, I was wrong. There is in fact a deep level of complexity involved in merely understanding all the relevant rights in theory; and this is further complicated to an extreme degree by nuances and differences in the actual practice of rights administration across different countries, distribution models, and the many performing rights organisations tasked with collecting post-sale income for labels, composers and performers.
Now, niche music as a whole has historically not been served especially well by some performing rights organisations, because they've spent much of their existence having to extrapolate total music usage based on relatively small samples of actual activity. So, it’s my guess that ambient music has at least some of the key issues I think niche music has as a whole, which is to say it needs absolute transparency and much more robust collection on the back end to get anywhere near compensating for the drop in its sales income.
Perhaps in the past you might have tried to make a full CD album every year, sell it through an indie distributor, and receive a few thousand dollars over the course of the year if you were lucky – you could ask a few artists about that. I imagine really industrious producers might have done multiple CDs in a year and those would have been the people surviving wholly off music. So it’s possible that before downloads, an independent musician could have survived simply on the combination of sales and what I’d guess would have been a much smaller back-end income from their publishing (composing) and performer rights. In fact, someone in this position would have had to think seriously about whether the administrative burden involved in staying on top of the back-end stuff was even worth the lost production time – you might lose an (uncertain) few tens of dollars or maybe a couple of hundred, but you’d gain several days in which you might be able to complete a substantial amount of creative work.
But now, unless you have a hit, you have little realistic prospect of deriving a living income from your work unless every possible source of money is being chased down; and even if it is, you are perhaps going to receive perhaps 10-100 dollars per full album release each quarter, so without a deep back catalogue in excess of 10-20 albums, you are probably screwed. And don’t even begin to think about having a family or dealing with a crisis in your mental or physical health.
Therefore, the deepest issue for our industry is the health of new music. Because, how can you make the sacrifices needed to work for many years to create a thing of beauty, unless you are monied? So, we are back where we started, with patronage from a label, brand, parent or wealthy individual the only option for poorer music creators. Music remains a game of attrition for both artists and labels, and gatekeepers will continue to be as important as they once were – whether those gatekeepers are named Universal and Warners, or Red Bull, Starbucks and Converse, the game remains the same and no gatekeeper will ever be as interested in your music as they are in their own development.
So, imagine how hard it is if you are a both a new artist and also one whose work is niche. It’s awful. Even relatively well-known older artists are struggling to get their new material finished because they’re having to work in shops and cafés to get by. Some people might think that sounds OK, but it’s actually making us all poorer, as we miss out on more and more of the creations they don’t have the funds to complete. And this goes all the way up to people like Iggy Pop.
In response to all this, our strategy here at Pink Lizard Music is to focus on listeners. We try to make our music available and accessible as easily as possible, everywhere we can, to get as much awareness and usage as we can, trusting that some of this activity will pay OK.
That said, it would be great if there was more transparency about rates – not all streaming is equal. I am happy if you play Matt’s album on Soundcloud, for example, but we derive zero income from those plays (at the time of this answer that was the situation with Soundcloud), and I would like you to be aware of that. I like it if you find it on YouTube – I can see that his music is among our highest-engaging videos (people tend to listen to the whole track instead of skipping away, which is a real trick) – but be aware that we are probably picking up less than one tenth of one cent for that play, and that Google pours millions of dollars into lobbying against us – or anyone – getting a better rate. I like it a lot more if you play it on Spotify or Apple Music, because if you’re a subscriber we are probably going to see about half a penny from that play, which I think might be reasonable. And of course we all welcome it if you actually buy it for download on iTunes, Juno, even better on our own store or Bandcamp, because not only do we get between 40 and 85% of your payment, we are probably also going to get more streams on other paying services as you integrate that music into your daily life.
But the best thing you can do for Matt and us, I believe, is share your enthusiasm for his music with others. Make your own video that uses it and upload it to YouTube – we can collect on that. Put it in your Deezer playlist or request it on a radio station. Use it in your TV programme, if you make TV programmes. Can we get 20,000 people listening to his music every month? 100,000? I think that would get him closer to a reasonable, justified income from what is a substantial part of his life’s work.