How To Improve Songwriter Incomes — a new report looks at ‘Rebalancing The Song Economy’

ABBA co-writer Björn Ulvaeus probably knows more than most the value of a good song. He recently commissioned analysts MIDiA to look into the new streaming-dominated ‘Song Economy’ and how revenue sharing could be made fairer for songwriters.

Björn’s a big advocate for artist rights generally and founded Music Rights Awareness ( with fellow Swede, Max Martin ) which aims to help artists to be better able to make a living from their music — which an increasing number of songwriters are unable to do.

The underlying problems won’t come as much of a surprise.

In the new ‘Song Economy’, the song itself is more important than ever, yet music publishing returns are about 3 times smaller than record label royalties.

With performance royalties from TV and radio in decline and mechanical royalties from physical sales barely existent, songwriters are also last in line for streaming royalties — a music revenue pie from which they are served an inequitable and diminishing slice.

Royalties collection mechanisms aren’t helping; outdated systems mean slow reporting and delayed payments. Songwriters aren’t always getting all of the royalties due to them.

A freshly industrialised music business is effectively consuming itself, discouraging experimentation, rewarding homogenisation and dubious tactics, and burning a new generation of songwriters.

The MIDiA report details some of the pressing issues and inequities and suggests ways they could be addressed.

User-centric, or Fan-centric streaming

Streaming economics, the report says, “is a scale game”. It pays to be big, and it pays disproportionately better than if you are smaller.

Currently, streaming revenue goes into a pot and is distributed according to the total number of songs across the streaming platform.

User-centric streaming would pay royalties based on what songs listeners actually listen to. Simplistically put: If a listener streams 10 different songs once each in a month, their $10 monthly sub would be equally shared amongst the creators of those 10 songs. This isn’t a new idea — it’s sort of how Deezer works — but it is probably closest to the old model which paid out per unit sold.

The User-centric model isn’t perfect either and it has its own complexities, but on balance it would be much more fair and proportionate.

Recognise engagement & discourage ‘bad behaviour’

Not all music is equal.

Some music is ‘lean-forward’ and some is ‘lean-back’. ‘Lean-back’ is music that streams in, mostly uninvited, delivered via algorithms and highly-gamed playlists — often background music, and “made for purpose filler”. ’Lean-Forward’ is music and songs that are actively searched for, linked to, saved, replayed, shared and otherwise engaged with.

Weighting the song returns to in this way could be quite effective, rewarding artists and writers whose songs are organically connecting with listeners, while disincentivizing industrialised production. manipulative play-listing and general ‘bad behaviour’ that dilutes artist and songwriter royalties under the present streaming model.

Streaming subs are too low

If the pie was bigger, the slices would be worth more. Streaming subscriptions are arguably too low and often further discounted by promo and this ultimately has a negative effect on the creator share. The report says ARPU needs to increase and suggests this could be achieved through metered consumption.

It was interesting also, to see how the public feels about songs and songwriters.

71% of respondents consider it important that songwriters are paid fairly by streaming services. 60 percent value the song more than the artist.

‘Rebalancing The Song Economy’ doesn’t have all answers but it is a thorough overview and a good read, if you care about that sort of thing. Which we do. You can download a free copy here < https://www.midiaresearch.com/reports/rebalancing-the-song-economy >

Martin Brown is Creative Partner at Songbroker Music Publishing, based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Martin Brown is an Auckland-based advertising writer and Creative Partner at Songbroker Music Publishing. martin@songbroker.nz