The media has been buzzing with news of Taylor Swift’s, and now Jason Aldean’s, removal of their catalogues from the widely popular streaming site Spotify. There’s been a lot of chatter, some valuable but most of it white noise from people who think that Bette Midler wrote “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” which, for the record, was written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley. Even Garth Brooks, who has long kept his music catalogues from such sites, is defending this bold move by Swift and company.
When most people (including musicians) think of the music industry, they think of major stars and the record company moguls who are forever thickening their wallets off the labor and talent of others. Most people never wonder what or who is behind the curtain, making the sounds come to life in the magical ways that they do, such as songwriters, producers, engineers, and more. This is why I imagine so many uninformed people are calling for T-Swift’s head over what is truly an intelligent and welcome move in support of her fellow songwriters.
The major issue here is rooted in what are called consent decrees, which were created in the 1940s and which most songwriters are not aware of — especially the independent songwriters. In an article written on wired.com, David Israelite explains: “Industry forecasts show that digital download revenue is expected to drop by 39 percent through 2019 while streaming revenue will increase by 238 percent over the same period.” Streaming companies, such as Spotify and Pandora, are expecting to see major increases in their profits over the next five years, and as the current royalty agreement stands, payout for each stream of a song is set at 0.0005 cents. Sure, these companies, including one known as iHeartRadio (owned by Clear Channel), are touting massive payouts to publishers and record companies, but let us remember that they’re being specific in the use of their language. They said they’re paying publishers and record companies. As the publishers and record companies disburse those payments, songwriters are the ones who get hurt the most, as they get the smallest slice of an already meager pie. iHeartRadio, by the way, has been lobbying to keep those royalties at a static rate, while artist rights organizations such as SoundExchange and The Recording Academy are fighting back, asking for an increased payout of 0.0029. This is according to documentation provided by the Recording Academy’s Grammys On The Hill campaign.
For independents who are performing songwriters, current rates mean that your song needs to have a streaming play count of 100,000 in order for you to make $50, compared to earning $290 should your song get the same number of streaming plays under the proposed change.
The bottom line is that songwriters deserve to be fairly compensated for their intellectual property, or better yet, for the art they are creating. Art is an incredibly valuable commodity that, when diminished and reduced to art for art sake without support, loses the power of its voice, especially in today’s world. Art is meant to be a reflection of where we are, who we are, and where we want to be. It is the medium in which we can ask questions, find solace, and push the boundaries of societal ideology. Art has always played a pivotal role in culture, so much so, that we are able to look back and understand cultures and people throughout time because of the images and sounds they left for us to discover. In fact, throughout many eras, art was seen as so valuable that leaders of countries and the upper echelons of society would employ artists, commissioning them to write music and stories, paint pictures, sculpt, and simply create. Those benefactors are also known as patrons of the arts, and this practice still exists in many countries today.
The people who are advocating in front of Congress, and using their star power to expose what has been a quiet, internal squabble within the industry, are doing so in order to provide artists the freedom to continue creating without needing to hold down three part time jobs just to make ends meet. As a performing songwriter, I am extremely grateful for the powerful voices who are moving this conversation along. The statements the heavyweights are making are showing that they, too, see the value, not only for themselves, but for songwriters at every level.