Is the Economics of Music Streaming Inquiry’s report just another broken record?

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently published their long-awaited report into the Economics of Music Streaming. But will the Government hear the music?

The report received over 300 submissions of evidence and, in a climate when live music has been on hold, artists prevented from performing, and musicians on furlough, the industry has been awaiting the Committee’s response with bated breath.

On one hand, the report is damming of big labels’ approach to streaming and the industry, targeted in its recommendations, and clear on who should benefit – namely, artists and creators. On the other hand, there are many reasons why these hoped-for recommendations and changes could be kicked into the long grass.

For starters, many of the recommendations that independent labels and groups – such as the Musicians’ Union, Broken Record, MMF and AIM – are pleased to see in the report, form part of a call on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate. These recommendations include:

  • Introducing broadcast-style equitable remuneration for streaming income where broadcast music recording loyalties are split fifty-fifty between labels and artists.
  • An investigation by the CMA into major labels’ market power and business practices.
  • Songs – including songwriters and publishers – to get a bigger share of streaming royalties, thus reducing the power of major music groups over music publishing.
  • An examination by the CMA into YouTube’s dominance of the music streaming market.

The Committee can only call on the Government to ask the CMA to take forward these investigations. Even then, the CMA can choose not to. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s infamous “next job could be in cyber” adverts have done little to dispel the belief that Sunak cares more about tech and traditional business industries than art-backed sectors like music.

The Government’s continued lack of clarity around reopening live music during Covid-19, post-Brexit touring, and support for struggling venues, suggests that any hailing of this report as a gamechanger is premature. While the recommendations might be welcome, they lack the teeth of implementation.

Most interesting to watch will be a Bill put forward by Labour MP, Kevin Brennan, a member of the DCMS Committee who published this report. The Bill, titled, ‘Copyright (Rights and Remuneration of Musicians, Etc’ had its first reading in the Commons on 16 June and declares it is “to make provision about the rights and remuneration of musicians and other rights holders; and for connected purposes.” Brennan is a former Shadow DCMS Minister, a member of the Musicians’ Union, PRS for Music and The Ivors Academy, which leaves little doubt over the contents of the Bill. The report’s similar recommendations will likely place further pressure on the Government to urge the CMA to look into the report’s proposals.

Major labels’ views and concerns will likely carry more weight with Ministers. Those giving evidence from Government, including Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister for Digital and Culture, and Amanda Solloway MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, stuck much closer to the views of major labels and industry companies. Dinenage gave a tepid response to the Committee when asked whether the CMA could investigate the major labels on competition issues, and on YouTube, stating that, “The CMA is independently operational from Government and it decides what it looks at, but whether it would have the opportunity to look at YouTube would be a matter for it,” suggesting the Government is not overly concerned with the priority of this investigation.

The Government has until 15 September 2021 to publish their response. The Inquiry into UK Music Festivals is also awaiting their response, with the deadline fast approaching on 29 July. Whether the Government responds to this will be a good indicator of whether they will respond to the Economics of Music Streaming report.

One thing is clear: if the Government is serious about nurturing artists, valuing UK music, and protecting the vast economy of the music industry, they must be seen to act.

Sophie Brownlee by:
Sophie Brownlee