It is time we brought the rules on music streaming up to date – so that more musicians can make a living

·3 min read
‘My bill would play a part in helping to create an environment where more talented people can have that opportunity to make a living out of their creative skills’ (iStock/Getty Images)
‘My bill would play a part in helping to create an environment where more talented people can have that opportunity to make a living out of their creative skills’ (iStock/Getty Images)

I love music. I love to sing, play, and even write and record my own songs. For me creativity is in and of itself a good thing. But for some people it’s also their living – and they deserve fair remuneration when others profit from and enjoy their creative output.

I also love music streaming. Who wouldn’t want to be able to access all the world’s music from a device in their back pocket? For those of us who grew up saving our pennies to buy the latest David Bowie record, streaming is a modern-day miracle.

So why am I, along with MPs from across the House of Commons, proposing a new law in parliament about how artists are treated in this new world of streaming? For me it’s mainly about helping young talented people from ordinary backgrounds to have a fair chance of a career in music.

The problem is that the people whose creativity everyone is enjoying are the ones who are not getting a fair reward, while others, the major corporations who run platforms and record labels, are raking in a fortune.

Streaming is a completely new way of consuming music. In some ways it is more like radio than a record, particularly when an algorithm carries on playing songs it thinks you might like but haven’t requested.

What’s all this got to do with parliament and the law? Performers get paid when they play live, or from royalties for the use of their songs and recordings.

In the last year and a half live performance has been largely impossible due to government Covid-19 restrictions. Naturally this has focused musicians’ attention on what they get paid from their recordings and compositions

The law on copyright states that if you performed on a record that is played on the radio you are entitled to a payment. That same right does not apply in the UK if your recording is listened to on a streaming service like Spotify. My bill would bring the law up to date by creating a new right for musicians to an additional share of the revenue from streaming.

This is particularly timely because the stated aim of streaming companies, like Spotify, is to replace radio as the way that people mostly listen to music. If that happens, and the law remains the same, musicians could lose that small but valuable source of income which helps to supplement their other earnings from making music.

Many famous names in music have written to the prime minister in support of this change, but they acknowledge this is not really about them.

This is all about creating the right future structure for a secure career in music. I want young people to be able to aspire to make a reasonable living from original music. I want them to be able to make music that people will love and appreciate, and to get a fair share of the money people pay to listen to it.

Let’s be clear, not every talented person will be able to make a living out of music, but there’s something wrong with a system where record industry executives get massive salaries and share options when, as we heard recently on the Culture Select Committee, some award-nominated artists can’t afford to pay their rent.

My bill would play a part in helping to create an environment where more talented people can have that opportunity to make a living out of their creative skills.

Kevin Brennan is the Labour MP for Cardiff West and a member of the Select Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

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