We are heading towards a future where all pop music will be cleansed of human imperfection.

This is a global issue, but all eyes are on Britain, where the #BrokenRecord campaign started by Tom Gray (a member of independent rockers from Merseyside Gomez) has set the pace. In April, 156 prominent British musicians signed an open letter to Boris Johnson, calling for changes to the streaming system. The signatories included Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, Sting, Annie Lennox, Gary Barlow, Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. In July, a report by the multi-stakeholder DCMS select committee on the economics of music streaming called for a “complete reset” so that artists, performers and creators are fairly rewarded. Industry forces have lobbied against the proposed changes, but change is sure to come – the current winner takes all system turns the majority of musicians into losers.

If you’ve read the financial pages, you might have thought there was a musical gold rush going on. Well-known artists from Bob Dylan to Blondie, Take That to Fleetwood Mac were selling their old catalogs under multi-million dollar deals to aggressively marketed song funds such as Blackstone and Hipgnosis. The latter’s founder, Merck Mercuriadis, confidently touted his belief that future royalties would pay dividends for decades to come. Songs, he proclaimed, were an asset class “better than oil or gold” because demand is impervious to economic or political upheaval. His company has invested more than $ 2 billion in acquiring 100% of the rights to tens of thousands of classical songs. But David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young warned, even as he sold his own catalog to Iconic Artists. “I can’t play live and the streaming has stolen my money,” said the veteran singer-songwriter, noting how the lockdown has forced the hand of many musicians. “If we could get paid for records, we wouldn’t. None of us.”

How aware are consumers of the magnitude of the problem, I wonder. Pop music is show business, a masquerade of glamor and swagger. Yet, according to the UK IPO, less than half a percent of artists on streaming services generate enough feed in the UK – it would take around a million per month – to make a sustainable living. Almost nine in ten musicians in the UK survive on less than £ 1,000 a month, according to the Help Musicians charity. And if you starve artists, cut supply lines, and create a system that only works for established rights holders, where will the stars of the future come from?


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