In a new op-ed for The New York Times, David Byrne airs his grievances with the financial side of streaming platforms and appeals to the services to make their revenue systems public to begin the process of creating a “fairer system of pay.”
Titled “Open the Music Industry’s Black Box”, Bryne’s editorial describes his experiences trying to find out the payment procedures straight from the source. “I asked Apple Music to explain the calculation of royalties for the trial period. They said they disclosed that only to copyright owners (that is, the labels). I have my own label and own the copyright on some of my albums, but when I turned to my distributor, the response was, “You can’t see the deal, but you could have your lawyer call our lawyer and we might answer some questions.”
He also mentions a conversation he had with a YouTube representative, during which he was told that YouTube’s cut for ad revenue is less than half, a figure that was later debunked by an unnamed industry insider who told Byrne that in actuality, “the breakdown is roughly 50 percent to YouTube, 35 percent to the owner of the master recording and 15 percent to the publisher.”
This isn’t the first time Byrne has made his issues with streaming public, having argued in the past that they shouldn’t exist at all, that they hamper earnest music discovery, and that artists should be paid significantly more.
However, with more and more artists commenting on the logistics of streaming finances, we may be headed for a tipping point when the streaming platforms have no choice but to make this information public. When (or if) that happens, I’d imagine there’ll be plenty more musicians ready to pull their catalogs from the services in protest of the payment system. However, if it plays out, it’s great that an artist as important, experienced, and knowledgeable as David Byrne is leading the charge.