Not only do I like so much of his music, but over the past few years, I think Mr. Byrne has offered some of the best commentary on music, culture and the importance of copyright.
For starters, I’m constantly — and I mean constantly — referencing his successful lawsuit against politician Charlie Crist.
You see, Crist, then the Republican Governor of Florida, used the Talking Heads song “Road To Nowhere” in his failed 2010 re-election campaign. In ballsy and principled move, Byrne sued.
Once he won, we forced the former Governor to issue a public apology on YouTube for co-opting his music for political ends without his consent.
David Byrne has also been absolutely right on about the evolution of music, and how it constantly adapts to changes in both technology and culture. For anyone who hasn’t checked it out yet, Byrne’s TED talk “How Architecture Helped Music Evolve” is a must-see.
It’s because of this immense admiration that I’m disappointed to see David Byrne get some of his basic facts so wrong in a recent Op-Ed for the Guardian about music in the internet era.
There’s no mistaking that David Byrne’s heart is in the right place: By and large, the web economy has hurt working musicians, often far more than it has helped them. He offers some keen observations on the challenges facing musicians, on for-profit exploitation and on the perceived value of music.
But although he makes some very good points, Mr. Byrne also needs a fact check on some of his basic statements and numbers. For instance, he writes:
“For perspective, Daft Punk’s song of the summer, “Get Lucky”, reached 104,760,000 Spotify streams by the end of August: the two Daft Punk guys stand to make somewhere around $13,000 each.”
This is simply not true. To start, try multiplying that number by ten.
None of us outside of the electronica duo and their management team know the exact numbers for sure. But the fact remains that for their 100 million plays on Spotify, Daft Punk stands to make between $.005 and $.015 per play.
(The exact number depends on whether the stream comes from the ad-supported or premium version of the service; it also depends on gross revenues, and the total number of plays across the platform.)
So, just for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that Daft Punk made about of $0.01 per play when you average everything together. This might be slightly on the higher side, but it is not uncommon in any country where Spotify has been around for more than a couple of years.
100 million plays x $.01 = a gross revenue of $1 Million. That’s for just one song. On just one service. Keep in mind that this doesn’t count purchases, licensing, other royalties, merch sales, or any other songs for that matter.
So, even if the label were to take a whopping 80% cut for making their investment, that leaves $200,000 left over for the duo. Or, $100,000 each.
Without knowing their exact numbers, a rough calculation suggests that the two members of Daft Punk stand to gross* anywhere from $50,000 – $150,000 each each from streaming plays of this one song alone.
Is that enough? I don’t think so. They deserve at least double if you ask me.
But is it better (and more accurate) than the $13,000 figure that came from who knows where? Absolutely. And is it far better than rampant ad-supported piracy? Hell yes.
I think David is barking up the right tree. I just think the argument he’s trying to make will be more convincing if it’s not so easily picked apart due to fundamental errors.
Bottom line: If you’re paying a subscription fee for a streaming service instead of stealing music because you feel somehow “entitled” to it, then you’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.
If you choose to buy music instead? Even better.
Now if only Spotify would work that into their platform!
This is an idea that may sound counter-intuitive at first, but it can be done, potentially with great success:
Just allow artists to put caps on how much fans can listen for free, and then allow those listeners to “unlock” unlimited plays be kicking the artist anywhere from $1 – $10 to buy permanent and full access. This is a simple and sensible solution that offers the best of both worlds. More on that here.
Until the rates get even better, Spotify and services like it might not be a good fit for all artists. Smaller acts may want to put only parts of their discography on these on-demand sites to encourage more purchases of their music. Some artists might want to delay putting their music on these services until a little while after their launch. Others may choose to forgo it all together — particularly if growing their audience is not nearly as important to them as properly monetizing the audience that they already have.
But in this battle, are legal streaming services the enemy? Absolutely not. They’re not there yet, but they have the potential to become one of our greatest allies.
For that to happen, musicians need increased bargaining power. That’s why we need reasonable crackdowns on monetized piracy, and to make sure our work is not exploited without consent on user-generated content sites like YouTube.
We live in a complex world. None of us are going to get it all right, all the time. Not even a man as smart and principled as David Byrne. What’s important is that the conversation continues, and that we try to be as accurate as we can. It’s the only way to make good decisions about the structure of our industry.
*Here’s the fine print for the real music business nerds: For our simplified number-crunching, we’re looking at the artist’s gross cut of revenues, just like Byrne did. Of course, there’s always a chance that “the artist” may have to split their pie more than just one or two ways. It’s also true that a low-risk established artist like Daft Punk may get to keep an even higher percentage of the initial gross revenue paid out to rightsholders, and a high-risk startup artist might keep a smaller percentage. Meanwhile, independent and self-released artists usually end up keeping a far larger share of that initial gross — often as much as 50% to 100%. This helps make up for their lack of volume. But none of these dynamics is new or unique to streaming services. It’s always been that way! So for parity’s sake, we’ve left these extra variables out of our back-of-the-napkin math, just like Byrne appears to have done.