As Tone Deaf reported yesterday, Portishead main man Geoff Barrow made another drop in the ocean of debate currently flooding the streaming world. However, what made Barrow’s criticism stand out was not only how meagre his streaming payout was, but who his criticism was targeted towards.
Speaking via Twitter, Barrow revealed that despite the fact that Portishead have accrued a very respectable 34,000,000 streams, he has only received £1,700 after income tax, which if roughly adjusted to AUD, equates to approximately $3,280.
Barrow post-scripted his missive by addressing not only Spotify, Apple, and YouTube, but Universal Music Group, Portishead’s label. “Thank U Apple, YouTube, Spotify,” Barrow tweeted, “especially Universal Music Group for selling our music so cheaply.”
The musician’s comments echo the sentiments of many in the streaming world, who claim that the bulk of their revenue in fact goes to rights holders. The problem, they insist, is that rights holders and artists are not one and the same and profits are often cannibalised by an artist’s label.
So just where did the big bucks that 34,000,000 streams should have generated go? Music producer Dan Le Sac, who some readers may remember for his viral hit ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’, a collaboration with Essex spoken word artists Scroobius Pip, has done the maths for us.
According to Dan Le Sac’s calculations, the profit that most agree should largely be going to the artist, i.e. the person who made the product that produced the revenue in the first place, is whittled down by the streaming services, the label, the distributor, and others, leaving Barrow with 0.074 pence per stream.
“Before artists see any cash at all, it goes to the record label,” Dan Le Sac wrote in CMU (via FACT). “Now, what the artist sees is hugely dependent on the deal they signed, but let’s assume Go! Beat (now dormant but part of UMG) did Barrow et al a 50/50 arrangement.”
“Even though the label could be keeping significantly more – but to estimate what sum hit the label we’ll go with £6120 x 2 = £12,240. The label may also use a distributor or involve other middle men (or women, of course) to deliver content to the streaming services, who will certainly take a cut.”
“And even if the label does the distribution itself, the division of the record company doing the distributing might charge a fee or commission. Now, I’m not 100% what would be involved here, but I think it’s fair to say 20% is taken out of the mix before the 50/50 split occurs. £12,240 x 1.2 = £14,688.”
“And of course the streaming service also has to pay the publishers, songwriters and performing rights organisations which together control the copyright in the songs. We don’t know exactly what they are being paid… but together they could be seeing about a fifth of what the label sees. So, £14,688 x 1.2 = £17,625.60 Boom.”
“So, £17,625.60 left the streaming services before getting to Barrow as £1700. If we use Spotify’s model, the streaming service kept roughly 30% of monies generated by the streams, so in total those 34 million streams earned… erm… hang on… ((£17,625.60/70)x30)+£17,625.60 = £25,179.42. Or 0.074 pence per stream.”
So what does this all mean? Well, according to the producer, for those 34,000,000 streams, Barrow saw “less than 6.75% of the money he created”, while the band saw “less than a fifth of what they created”.
“For an industry that only has one product, the music that artists like Geoff Barrow create – and, to be fair, he does it better than most,” Dan Le Sac adds, “does it seem right that the creators get such a tiny share? Ultimately, asking for your fair share isn’t greedy.”
Stirring a healthy amount of controversy from some fans who labelled him a “poor rock star [who] isn’t making as much money as he used to”, Barrow explained that he’s not concerned about his payout nor does he dislike streaming services, he simply disagrees with anyone giving away his music for free.
The issue that Dan Le Sac highlights, meanwhile, is a lack of transparency within the music industry leaving artists in the dark. “Deals within deals within deals push artists and audience alike away from the truth of thing,” he writes. “Without knowing who is paying whom, what and when, how can any of us form an honest opinion?”