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Congress proposes new bill aimed at increasing royalty payments for musicians  

Howard Alumna and performer, DJ Jam2X, plays a set at the BURN Experience Event on September 15, 2023. The DJ uses music from artists that could potentially benefit from the proposed legislation. (Emmarah Kouadio/The Hilltop)

A new bill, to provide a new royalty fund directly for musicians, possibly kickstarting a more equitable relationship between musicians, labels and streaming services, was introduced early this month.

Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman, introduced the bill to the U.S. House, titled the Living Wage for Musicians Act, in partnership with the United Musicians and Allied Workers Union. 

Tlaib, a Democrat serving in Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, and Bowman, a Democrat serving in New York’s 12th Congressional District submitted the bill, due to concerns about the disparity between individual streaming output and correlated royalty payment. 

The goal of the bill is to help musicians maintain a livable wage in the digital age of streaming. 

Tlaib said in a statement, “It’s only right that the people who create the music we love get their fair share so that they can thrive, not just survive.” 

Artists face several checks and balances before the revenue generated from their songs reaches their pockets. According to Ditto Music, Spotify pays between $0.003 to $0.005 per stream on average, with a 70/30 split between the artists and rights holders, and Spotify directly. Only tracks that have generated at least 1,000 streams in a year are eligible to generate royalties. 

These royalty rates differ from artist to artist and majorly depend on the contract negotiated with their distributor. 

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The Living Wage for Musicians Act would establish a pipeline directly from the streaming service to the artists, addressing many concerns regarding proper compensation between artists and streaming services. The bill would establish a royalty ceiling for songs that surpass one million streams, redistributing any additional royalties among the larger streaming pool.

Additionally, an extra fee would be implemented for subscription prices, affecting the average consumer. 

Darrell Taylor, a junior marketing major, from Cleveland, shares why he believes the increase is unlikely to affect his music consumption.

“It would really only affect me if Spotify’s price was way higher than all competitors, then I would consider switching,” he said. “If they all increased I would stick with Spotify because that is my favorite of all the streaming services.”

This bill would introduce changes that would affect all parties involved in the music streaming process. It is important to understand the strategic shifts record labels may have to employ to maintain their competitive position in the music industry.

Lauren Youngblood, an office manager at Warner Records, and a music industry executive for 15 years, spoke to what these shifts may look like.  

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“Labels have lost the touch of doing intimate gatherings with fans…labels have to bring back listening parties and events, where not only the exclusive go,” she said. “Fans need a front row seat to these events. They need to feel like the artist is tangible”

David McPherson, the president of music at WonderHill Studios and former executive vice president of Sony Music, spoke to how record labels may react to this proposed bill.

“I don’t think this changes much…the record labels had already adjusted their business model for streaming, therefore making a lot of money over the last seven years,” McPherson said. “They stopped signing people based on talent, they signed you based on streams, and followers.”

Independent artists who are already thriving may see the Living Wage for Musicians Act as an opportunity to further capitalize on their success. 

Artists like Brent Faiyaz, Frank Ocean and Mya who have seen major success as independent artists would seem to benefit greatly from this deal, further separating the need for a record label’s assistance. 

However, it is important to note that record labels provide services that are simply unattainable by individuals and their independent teams.

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“A record label can make you a superstar. You can get rich as an independent artist, but if you’re not on a major record label, you’re not going to be a superstar,” McPherson said. “When that machine gets behind you on a global scale, it’s very hard for you to compete with that.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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