GRAMMY Town Hall: Streaming Opportunity & Controversy | New York

By: Jaqueline Smiley

In keeping with its ongoing dedication to advocating for the rights of music creators, The Recording Academy hosted another event in the GRAMMY Town Hall series: “Streaming: Opportunity & Controversy.” Presented by The Recording Academy’s New York Chapter at the Cutting Room, the program of conversations featured a range of industry leaders, including Amaechi Uzoigwe (Artist Manager, Run the Jewels/Monotone Inc.), Richard Stumpf (Chief Executive Officer, Atlas Music Publishing), Paul Sinclair (Executive Vice President, Digital Strategy & Innovation, Atlantic Records), Elizabeth Moody (Vice President, Global Content Licensing, Pandora), and Aloe Blacc (Singer/Songwriter/“Artivist”).

A Sustainable Music Ecosystem Ben Allison, President of the New York Chapter, set the tone for the evening, emphasizing The Recording Academy’s intended role as an advocate for music creators everywhere, and clarifying The Academy’s position on streaming:

“Whether music is playing on satellite radio, internet radio, traditional AM/FM radio or music streaming services - all should compensate the songwriters, performers, producers and engineers under consistent standards across all platforms that reflect fairer market value. While we embrace new technologies, new technologies must pay creators fairly. We want a world where music is valued and has value. We want a world where songwriters and instrumentalists, mixing and mastering engineers, publishers and record labels, and music distribution services all rise together and thrive. …in short, a sustainable music ecosystem.”

The “Artivist” And The Advocate

Daryl P. Friedman, Chief Industry, Government & Member Relations Officer for The Recording Academy, led a conversation with GRAMMY nominee singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc, who is internationally known for hits such as “I Need a Dollar,” “Wake Me Up,” and most recently, “I Wrote My Way Out.” Self-described as and “artivist,” Blacc makes music to inspire personal change, and is an activist that lobbies for the rights of musicians and songwriters to be compensated fairly. His worldwide hit “Wake Me Up” was the 13th most-played song on Pandora when it was released in 2013 and has had over 168 million plays; however, once the royalties were split up between the three songwriters and publishers, Blacc, one of the co-writers and the song’s vocalist, received less than $4,000.

Blacc and Friedman discussed the obstacles faced in today’s streaming environment, where the work of songwriters has been grossly devalued, and why fair compensation is imperative to provide sustainable careers in the music industry today and for future generations. Antiquated laws that prevent creators from earning a fair market royalty rate must be updated to keep pace with the rapid changes in the marketplace brought on by these new technologies. It is crucial that the music industry lets its voice be heard in supporting laws that address music licensing so it better reflects how people currently listen to music.

Different Stances On Streaming

Amaechi Uzoigwe, Richard Stumpf, Paul Sinclair, and Elizabeth Moody joined Blacc on stage to present their experience with, and stances on, streaming in a discussion moderated by journalist, and Author of “Free Ride,” Robert Levine. Each participant brought their own perspective, but all agreed that the format has global adoption and can be beneficial to the careers of music creators.

Whether it is a pay-by-play model or a subscription service - streaming presents big opportunities but still has challenges to overcome. Music is as popular as it’s ever been, and is now accessible by my more people in more countries than ever before. Sinclair commented “[Streaming] allows artists to do far more interesting things. Now you can pair design, technology, and music all together. It allows for creativity that we didn’t have ten years ago, even five years ago.”

According to the latest Nielson Music 360 report published in September 2016, 80% of all music listeners used an online music service in the previous 12 months, up from 75% in 2015. There is a new frontier for creators to take ownership and cultivate how they sell and market their music, but they need to educate and familiarize themselves with the music business and treat themselves as a small business owner. Uzoigwe put it simply, “If you want to sell your art, you have to live or die by the contemporary practices.”

Multi-Platform Music Experience

Very young listeners today are already consuming music in notably different ways from even their slightly older peers. They want to experience music on multiple platforms, and they do not mind paying for it – in fact, they are used to paying for it, or at least obtaining it through a paid medium. Mobile phones now account for the majority of streaming music and the percentage is increasing all of over the world, especially in places like India, China, and Africa, which were underserved by the old industry model and known for rampant piracy. Uzoigwe summed it up:

“While streaming is clearly both the present and the future for the mass market of casual listeners, there is [still] that ten percent that are loyal fans and collectors who will buy the niche product like a deluxe-value [box set], vinyl, and high-quality lossless streams. The other ninety percent are passive listeners that listen to Pandora or Sirius while driving. Only a small percentage of the audio community consumes audio like the ten percent, and we need to be honest, and remember that – we are the minority of the music consuming population. We as an industry have to figure out how to improve the music experience for that ninety percent so that they can continue to value – or increase their perception of the value of – music. For us, it is already high. We need to convince the general music consumers that it is not disposable and that it is shouldn’t be given out for free.”

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