University of Leeds: Music streaming ‘dominated by top artists’

Just 1% of artists account for up to 80% of streamed tracks, according to new research.

The study, co-authored by Professor David Hesmondhalgh, of Leeds’ School of Media and Communication, gathered evidence on musicians’ earnings from streaming.

It examined the proportion of revenues that have gone to artists and lyricists compared to record companies and music publishers over the past 20 years.

The findings have been published by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and described by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as “the most comprehensive study of music creators’ earnings ever completed in the UK”.

According to the report, “Music Creators’ Earnings in the Digital Era”, an estimated one million UK streams a month is the rough threshold for earning a sustainable living from music; about 720 UK artists may have achieved this level of earnings in 2020.

Most detailed earnings study
Professor Hesmondhalgh said: “We’re not aware of any previous study anywhere in the world that examines musicians’ earnings from a particular country in such detail.

“We offer no judgements in the report about fairness or otherwise, and we offer no solutions. Instead we seek to provide evidence to contribute to a more informed debate about musicians’ income. We suspect all different sides of the debate will find evidence to support their views.”

The research team included Dr Richard Osborne (Middlesex University London), Dr Hyojung Sun (Ulster University) and Dr Kenny Barr (University of Glasgow).

The researchers had unprecedented access to data from sources such as recording and publishing contracts, record company accounting data and information from the collecting society, PRS for Music

Even so, they point out there is much data still to obtain, including more information from streaming companies and financial information from rights holders.

Among the researchers’ other findings were:

More music creators are competing for a share of the revenue than in the “pre-digital era”: 60,000 tracks are now uploaded to Spotify every day;
Artist and studio producer royalties from physical sales, plus in more recent times downloading and streaming, declined 41% in real terms from 2000-2019, and music publisher revenues by 20%;
The share of catalogue music (i.e. music more than 12 months old) relative to new music has increased among the top 0.1%, 0.4%, 1% and 10% of tracks since 2015. There are nine times as many tracks owned by major record companies than by non-majors in the top 0.1% of tracks, and closer to three times as many owned by majors than non-majors in the top 10% of tracks.
Co-author Dr Sun said: “The research started with the aim of informing the discussion by providing robust evidence in this highly polarised area of debate

“This was achieved by working closely with the diverse stakeholders and the positive feedback so far received, highlights the need for such evidence.

“We hope this report helps to move the debate forward and plays a small part in support of the creator community.”

Quizzing the music industry
In dialogue with the IPO and an industry steering group of organisations representing artists, composers, publishers and record companies, the researchers developed a series of questions for music creators and industry stakeholders including: the impact of changes in the digital music marketplace on creators’ earnings; the method of distributing royalty earnings creators; change over time of the distribution of earnings; and concentration of earnings.

The DCMS Select Committee Inquiry also provided a huge range of information and perspectives.

The research comes in the wake of the Inquiry backing comprehensive recorded music market reforms, and touches on a range of industry proposals for reallocating revenues, including revising contracts, other reversion rights, alternative methods of distributing streaming revenues and alternative ways of paying artists.

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