Welsh-born multi-instrumentalist, The Anchoress, has opened up about the reality of working as a musician in the age of streaming, revealing that, despite her album being streamed over 750,000 times, she made absolutely no money from it.
Describing her situation as “pretty bleak”, 2020-2021 was technically The Anchoress’ (Catherine Davies) most successful year so far. Nevertheless, she still failed to break even, a stark reminder of the impact of streaming sites on artists themselves. Davies has argued that serious action is needed if we want to stop so many musicians from leaving the industry out of sheer necessity.
Davies’ calls to arms have been heard by Cardiff’s local MP, Kevin Brennan, who has pushed for labels to split their profits equally with their artists, rather than gobbling 16% of streaming profits. Speaking in a recent statement, Davies made the desperateness of her situation perfectly plain: “If streaming numbers had been record sales, I would have got a gold record on my wall for The Art of Losing,” she said, adding: “But I’ve earned nothing, not a penny, because of the structure of my label deal. There was a small advance but it didn’t cover the cost of mixing.”
The financial difficulties faced by so many professional musicians in the UK at the moment has led some MPs to call for a “complete reset” of the music industry market, with labels ensuring that their artists receive a “fair share” of the £736.5m UK record labels earn from streaming every year.
Just looking at that number makes it clear that something is very wrong. Unfortunately, implementing structural change won’t be easy, and advocates of the new model are already facing opposition by trade bodies such as BPI, who claim that streaming has allowed more artists than ever before to access “long-term sustainable income”. However, the irony at the heart of this whole issue can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. Yes, more artists than ever are being given a platform to share their music, but far less of them are earning any money from their ventures.
It would seem that the music industry’s leading labels are so unwilling to take risks on signing new talent that they continue to place their focus on big names like Taylor Swift (who made an estimated $10.6 million in 2020 forms streaming alone) and leave the other 90% of artists to eke out a living on their own. It’s clear, then, from BPI’s recent argument that new policies should be properly examined to guard against “unintended consequences for investment into new talent,” that, if these structural changes are going to be implemented, its first necessary to do away with the ‘better-safe-than-sorry mindset at the heart of the contemporary music industry.