I’m an indie band loyalist. Forager of the unknown. Underground scene stalker. Like to think indie bands are my little secret. Bittersweet when they become mainstream but fine, happy for them anyway.
And in all my years following indie bands, I’ve noticed something that doesn’t seem to add up.
Indie bands fill concert venues to the brim, their merchandise sell like crazy, and their songs stream non-stop. But despite years in the grind and with such huge followings, they’re still juggling multiple jobs and sleeping a few hours a night in time for their day jobs.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world the kings and queens of pop and hip hop are making millions as top streamed artists. Artists who’ve never made it to my indie radar playlists nor to those of my friends’.
Point is, the stark realities amongst musicians make me think about how much streaming services pay artists through their labels and providers. How fair are they to listeners’ choices and the artists they support?
Let the music gods rain down on all of us.
Here’s the thing:
Between you and the artists you listen to, is a matrix of streams, algorithms and systems that decide where your music playing leads to. Did you think that the earnings from the music you play actually go to the artists you support? Chances are, you’re helping fund a pop star’s next tour.
Fact: Major streaming services do not actually pay artists based on how much of their music you stream as an individual, but on how much their music is streamed within the entire count of streams. Bringing us to the bottom line: your money may not go to the artists you enjoy.
Where is the fairness in all of this?
The starving artist is no romantic story.
There’s nothing romantic about it when you feel like writing music is like pushing against a wall. It’s a vicious cycle. You spend to make songs, your songs get streamed, you get nothing back from your streams, but you can’t stop creating music or you become irrelevant.
We like rags to riches stories when a happy ending makes us feel good. But for the vast majority of musicians, the daily grind becomes a lifelong grind. And for most of us, that happy ending never comes.
Am I cursed forever?
Maybe there is a way out of this vicious cycle. That I don’t have to tell my future kids and kids’ kids that pursuing music is pointless. But we can’t wait much longer or that musical divide will become a deep, dark chasm, a gap too distant to bridge.
If we start asking for more transparency and accountability now, we can spare ourselves that reality. There could be a better way of doing things with a user-centric payment system (UCPS), a fairer way to support the artists we listen to. It starts with everyone in the industry supporting UCPS : streaming platforms, labels, providers, artists, listeners. With UCPS we can change how music history is written.
A fair future
We all talk about supporting artists, valuing their craft, fair pay. When in truth, the system today is not built to support our choices and the artists we enjoy. We celebrate the victories of musicians who’ve made it, but forget about those who don’t benefit from the system’s bias. A bias that helps some but leaves others in a hole.
It wouldn’t be as bleak a picture if I were just an outsider looking in. But as an artist, I’ve seen so many musician friends pack up their gear and give up their careers, or work the oddest jobs to keep them going. Likewise for my band, despite thousands of followers and millions of streams, payouts from streaming is still hardly enough to fund our next song.
Don’t get me wrong – UCPS isn’t going to change our lives overnight. It’s one of many things that needs to be fixed in the music industry. But as a step in the direction of a fair future, a step towards lifting this curse, it’s one we should take.
The user centric payments system (UCPS) is an initiative kicked off by Deezer in 2017. A user centric payment model would restructure the current way of allocating royalties for music streaming. Today, royalties are allocated based on the overall market share on the platform. Under a user centric model, royalties would be allocated based directly on each listener’s streams, creating a fair environment for all artists and building a direct connection between fans and musicians. Support your choice of artists by supporting Deezer’s initiative for a UCPS pilot in 2021.