Major Labels

Billy Bragg Points To Major Labels, Swedish Lawsuit In Spotify Controversy

Billy-bragg-tooth-nailMusicians getting on the mic to share their views about Spotify have been a big thing lately. Thom Yorke and David Byrne have been particularly noted musician/critics. This week Billy Bragg joined the public dialogue with a focused attack on the role of major labels, blaming outdated contracts for allowing some labels to underpay artists. But though others had been speaking, Bragg was inspired to share his views due to a likely lawsuit by Swedish musicians against their labels over these issues.

Last month a lawyer for the Swedish Musicians' Union revealed that numerous Swedish artists were planning to sue Universal and Warner Music over what they considered "paltry royalties." These artists have older contracts that give them a cut of digital revenues based on the cut they got for physical revenues without taking into consideration reduced distribution costs and the like.

Billy Bragg Weighs In On Spotify

Linking to Guardian coverage of the possible lawsuit, Billy Bragg shared his thoughts on Facebook:

"I've long felt that artists railing against Spotify is about as helpful to their cause as campaigning against the Sony Walkman would have been in the early 80s. Music fans are increasingly streaming their music and, as artists, we have to adapt ourselves to their behaviour, rather than try to hold the line on a particular mode of listening to music."

"The problem with the business model for streaming is that most artists still have contracts from the analog age, when record companies did all the heavy lifting of physical production and distribution, so only paid artists 8%-15% royalties on average."

"Those rates, carried over to the digital age, explain why artists are getting such paltry sums from Spotify. If the rates were really so bad, the rights holders – the major record companies – would be complaining. The fact that they're continuing to sign up means they must be making good money."

"Here in Sweden – where I'm doing a show tonight in Malmo – artists have identified that the problem lies with the major record labels rather the streaming service and are taking action to get royalty rates that better reflect the costs involved in digital production and distribution. UK artists would be smart to follow suit."

The post received quite a bit of media coverage and numerous comments. Bragg engaged commenters on Facebook and, at one point, stated:


The Spotify "Discussion" To Date

Bragg's take is a nice pragmatic shift in the discussion which is a new and vocal round of artist disagreement.

Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich seemed to have kicked this one off with Yorke exploring some rhetorical extremes in the process.

Dave Stewart and Nick Mason stepped up with Spotify praise.

Then David Byrne got 15 minutes of laceration for daring to bare his soul and not using the proper words to do so.

At this point I'd love to see Billy Bragg and Dave Stewart in conversation. They seem most likely to connect their opinions to issues and solutions to which both working and superstar artists can relate.

What's Billy Bragg Been Up To?

In any case, I enjoyed reading Billy Bragg's take. He has a new album out and a tour in progress.

And check out the statement on his official site:

"The internet offers huge potential for artists who want to make music on their own terms. As the old business model crumbles to dust, artists have much to gain from entering into dialogue with their fans, not least from encouraging them to buy their music directly from the farm gate, secure in the knowledge that the money they spend will support the artist in their work."

"I want this website to be my main source of communication with the world: songs I record, articles that I write, clips I film on my phone, merchandising I produce, blogs, comments, posts, all will be available here."

"It's time to start our own revolution and cut out the middleman…."


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. Mr. Bragg is one of the first musicians to publicly speak up on the side of logic and reason. It’s really a pretty simple concept which has been painfully overlooked in this controversy. Obviously contracts must change. Obviously an industry that has become nearly obsolete will take as much as they can before they die. I hope that the concentration shifts to the labels at this point since they’ve been the problem all along. It amazes me that a label could even think to take 80-90% of revenue from a medium that they had no hand in. When we stream music (through any service: torch music, spotify, deezer…) the only people who should get paid are the service, the advertisers if it’s ad supported, and the musicians. End of story.

  2. Ok so no marketing? “Should” is a stupid word to use, when you have no insight in an albumrelease.

  3. Why does it need to be insightful? I can insert a million different words, which wouldnt change the outcome of my point. In my personal opinion its not “smart” to say something should be a specific way, when you talk about millions of artists who all works in many different ways. And missing the biggest “problem” for many artists, which is to be discovered, is – in my opinion, a little bit stupid (or insert your own word here)

  4. He obviously didn’t know what he was talking about.
    Why point out the obvious in a rude manner and add to all the hateful energy on the web?
    Is that your contribution because you didn’t point out anything that wasn’t obvious.

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