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Byrne calls for industry transparency

Former Talking Heads man says the way revenue is shared from music streams and labels needs to be made clearer

Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has called for transparency in the music industry, as he says the way revenue is shared by labels and streams is cloaked in secrecy.

And while he reports he’s behind streaming service Spotify, he admits trying to get answers to the way finances are handled is frustrating.

He says in his New York Times column: “Many streaming services are at the mercy of the record labels (especially the big three: Sony, Universal and Warner), and nondisclosure agreements keep all parties from being more transparent.

“We need information from both labels and streaming services on how they share the wealth generated by music.”

He’s asked YouTube how ad revenue from videos containing music is split and says he was “stonewalled.” And when he approached Apple Music for an explanation to how royalties are paid to artists during their three-month trial period, he was met with an equally vague response.

He continues: “They said they disclosed that only to copyright owners (that is, the labels). I have my own label and own the copyright on some of my albums, but when I turned to my distributor, the response was, ‘You can’t see the deal, but you could have your lawyer call our lawyer and we might answer some questions.’” 

He also criticises the fact streaming services pay out similar royalty rates as those from more traditional sales. 

“The labels pay artists a percentage (often 15% or so) of their share,” he says. “This might make sense if streaming music included manufacturing, breakage and other physical costs for the label to recoup, but it does not.

“When compared with vinyl and CD production, streaming gives the labels incredibly high margins, but the labels act as though nothing has changed.”

Byrne is curating this year’s Meltdown festival at London’s Southbank Centre which is on now and runs until August 28.

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