Canadian artist Miranda Mulholland weighs in at the Economic Club of Canada about how to redefine success in the digital marketplace, looking at issues surrounding accountability and getting musicians the kind of payments they deserve from digital distribution services.
Guest post from Artists Rights Watch
Canadian artist Miranda Mulholland articulated the common reality that we hear every day from artists around the world. Thankfully she gave her clear-eyed assessment of reality at the Economic Club of Canada–it would be great if we could get a comparable audience for artists around the world. Here’s an excerpt:
In 2014, a senior manager at Google Canada provided his opinion on this to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage:
“The challenge is that the skills that are required to succeed have radically changed. Some are doing a better job at adapting than others because it’s just a completely different environment they’re operating in.”
Okay, thank you for the update on my challenges in the landscape that you created and perpetuate. So that leads me to this – a word that is very important to me.
Well, let’s look at the current situation and who is accountable for the devaluation to which we are forced to adapt. We now have 13 competing paid subscription streaming platforms in Canada, among them Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play, and over 400 legal digital services worldwide.
Picture each shiny new streaming platform as a shop window. Our content – at fire sale prices – fills their shop window, giving them credibility while creators of this content are asked to do the advertising. They give us – the creators – lists of “Best Practices” to get more of our hard-won fans to use their services. If we are not getting on playlists then it is our fault for not engaging with our fans enough. But in reality, it is becoming increasingly difficult for independent artists to land songs on their “curated playlists” in what is emerging as a 21st century version of payola.
The formula is much the same on the ad-based services. Except they price our work even lower!
Let’s look at the biggest music service in the world – YouTube. Did you know that 82% of YouTube users use it for music? It is supported by advertising and it is based on user uploaded content. But wait. Running a commercial site based on unauthorized uploading of copyrighted music is illegal, right?
YouTube says, it isn’t our fault – we are just the shop window. We didn’t put the items in the window, so we are not accountable for them. We are a passive intermediary. We are not liable for this massive copyright infringement.
But – once again – wait. A top brass at Google just bragged that “80% of all watch time is recommended by YouTube.” He explained that “Everybody thinks that all the music that’s being listened to and watched is by search.” But it isn’t, and in his words, “that’s a really important and powerful thing.”
This means that YouTube actively directs consumers. This doesn’t seem all that passive to me. Zero accountability.
And when asked about the problem of low payments to artists, a Google executive said:
“It’s important to note that on the concerns that have been flagged, there’s no consensus even amongst the artistic community about the impacts of streaming and what they actually think about it or what they don’t think about it. Every single time I hear a newspaper article about the reduction in royalty rates they’re getting from streaming, I’ll see another artist who basically says, “well, actually my royalty rates are pretty good”, and/or “to me it’s a really powerful discovery service, I’m actually making more money from X, Y, and Z”.
Well here’s a consensus. Your rates are the lowest in the world! Your revenue is built on the backs of other people’s talent and work and you refuse to acknowledge it.