I’d posted in the social stream about the Beatles Christmas Eve entry into the world of subscription streaming — all their studio albums and a number of special editions are now available on most of the major subscription stream platforms — and one of my stream-skeptic pals had asked (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I suspect) if I thought it would help or hurt stream subscription uptake.
I’d glanced at that thread as I was getting out of bed (yes, I’m one of those sods who now picks up the tablet and scans the news before getting out of bed — you never can tell when it’s just gonna be a better idea to pull the covers up and bury your head under the pillow) but somehow reinterpreted it in memory as Do you think it will help or hinder sales?
And, so, I had all these thoughts about that queued up in my head.
I was going to write something like:
Will it help revenue is probably the real question.
Streams, of course, are treated as sales as far as artist mechanical royalties to artist/label rights holders but songwriting royalties from streams are (currently) apportioned on a variation of the radio broadcast songwriter/publisher royalty formula.
(Radio performances in the United States, unlike many other nations, do not generate any royalties at all for artist/labels, since radio play has been traditionally seen as form of marketing — a view reinforced, of course, by the record industries long history of paying — legally and illegally — for radio play.)
Let me tell you my own Beatles collection story. I have, I think, all the American releases and a couple of Brit releases, on vinyl with the exception of Help! (CD)
But… I only bought one new — the first I bought, Sgt. Peppers (I was coming back to listening to rock and roll after a long hiatus from grades 7-10 when I disdained ‘teeny bopper music’ — friends had finally begun convincing me I’d like the changes that blues rock and the psychedelic revolution had brought — and they were right).
Every other Beatles record in my collection was bought used or given to me used by someone.
And, in the US, that means the artists, labels, songwriters, and publisher received exactly nothing for any of those used purchases — or any of those thousands of plays so derived. (Other nations do mandate royalties on used records and books, but in the US the right-of-resale is largely unassailable.)
The fundamental question, of course, is whether the artist will receive more from an outright sale or from ongoing stream revenue. In my experience with streaming, I have played some tracks thousands of times. (I only have a count of individual track plays for the last 2 years I’ve been on Google Play Music.)
But in just those two years, I’ve racked up enough plays of one album that the pay out to the rights holders (based on GPM’s payouts on my own material) to put about $40 — and counting — in the artist/label rights holders’ pockets — for one, 13 song, mid-60s album. That’s not the ROYALTIES on $40 — that’s FORTY DOLLARS stream revenue for one album — that cost about $3 retail when it was first out. And, as long as people keep playing it, it’s going to keep making money for the rights holders. (Now, sadly, there’s little chance that the original artists still have a stake, because, well, that’s how it goes in the music biz. But the principle of ongoing revenue remains.)
And, while that album is a longtime fave, it’s not the only album I return to fairly frequently. I’ve become quite addicted to the Anonymous 4 (pre-Renaissance vocal music performed by [gasp] women) as well as the kora and chamber string concoctions of exoticist Jacques Burtin. Many tracks by Anonymous 4 have racked up over a dollar’s worth of plays (per track!) from me. That’s not RETAIL price — that’s straight revenue — and it’s ongoing!
So… in answer to that question you didn’t ask — if one’s music has legs, if people keep listening, then streaming can work out very well for an artist who keeps control of his library.
And, I’m thinking, the Beatles music has strong, ongoing appeal.
That said, it had to weigh on their strategists that while Beatles tracks were well represented in the iTunes Top 100 (10 tracks), the very highest rank reached by any of those ten tracks was only #40. I suspect they may have worried that at some point further holding back of their work was going to significantly impact their ongoing uptake by young listeners.