Songwriters hit note of discord as music fans flock to website

By Jonathan Brown

It promised to revolutionise the way we bought and listened to music, heralding a golden age of cheap and legal on-demand tracks.

For once, the hype has been matched by the reality.

Since being launched last year, the music website Spotify has grown at an astonishing rate - signing up more than 7 million customers to its free service and recruiting nearly 300,000 subscribers willing to fork out £9.99 ($21.60) for the privilege of listening to the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna without the interruption of adverts.

The company, founded by the Swedish entrepreneur Daniel Ek, plans to stream 36 billion songs by the end of this year when it launches in the United States.

Yet not everyone is singing along to this happy tune.

Songwriters have grown frustrated at what they say are the minuscule payments made available to them through the streaming process.

Yesterday, they called on Spotify and other online music services to come clean and explain exactly how much they are willing to pay to use their material.

It has been claimed Lady Gaga earned just US$167 ($235) from one million plays of her hit Poker Face last year.

Others have calculated that for a solo artist to reach the minimum US monthly wage of US$1160 they must have one of their tracks streamed up to 4.5 million times a month.

The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (Basca), has warned that the current secret arrangements could make it impossible for the next generation of songwriting talent to emerge.

Basca chairman Patrick Rackow said that while many musicians strongly supported the ideals of Spotify, there were concerns among his members.

"There will always be certain songwriters out there who will earn gazillions, but the worrying thing is that if you are starting out now, the prospect of earning a living is very difficult," he said.

The licensing deals are shrouded in "cloudy obfuscation [and] are preventing the industry from developing transparent, robust and equitable agreements," he added.

Spotify continues to refuse to clarify how much it pays or even reveal how many times an artist has been streamed via its site.

Senior vice-president Paul Brown said it was necessary to give the business time to grow and that "significant revenues" were already finding their way back down the creative food chain.

There have been other rumblings of discontent. Last year, Bob Dylan pulled much of his back catalogue off the service and the Beatles have so far declined to get involved. But in general, the music world is succumbing.


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