In 2023, there are more questions surrounding royalties than ever before. With efficiency and transparency at the very top of every artist, label, publisher and manager’s agenda right now, competition in the royalty collection business is fiercer than ever. In this special report, Music Week will profile the major players, look at key recent developments with rates and analyse the future of this vital sector…
BY JAMES HANLEY
Coming up on three years since the launch of the CMS Committee inquiry on streaming economics – and 24 months after the committee concluded that a “complete reset” of the market was needed – how much has changed? Well, quite a lot actually.
“What those debates do is get the industry talking and refocusing, and seeing what it can offer voluntarily, without intervention from the government,” says Peter Leathem, CEO of PPL, whose more than 140,000 members include artists such as Ellie Goulding, Anderson Paak, George Ezra, Rita Ora and ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus.
“Since the DCMS committee [inquiry] kicked off, there have been a number of announcements from various record companies about changes they’ve made to their registry of money and wiping the slate clean on unrecouped balances,” adds Leathem. “So a range of policies have developed since those discussions took place.”
Like Leathem, Colin Young of Y Royalties provided evidence to MPs during the sessions but has mixed thoughts on its legacy.
“Have we seen a ‘complete reset of the recorded music industry’? No, we haven’t,” says Young. “The inquiry has rightly identified that data is an important area of the music streaming business. Technology has led innovation in how music is consumed, it also therefore needs to keep up and push reporting and accounting systems to fairly remunerate creators.”
Y Royalties, which offers services in royalties data, audit, valuations and rights management began as the royalties division at renowned accountancy firm CC Young & Co before spinning-off earlier this year.
“Creatives need access to the correct metadata to properly understand how their rights are exploited; we strongly believe that the status quo needs to be challenged here and a minimum data quota of ‘essential data’ be established in all royalty reporting,” says Young. “This is not just data concerning where and how music is consumed. It needs to follow the money and include currently obscured details. The same scepticism and directional testing that we employ through our statutory financial audit work needs to be applied to the transparency of music royalties.”
Back in May, the UK government accepted the recommendation of the Culture, Media & Sport Committee on establishing a music industry remuneration working group and a commitment to improve music streaming metadata.
“We need the working groups established to tackle these data issues [and] not lose sight of the central issue: remuneration,” warns Young. “Our fear is that the previous discussions on equitable remuneration in streaming are left behind, improvements in reporting and data alone do not go far enough in enacting change. How are new music services remunerated? Fixing data issues will not impact the land-grab of rights where the line is blurred between whether a service offers a traditional record sale/stream or something more akin to a broadcast.”
Andrea Czapary Martin, CEO of UK-based rights management organisation PRS For Music, acknowledges the “renewed focus” on data challenges and opportunities in the industry worldwide, and shares her belief that debate is now turning into action.
“PRS For Music is determined to be a catalyst for the transition from discussion to delivery,” says Martin, pointing towards PRS For Music’s Nexus programme, which gives “greater visibility and control of industry data”.
“We are making available the songwriter credits, works and recording identifiers and other essential metadata for nearly three million works,” she explains. “Key partners are already using this data to improve their own metadata and in the coming weeks, we will be adding a new functionality to this service allowing individual members to search for specific works from this data set.”
This year has also seen the launch of The Get Paid Guide – an education portal which provides creators with quick and easy guidance on what music data is, why it matters as well as how to ensure the data is working for them. The initiative was created in partnership with The Ivors Academy, the UK Music Publishers Association (MPA) and the UK’s Intellectual Property Office.
“Partnerships of this kind will be essential in bringing music industry systems together onto one common rail, much like the systems that uphold the flow of money for banks globally,” asserts Martin.
Tracey Myall, royalty director at the Music Week Awards 2023 Accountancy Firm winners Gelfand, Rennert & Feldman (GRF), says that handling big data efficiently “without sacrificing accuracy, transparency and integrity” continues to be a dominant topic in the marketplace.
“The development of powerful IT solutions has definitely come a long way,” she says. “It’s an exciting area which continues to grow.”
Myall believes the expanding music pie makes the work of companies such as GRF all the more vital.
“Music sales are showing continued year-on-year growth and with that in mind it’s never been so important for clients to manage their assets, strategically maximising collections across all income sources globally,” she stresses. “Diversifying the ways in which artists monetise their music rights will continue to grow. As we’ve seen, the digital landscape continues its evolution and more doors of opportunity open themselves to artists.”
Suggesting that regulatory change “looks inevitable” for streaming platforms, Myall adds: “This will only help empower rights holders as the continued push for a more balanced distribution model continues.”
The challenge is to find a new methodology acceptable to all parties, reckons Austin Jacobs, FCA, partner at international advisory and accounting firm Prager Metis.
“A change to a user-centric methodology of distributing streaming royalties will increase the earnings of some artists, but will also cause some artists to receive less than they currently do,” he says.
Spotify followed other DSPs in increasing its subscription cost in over 50 markets, including the US and UK, this summer following more than a decade of static prices. The music business had long called for higher charges to generate more revenue for artists and rights-holders, and Jacobs considers the move a major positive.
“All artists’ royalties can be grown through increases in the monthly subscriptions charged by the streaming companies,” says Jacobs, who adds that growth can come from improving the monetisation of music consumption in certain countries, such as China. “Undertaking a royalty audit is a way to ensure that your royalties are being correctly calculated and reported in full. Artists usually have a limited period to dispute a royalty statement, so it is important to ensure that an audit is commissioned in a timely manner.”
Earlier this year, the Music Fights Fraud alliance launched a global task force aimed at eradicating streaming fraud and streaming manipulation across DSPs. The initiative has earned widespread backing, including from Downtown, CD Baby, TuneCore and its parent company Believe, DistroKid, UnitedMasters, Symphonic, Empire and Vydia, along with Spotify and Amazon Music.
It is estimated that streaming abuse could account for hundreds of millions in revenue lost each year, industry-wide.
“The biggest issue impacting the royalty sector is the manipulation by certain parties of the current system used to pay out royalties by streaming companies, whereby fake streams are fed into the royalty ecosystem to financially reward the perpetrators,” says Jacobs. “This is leading to a reduction in the per-stream rate being paid out to artists due to a disproportionate increase in the number of streams versus the rise in subscription fees. The industry must find better ways to attribute royalties and compensate artists fairly based on legitimate streams. Suppose the method of streaming royalty distribution can be adjusted to remove incentives for artificial streaming. In that case, artists will earn what they truly deserve from having their music genuinely appreciated and listened to.”
PRS, which represents more than 165,000 writers, composers, and music publishers globally, including the likes of Elton John, Harry Styles, Raye, Coldplay, Burna Boy and Becky Hill, revealed in April that it was ahead of schedule in terms of its target to achieve £1 billion in distributions by 2026. The CMO collected a record £964 million on a constant currency basis in 2022, up 22.9% on the previous 12 months and an increase of £154m on the previous high of £810m achieved in 2019, pre-pandemic.
“Our record revenues are a reflection of our ambitious commercial strategy, focused on growing the value of existing licences and identifying new business opportunities in the global market,” says Martin. “Over the last two years we have secured an unprecedented 82 major agreements with new and existing customers. This includes renewed deals with long-standing partners such as the BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Netflix, Apple TV and Sony PlayStation and new deals with services such as Disney + and Amazon Freevee. ICE, our joint-venture with STIM and GEMA, has also continued to deliver increased royalties for members and is the market-leading provider of multi-territory licensing and services.”
Martin stresses that royalties collection is only half of a collecting societies’ responsibility – a successful society also needs to pay royalties quickly and accurately.
“I’m delighted to say that we paid out £836.2 million last year, a more than 23% increase on the year before,” she adds. “This was possible because we have invested in systems and technologies with the capacity to efficiently process tens of trillions of lines of data. Our commercial partnership team are in active negotiations with a number of large new and existing customers. We are also developing new and improved tariffs across online and public performance. Early indications suggest 2023 will again deliver revenue growth for PRS members.”
PPL, meanwhile, generated revenues of £272.6 million in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 7.8%, marking the highest level of revenue in the licensing company’s 89-year history. Revenues from the use of recorded music in public places also rose significantly, up 39.8% to £100.8m.
“There has been a good return to growth following Covid,” observes Leathem. “There was a massive impact on our ability to collect, particularly public performance revenue, in the UK from 2020 onwards and that’s gradually come back to normal. Underlying that is a really strong demand from our business licensees – whether it’s radio, TV or public places – to use music. The 200-plus experts that we have are incredibly well placed to manage recordings. We get 45,000 new recording details a week coming in, which we’re then matching to billions of seconds of airplay. And when you layer on our expertise in dealing with 109 overseas agreements and trying to make sure we’ve got the best relationships, collection positions, tax arrangements and cost rates in place, it makes for quite a compelling offering from our point of view.”
Young also sees cause for optimism given recent events.
“We’ve long been concerned about the diminishing value of music and the returns to creators,” he says. “So it’s been refreshing over the last year to hear news such as the CRB decision to uphold the back-dated mechanical royalty rate increase in the Phonorecords III case, BMI securing a bigger share of live revenue for songwriters, and price rises across all major DSPs including Spotify. The stance of major record companies on paying out royalties on long-unrecouped deals is also a small step in the right direction. Further to the major labels relaxing their stance on historic unrecouped balances, we feel that the administration of catalogues has the potential for change. The lengthening of copyright life in recent years is beneficial to artist writers but the biggest winners are the rightsholders, who in most cases are not the creatives.”
Despite global economic challenges, Martin agrees the outlook is very positive.
“We predict growth opportunities from digital platforms especially in the video gaming space, and we’re excited to embrace early, exploratory opportunities in the metaverse and Web3,” she says. “Next year, PRS will celebrate its 110th year. The challenge for any well-established business is how to embrace the new, take controlled risks, pioneer tech, innovate and keep a tight control of costs. It’s our priority to provide efficient, quality services that benefit our writer, composer and publisher members globally.”
This year also marked the five-year anniversary of the PPL-PRS joint-venture, headquartered in Leicester.
“We’re very hopeful for its prospects over the next five to 10 years,” concludes Leathem. “We think there are really good prospects for growth on public performance licensing over the time to come.”