Blog Post

Musicians get paltry pay from worldwide digital play

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

New figures for musicians’ royalty earnings shine a light on a significant digital income gap.

UK royalty collector PRS For Music reports British songwriters and composers collectively earned £187.7 million ($301 million) in 2011 from plays of their songs outside the UK.

That total was 10.6 percent more than in 2010. But it contains downloads and streaming royalties of a tiny £2 million ($3.2 million).

That is miniscule, perhaps scandalous. Domestically, last year’s digital royalties totaled £38.5 million ($61.7 million) – yet British musicians are consumed heavily in the rest of the world.

In fact, British music has rarely been so popular overseas, with acts like Adele and One Direction proving to be successful in the United States, for example.

What’s to blame for the discrepancy? A PRS For Music spokesperson tells paidContent:

“In the US, there is no performing right in downloads, so any revenue from these types of services would come direct from publishers.

“Similarly, streaming rates are low and you have to have many plays to see big money.”

And things aren’t looking up either. PRS For Music’s best optimistic spin, in Friday’s announcement, is that “the figures look set to more than double by 2022″…

Big deal. At that rate, in a whole decade’s time, all of Britain’s musicians would be earning a total of just £4 million per year in performance and mechanical royalties from digital services.

By far the healthier bulk of musicians’ royalty income will continue to come from analogue music – yet consumption is rapidly moving to the digital formats which pay them less.

7 Responses to “Musicians get paltry pay from worldwide digital play”

  1. Joseph Nicoletti consulting-promotion

    the Creative Person and Company “Must” be careful as to where it Up-loads songs,Music,Video Etc,. people are in too much of a RUSH to get 15 min of FAME and so-to speak Fortune !,..with out Knowing if you will even get Paid at all or how much. ! any Questions Call: Joseph Nicoletti Consulting California,usa Ph 949-715-7036

  2. Harcourt

    Please can you maintain the distinction between writers and performers. Ie PRS administers income for songwriters who are authors NOT musicians.

    Writers from outside the US whose songs licensing is controlled by the US societies in the US are very vulnerable to publishers issuing licences to digital users without authority and damaging the value of the songs. The DMX case has been a disaster for writers. Publishers will undoubtedly try to extend this dubious practice to digital use. No prizes for guessing who will get the lion’s share of money!

  3. Jon Donley

    “By far the healthier bulk of musicians’ royalty income will continue to come from analogue music – yet consumption is rapidly moving to the digital formats which pay them less.”

    Another plaintive appeal for eliminating disruptive technology, a decades-long whine similar to that of the newspaper and magazine industry. The answer is simple, refuse to publish digitally, right?

    Oh wait . . .

    Look, I have bought more books, music and video digitally than I ever bought in my nearly 60 years of life over the past 20 years. I never walk into a used book store any more. Or a movie rental store. This isn’t just quantity of items, but perhaps a tenfold increase in budget.

    Perhaps musicians need to just say no to their rapacious slaveholders.

    • … and I’m glad you do, Jon. If more consumers did, we wouldn’t have to whine. A fair amount of us bypass the whole rapacious slaveholder issue, at least when it comes to labels, me included – but please accept that seeing 100s of 1000s links across shedloads of pirate sites to our albums, and then comparing those to the paltry sales figures most of us get can be a little galling. Most of my contemporaries have long thrown in the towel, not because the demand wasn’t there, but because they simply couldn’t afford to carry on. I only survive because I’ve shifted gears and write music for tv, film, etc. God knows when I’ll next find the time to write an album. These days it has to be done for love, costs thousands to make and promote (I prefer not to just use a laptop…) and in all likelihood would never, ever, turn any kind of profit. On our lowly incomes finding the time and money to do this becomes progressively harder. There appears to be a fundamental breakdown between creator and consumer, these days. The creator now has to carry all the costs, and the consumer believes he is entitled to consume for free (yourself and others like you excepted) There are limits to how far creators can be expected to carry on this activity when the scales are so far against us. Yes, we do it for love, not for money. But without money we can’t do it in the first place.

  4. Jayson Myers

    This article is misleading. Most digital revenues generated outside of the UK by British songwriters do not pass through the PRS. In the US, which is, by far, the most significant market for British songwriters outside of the UK, none of the digital revenues from iTunes sales and only a small portion of YouTube and Spotify revenues are flowing through the PRS. The balance is collected locally in the US by a songwriters’ music publisher and then passed through to the writer, without touching the PRS. For “writer’s share” income, many top UK songwriters are also direct members of the local US societies, which further reduces the monies that pass through PRS. In other territories, where the licensing schemes are similar to the UK, there is also a move to bypass the inter-society collection system through central licensing that the majors are undertaking. Given all of these ways that ex-UK digital revenues avoid passing through the PRS, utilizing their data to analyze Ex UK digital growth is irresponsible.

  5. I think you misunderstood the PRS comment. The mechanical royalties from the US would not pass through the PRS. Instead, they pass through the publishers. Which means that digital services outside the UK pay more than £2million for UK songs. You simply won’t see those monies represented in the PRS’ collections.