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Who’s to blame for starving musicians – Pandora or the middlemen?

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Streaming services like Pandora(s p) and Spotify are mighty unpopular in the music world these days. In recent months, famous acts like Pink Floyd and Radiohead have publicly branded them as cheapskates that won’t give musicians a fair cut of their revenue.

Now, another part of the music industry is under fire. This week, songwriter Aimee Mann filed a lawsuit against MediaNet, a groups that acts as a broker and distributor for millions of songs.

In her complaint, the “Voices Carry” singer accuses MediaNet of failing to pass on a fair share of revenue when it licensed her songs, and of continuing to license the songs even after an agreement between Mann and MediaNet expired. According to Mann, the company failed to provide accounting statements and stopped paying royalties altogether after 2005 — except for a token $20 payment in 2013, which the singer rejected.

MediaNet, which was created by big music industry players and then sold to private equity, did not provide comment to the Hollywood Reporter, which first reported the story.

Update: Here’s the response from Frank Johnson, CEO of MediaNet:

“This claim on behalf of Aimee Mann is without merit.  MediaNet has had a license for her music since December 2003. We have been paying royalties regularly to her agents on her behalf.  MediaNet is a supporter of artist rights and copyright and has been since we launched in 2001. We expect this matter will be resolved.”

If the allegations are true, they will provide more ammunition to critics who say the sale of streaming rights — MediaNet’s speciality — is a raw deal for musicians. But in the bigger picture, the MediaNet affair looks like part of a long and unfortunate history of middlemen in the music industry who have exploited, or outright robbed, the musicians they’re supposed to represent.

This type of scandal is hardly confined to the US. In recent years, royalty collections societies have bilked musicians in Belgium, Brazil, Spain, France and elsewhere.

These scandals show how musicians’ financial woes arise not just from low streaming royalties, but from the complicated way in which music money is collected and distributed — there are numerous copyright collection levels, and each one involves transaction costs and the potential for abuse.

What this means is that, going forward, musicians can’t simply rail that streaming services should pay higher fees. They must also explain how to create a more rational system of payments to ensure they receive those higher fees in the first place. (This is the case even if, as one astute musician points out, Pandora and Spotify “aren’t record companies– they don’t make records, or anything else; apparently not even income. They exist to attract speculative capital.”)

(Image by  Ysbrand Cosijn via Shutterstock)

8 Responses to “Who’s to blame for starving musicians – Pandora or the middlemen?”

  1. I have been a struggling musician for over 20 years and I as many thousands of others have dreamed of that golden ring of being signed to a major record label and having the opportunity to share my music with the world. With the internet, part of that can be realized (sharing my music with the world). The problem is (like an earlier post stated) many of the younger generation will find it somewhere on the internet and just listen to it when they want (for free) then go back to playing video games. Also radio used to be a format where everyone discovered new music. Most of the stations in my town have gone to sports talk because none are adventurous enough to play things they have found on the internet and their hands are tied by sponsors. I propose truly a “HARD LEFT TURN”. Independent artists should only put up their music through the chorus only and fade out. You wanna hear the rest of the song then support the acts you like and buy the song for $1 or what ever the artist chooses (it’s their song). For all the major recording labels that are still left they should consider getting away from cd and dvd altogether. Push “BLU-RAY” all the way. Put all the songs on there in 2 track version and 5.1 surround, let the artist make videos for all the songs and put that on there also(even if it is some chessey punk band doing all there own videos it would still be cool to watch) and get people buying physical media again. Plus “BLU-RAY” is extremely hard to copy. This is what I think…..I have been wanting to post this somewhere…….thanks for letting me vent…… and thanks for listening …….rick

  2. I think the problem is deeper – from generation Y and down, music has become commoditized. Consumers don’t necessarily view as a thing to “purchase” so much as a free thing to listen to whenever they want.

    Until there’s a movement to actually BUY music or find an otherwise sustainable way to do it, the dinosaur industries will still have all the power. There’s innovative stuff going on under the surface, and great new discovery tools, but the block is still how to monetize an experience.

    I think Pandora & Spotify should open an independent-artist station that artists can pay a few dollars a month to join, and then work directly with artists to support them – localizing content, hosting mobile pages in the player, pushing listeners to purchase pages & tour schedules… this is all just the growing pains of a new way to experience music.

    I took a look at the issue here:

  3. Providing air play should or must mean or be worth something to someone? In the old days there was something called payola…Do some want streaming services to stop all together; I submit its the new ‘radio’ without a disc jockey…

  4. “What this means is that, going forward, musicians can’t simply rail that streaming services should pay higher fees. They must also explain how to create a more rational system of payments to ensure they receive those higher fees in the first place.”

    Oh, so musicians are supposed to come up with a payment system? That’s like the US Government saying that individuals must solve the financial crisis.

    There are people and organizations far more powerful (than musicians) who can, at a minimum, influence the policies of “a more rational system.” No one would listen to musicians even if they came up with a brilliant system.

  5. Tommy Byrd

    Did you really use a screenshot of a Shutterstock image with the watermark instead of purchasing the stock? On an article about a company not paying artists fairly for their copyrighted material?

  6. Madlyb

    I have worked with musicians who followed the traditional and indepedent routes for over 30 years and with the advent of the Internet, the independent route is almost always more lucrative, except for the largest groups, for precisely this reason.

    And this isn’t just streaming. Look at every distribution channel and you will see the same cronyism and layer upon layer of cost.

    So, when I see the big artists going after Pandora, I find it a big disingenuous.