A federal copyright board ruled last week that streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music have to divert a higher share of their revenue back to songwriters.
Previously, only 10.5 percent of revenue generated by a song went to the songwriter. The decision by the three-member Copyright Royalty Board ups that to 15.1 percent and institutes several other regulations — including penalties for cutting checks to songwriters late — that have been deemed a big win for music composers and writers.
For some local musicians, the news is music to their ears. For others, it’s too little and far too late to make an impact on the way they pay bills and make music in the Flathead Valley.
ANDRE FLOYD, who is now based in Missoula but lived and worked in Kalispell for years earlier in his career, said the change won’t lead to monumental shifts in his standard of living. It will, however, help him invest more capital back into his own music production.
“This capitalist thing we do is all about being able to keep the smoke and mirrors coming,” said Floyd, a blues artist who plays in Andre Floyd & Mood Iguana. “You do that various ways, but you still have to have capital to do it efficiently.”
He said the change would also make streaming more enticing for young bands to use as a tool. He said it has undeniably changed the way musicians distribute their work, but so far it hasn’t been much of a revenue generator for local musicians. A little financial incentive might encourage people to use a platform that has potential to get their work far outside the valley, he said.
“It will hopefully make Montana artists emerge, which would be good for everybody,” Floyd said.
He said the change was small, but it is substantial enough to have a positive impact for him. He looks forward to having extra money for design and promotion for his upcoming album.
“It’ll make a difference for me, sure,” Floyd said. “It’ll also mean that you have a little more freedom for art, design, you have a little bit of extra cash so you can go that extra mile.”
ANOTHER LOCAL folk musician who generates some revenue from streaming, Nick Spear, said the revenue shift is too small to trumpet as meaningful.
Streaming and other forms of technological advancement have turned the local music economy on its head, Spear said, and in many ways local musicians have been left to find their own ways to generate income. The revenue share of streaming will still be too small to replace what album sales used to generate for him.
“If it was a jump from 10 percent to 50 percent, that would be significant,” Spear said. “Jumping from 10 percent to 15 percent is really only going to make a difference for people like Taylor Swift, and they are going to go from gobs of money to unholy gobs of money.”
Recent research by BuzzAngle Music, a music industry analytics firm, shows 99 percent of streaming is concentrated on the most popular 10 percent of tracks available. That means the remaining 1 percent is all that is left for all other tracks, including everything written and produced in Montana.
For Spear, live performances used to hold value as ways to promote album sales, and album sales were the best way to generate income. That’s not the case anymore, he said.
“At this point in our history with the music industry, I think that recorded music is really a way to more generate interest in your live show and live is how you make money,” Spear said. “Everything is moving from a product economy to a service economy.”
Spear has gotten his music on some popular TV shows like “Duck Dynasty,” and revenue from live performances make up the biggest shares of his income. He said he likes when people stream his music because he wants it to be enjoyed and appreciated, but he’s moved past relying on it to pay bills.
“The only point to recorded music is civic duty,” Spear said.
Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.