Are streaming services paying artists enough? David Crosby follows Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks by selling song rights

Credit: AP

Musician David Crosby has said he is going to follow in the footsteps of Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks by selling his song rights, claiming that streaming services have "stolen his record money".

The American rock star and founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash said on Twitter that it is his "only option" and suggested the coronavirus pandemic also has had an impact.

It comes after Bob Dylan's entire back catalogue was acquired by Universal Music Group in a deal reported to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Last week, singer Stevie Nicks sold an 80% share of her publishing copyrights to Primary Wave in a deal estimated to net $100 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Responding to a follower on Twitter asking whether he would sell rights to his songs, Crosby replied: "I am selling mine also.

"I can’t work, and streaming stole my record money.

"I have a family and a mortgage and I have to take care of them, so it’s my only option. I’m sure the others feel the same."

The singer has been a long-time critic of the amount streaming services like Spotify pay to artists. In 2018, he tweeted: "Get your song played a million times and get less than $5. Seems fair."

However, on selling his back catalogue, he said there was "not a chance" he would attract the same kind of deal as his former Byrds bandmate Dylan.

On Tuesday, Chic frontman Nile Rodgers told MPs that streaming platforms should pay musicians more money for the work.

He told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that fairer deals for artists should be negotiated as the profitability of streaming is about to experience "explosive growth".

"Let’s pay these people what they should have been making all along and we are going to be one big happy family," Rodgers said.

Nile Rodgers said that finances of streaming services were not transparent. Credit: AP

"As much as I love the convenience, the fact is the system is unfair," he told the committee.

"We need to have transparency and if you can help us make this happen, things would change and I guarantee you, two years down the road, everyone’s going to be fine and happy because I’m telling you we are going to experience explosive growth."

He said streaming companies should have to buy a licence to use an artist’s material and each stream should not be treated as an individual sale.

He said the finances of streaming services were shrouded in secrecy and musicians are "kept in the dark" about the worth of their output on the platforms.

He said: "We don’t even know what a stream is worth and there’s no way you could even found out what a stream is worth, and that’s not a good relationship."

But he said it was not necessarily the streaming services but the music labels that are perpetrating the problem by hiding the "humongous difference" between what a stream is worth and what they are paid.

He added: "It is not the streaming services that we have the problem with – it is fantastic that they can distribute our product in such an effective, wonderful way and keep a great digital trail.

“It is the labels that are perpetrating this and we need to really address this."

"When you see the disparity, it’s just absolutely ridiculous," he added.

Dylan's sale of the copyrights to some 600 of his tracks is thought to be one of the largest in recent years.

It encompasses songs from 1962’s anthemic Blowin’ In The Wind and 1964’s The Times They Are A-Changin, to this year’s acclaimed Murder Most Foul.

It is understood that Dylan’s catalogue was acquired from the artist himself, with the New York Times reporting it was worth more than $300 million (£225m).

In recent years the catalogue has been administered by Universal rival Sony/ATV outside the US and by Dylan’s own operations inside it.

Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and Billie Eilish have recently signed with UMPG. Credit: AP

The deal follows recent high-profile signings to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) including Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar and Post Malone.

Jody Gerson, chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group’s publishing division, said: “To represent the body of work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time – whose cultural importance can’t be overstated – is both a privilege and a responsibility.

“We look forward to working with Bob and the team in ensuring his artistry continues to reach and inspire generations of fans, recording artists and songwriters around the world.”

Spotify, the No. 1 music streaming service, made its debut on the stock market in 2018. Credit: AP

A poll by the Musicians' Union and The Ivors Academy found that eight out of 10 musicians (82%) earn less than £200 a year from streaming services.

Songwriters, artists, musicians and composers were asked to reveal their income from streaming services ahead of the DCMS committee.

The survey also revealed that 92% of respondents said that streaming made up less than 5% of their yearly income.

Graham Davies, CEO of The Ivors Academy, said: "This survey is further demonstration that the song and the songwriter are undervalued.

"Too much streaming money is going to the major labels, this is an outdated model and needs reform. We have the best songwriters in the world and they deserve more."