In a recent Decibel Geek podcast, superstar pop songwriter Desmond Child (whose songs are on well over 300 million albums sold) shared some stats that echo sentiments bouncing around our industry as of late: Sustainable income as a professional songwriter is disturbingly endangered.
“Jon, Richie and I get six million streams on Pandora every quarter, as an average, of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer,’ just the one song,” offers Child of his co-creation with Bon Jovi. “So just imagine all the other streams we’re getting. Yeah, but we got a big check for $110 [for the song last quarter] to split amongst the three of us and our publishers. Yeah. The streaming thing is a beat and we have to switch that…the record companies get 96 percent of the money and we get 4 percent because they got in there and made deals and bought into these companies. Frankly, we got dicked—all the songwriters. We’ve got to turn that around.”
While songwriters still thrive on terrestrial radio, Child is focused on securing a 50/50-split licensing model on all music usage with labels through measures such as the Songwriter Equity Act (https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4079), “coming through Congress this year,” he notes. “Terrestrial radio will die. It’s on the way out. It’s over. The entire country of Norway has stopped terrestrial radio…and Sweden’s next, the rest of Europe, the UK, then it’s going to be here, too, and in Canada. In 10 years, there will be no terrestrial radio…and if it’s tilted in that direction, where we get 4 percent, the music creators, and they—the record labels and the performers—get 96 percent, it really hurts music. Then people aren’t going to choose this as a career.”
“Think about this,” he continues. “When I came to Nashville in ’91, there were over 5,000 signed writers to publishing companies within the [Interstate] 440 circle. As of the last count, there were 237…In 20 years, that’s how much music has diminished. The record industry has lost a million jobs in 10 years—because of file sharing; people don’t buy albums; there’s no collecting of an [artist ’s work]…there’s no loyalty to an artist; you’re not following people from album to album. If they can’t make money then they can’t tour, so they can’t get good at it. Then the world is diminished of fantastic performers, had they been given the chance over five, six, seven years…that’s not happening. There’s no patience for it, and record companies are leaning on their catalogs of music from the past…New, exciting stuff? Yes, it does happen. But less.”
Child goes on to describe “fair trade” concepts for the future of consumable music, as content creators need to make the disruptive technology of music streaming work for them, too. “Everybody’s going to have to give a little, in all directions, so that we have a vibrant music business going forward. It’s all going to be subscription and everyone is going to have to be able to work within it.”
Alongside these major challenges for songwriters and artists, the pro audio industry has largely turned its focus to serving the musician crowd—the self-recordists—as they increasingly edge out “pro” audio engineers to capture their own content. While we can hope the allure of creating “art for art’s sake” is sufficient sustenance to our own industry—selling few large-format mixers to commercial studios, but hundreds of thousands of small digital widgets to audio hobbyists—what will become of the skilled, short-format audio content creator, the professional songwriter?
Since the live music experience ultimately can’t be encoded and shared, perhaps we’re returning to a time when professional musicians are predominantly “real-time” artists. Though rest assured, in this evolution, some notable institutions, careers and art forms will indeed pass away.
Fair Trade Music
Direct link to the Desmond Child podcast