Sally Yoon is an IPilogue Writer, IP Innovation Clinic Fellow, and a 3L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
What did your Spotify Wrapped look like this year? As music streaming services grow in popularity, more people have included them as part of their daily lives. On November 29th, The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released its final report of its market study into music and music streaming. According to the report, streaming services are the primary method of music distribution for labels and artists, with 39 million active users and over 138 billion streams in the UK in 2021. Moreover, competition between music streaming services and the digitization of the market improved consumer outcomes greatly, though creators still had concerns about their earnings from streaming.
Falling subscription fees, benefits for emerging artists
Music streaming services have evolved to significantly benefit consumers in today’s market. These services offer consumers access to an enormous catalogue of music, better audio quality, and new features, without the price tag. In fact, the report reveals that the price of music streaming plans dropped more than 20% between 2009 and 2021 because they did not keep up with inflation.
The music streaming market is also showing some positive results for creators, especially new artists. First, virtually anyone can share their music. Although the market is highly competitive, it has never been easier to create and record music and share it on streaming services. Secondly, deal options for creators are improving. Although creators do not necessarily need a label to share their music on streaming services, many of them are finding that they have more options in what type of deal they would prefer (for example, DIY distribution, A&L services, traditional record deals). Moreover, artists find that having an existing prominent following online helps them while negotiating a record deal. Major contracts with new artists for multi-track deals revealed more favourable terms for creators — an increase in average gross royalty rates, shorter minimum commitment periods and a reduction in the proportion of recordings owned by labels.
Average UK artist yearly streaming earnings from majors and average UK royalty rates. Source: CMA analysis of data from the majors.
Challenges call for broader policy debate, not competition intervention
Digitization has also presented some challenges. Market digitization has primarily limited competition to already popular artists — although streaming services offer a wide selection of music, consumer tastes tend to favour a small number of successful artists. Moreover, streaming allows both new and old music to reach new audiences, increasing competition as new music competes with older music for a share of streaming revenue.
Ultimately, the report concludes that these outcomes are not primarily caused by market competition and therefore, a competition intervention probably would not increase revenues for artists. Rather, the report calls for a broader policy debate, encouraging the government to consider further legislative and policy reforms for creator compensation in collaboration with DCMS Select Committee recommendations.
Labels are urged to provide more transparency to their artists about how streaming service earnings are calculated and how existing deals with streaming services will impact their current and future earnings. In addition, government and policymakers should examine options available to incentivize songwriting, such as determining a fair split between publishing and recording shares and exploring the licensing rates for music streaming. Future conversations revolving around these issues are critical, as the sustainability of the music streaming market depends on consumers and creators alike.