The writers who craft songs for artists from Garth Brooks to Beyonce will tell judges this week that the increasing popularity of streaming services like Spotify will destroy their profession unless they get more royalties.
In a hearing scheduled to begin today, songwriters will try to persuade judges on the Copyright Royalty Board in Washington DC to adopt a new standard that could earn them a higher rate from streaming. Alphabet, Amazon.com, Apple, Pandora Media and Spotify are countering with their own proposals.
On-demand streaming has boosted overall industry sales, surpassing iTunes and physical CDs as the largest source of revenue for the music industry.
More than 100 million people around the world pay for a service of some kind, with Spotify and Apple Music attracting the lion's share.
Songwriters say the shift has cut their pay and see the hearing as their best chance to propose a palatable status quo which will last five years.
"We should get compensated every time someone streams a song," said David Israelite, ceo of the National Music Publishers Association.
"The structure is a complicated formula that's about percentages of revenue, and we don't think that works well for us, or that it's fair."
While recording artists have turned to touring to make up for lost CD sales, songwriters have no similar recourse. The number of composers working in Nashville has shrunk to less than 400 today from around 3,500 about 13 years ago, according to Lee Thomas Miller, one of the songwriters who may testify. "Spotify or Pandora will play a song millions and millions of times, and those are worth $10," said Miller, who has written hits performed by country stars like Brooks, Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley.
"The business of songwriting and publishing is over unless they change the way we get paid."
It's a familiar refrain. The music industry has been fighting internet companies for almost 20 years. Growing record sales still have a long way to go to recover from the shift from CDs to pirated songs, iTunes and free videos on YouTube.
All five streaming companies blame record labels, publishers and others for keeping too much of the money. Apple has proposed a per-streaming rate, but the writers say it's too low. (Bloomberg)