Tag Archives: Spotify

Music royalties – a siren song for niche investors seeking higher yield

A small but growing number of investors are buying the rights to musician’s future earnings, hoping to beat the fixed income returns and other markets.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Music Royalties Strike a Chord, these fixed income investors are lured by future returns of 8%-12% annually, when junk bonds are still hovering around 6%.

Private equity funds have raise or begun to raise $1 billion since 2013 when this sector appeared to be an alternative to low yields on fixed income.

There are a several types of royalties that can be sold, either for a specified period of time or until they expire. (For works created on or after January 1, 1978, it is life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship.)

David Bowie infamously sold his future copyright earnings for $55 million (“Bowie” Bonds), only to have new technology like Napster devalue them. [See, “The Bonds that Fell to Earth,” in the January 15, 2016 IP CloseUp.) The financing did wonders for Bowie balance sheet, although not all investors made out so well.

High Yield

Bowie Bonds paid 7.9% for ten years, at which time, I believe, they reverted back to the mercurial artist. He never lost ownership of all of his songs; he merely licensed the future earnings to some of them for a period of time.

Songs can also earn money when they are performed live, played in a restaurant or film, or streamed through a service like Spotify. They still do not make money from radio airplay (a legacy from old tech, when it was about selling records). Songwriters, music publishers, artists and labels own various rights, including performance rights.

WSJ reports that in the 2Q Denver-based website Royalty Exchange held music rights auctions valued at $2.5M, more than double the total from the 4Q 2016.  Royalty Exchange publishes a guide to music royalties, here.  It is a transaction site, so it is best to speak to a lawyer or experienced IP broker before buying.

Risk to music royalty streams includes timing, trends and technological threats. A song that generates a steady stream of income today is not necessarily going to in five or fifteen years. On the other hand, a small handful could actually generate more revenue than expected. Receivables, or royalty stream financing, takes place in many industries, including energy, real estate and sports.

Streaming Rises

The renewed interest in music royalties may due in part to increased royalty payments by services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple, which, similar to YouTube, have been notoriously reluctant to pay creatives fairly for content. But increases have been negligible for most performers and song writers, and top recording artists with leverage tend to cut their own distribution deals.

With disdain for IP rights on the rise, it is somewhat encouraging that niche investors still believe in the integrity of copyrights and the reliability of their income stream. For them to succeed they will need cooperation from streaming services, as well as songwriters and performers.

Image source: myradio360.com; entertainment.howstuffworks.com 

 

Apple is seeking to cut license royalties paid to record labels

While the share of revenue from streaming paid to record labels and recording artists is rising, Apple Inc., among the fairest licensees in on-line music, is now seeking to reduce record labels’ share of revenue from streaming.

Bloomberg reports that the record labels’ deal with Apple were expected to expire at the end of June, though they are likely to be extended if the parties can’t agree on new terms, according to the people who asked not to be identified.

“Part of negotiations is to revise the iPhone maker’s overall relationship with the music industry.”

The negotiations would bring number two Apple closer to the rate industry streaming leader Spotify Ltd. pays labels, and allow both sides to adjust to the new realities of the music industry. Streaming services have been a source of renewed hope following a decade of decline in the digital age.

Patent holders may believe there is an element of deja vu taking place in music content. Once rock solid copyrights are now subject to renegotiation and diminished revenue because of lost leverage due to lower valuations and easier access. A key will be finding what will make copyrights more relevant again, and creating more competition among streaming services for content.

More Optimistic

Record labels are now more optimistic about the future health of their industry, which grew 5.9 percent last year worldwide thanks to paid streaming services Spotify and Apple Music. They recently negotiated a new deal with Spotify further lowering their take from the service, provided Spotify’s growth continues.

“Apple initially overpaid to placate the labels,” says Bloomberg, “who were concerned Apple Music would cripple or cannibalize iTunes, a major source of revenue.”

For the full Bloomberg article, go here.

Sales vs. Streams 

Though online sales of music have plummeted over the past few years, they still account for 24 percent of sales in the U.S., according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Vinyl record sales also are up but they are still limited to a specialty audience, while CD sale are way down.

According to Billboard, streaming led the U.S. music industry to its first back-to-back yearly growth this millennium and in the first half of 2016 was the single ­highest source of revenue in the U.S. recorded-music industry, ­bringing in $1.61 billion. All three major labels — Universal, Sony and Warner — posted streaming-driven double-digit percent boosts in earnings throughout the year.

The Trichordist, a publication devoted to “Artists for an Ethical and Sustainable Internet,” reports that Spotify was paying .00521 back in 2014, two years later the aggregate net average per play has dropped to .00437 a reduction of 16%.

                     Apple Music generates 7% of all streams and 13% of revenue

YouTube now has their licensed, subscription service (formerly YouTube Red) represented in these numbers as opposed to the Artist Channel and Content ID numbers we used last time. Just looking at the new YouTube subscription service numbers isolated here, they generate over 21% of all licensed audio streams, but less than 4% of revenue! By comparison Apple Music generates 7% of all streams and 13% of revenue.

Apple sits in the sweet spot, generating the second largest amount of streaming revenue with a per stream rate .00735, nearly double what Spotify is paying. But, Spotify has a near monopoly on streaming market share dominating 63% of all streams and 69% of all streaming revenue.

The top 10 streamers account for 99% of all streaming revenue.

New Technology, New Values

IP rights holders, including those with patents and trademarks, need to think through where they fit in the current digital scheme of things, and how much should be expected in a world that finds not paying for others’ intellectual property increasingly acceptable.

For patent holders, the streaming/copyright battle could be the proverbial canary in the mine.

Image source: fortune.com

Musicians want fairer streaming fees; inventors want patent licenses

In a digital world, fair compensation for creative expression or new ideas, like music and inventions, requires more determination than ever.

Intellectual property piracy has become an insidious problem, affecting a wide range of  individuals and industries, including recording and technology.

The effect of low payment – as opposed to no payment – has been particularly harsh on recording artists. They have had the challenge of policing the frequently unauthorized use of their work, getting their music taken down (and kept down), and being paid fairly by valuable streaming services who claim that they are not profitable.

Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and others have made it difficult for artists to permanently take down songs and videos that they are not being fairly paid for or that should not have been posted in the first place. While fans may enjoy the mostly free access, it has made it extremely difficult for less well-known artists to survive in the industry. For most of the big names, the possible loss in recording revenue can be made up in performances and merchandising.

Musicians: Update the Law

Napster was a turning point.  Shut down by court order in 2001 after just two years of operation, the online service enabled MP3 files to be easily shared. The recording industry and artists had little choice but to respond by surrendering preventing the digital distribution of their work or accepting the poor terms – if they were even offered. Streaming services legitimized file-sharing. It’s been more than a decade since Napster was shut down, and artists and labels are finally fighting back about the meager pay rates for their material. They are demanding, among other things, that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) a 1998 law, be updated.

They want to change the law so that music and video streaming services will be required to remove permanently material that they are not authorized to provide. It will be interesting to see if Congress complies.

YouTube claims that it has paid out over $3b in royalties, although that amount was initially attributed to all of Google, YouTube’s parent company. Bank of America values YouTube at $80b, more than all but 66 of the S&P 500 companies. (An article from Bloomberg News is worth reading, here.)

Don’t get me wrong. YouTube is a convenient, well-organized service that offers consumers an affordable alternative to network and cable TV and iTunes.  It claims to have paid some 15 million content providers. But the-1x-1 question is what amounts and to whom?

Angry Headliners, Too

In an article in the The New York Times, “Music World Bands Together Against YouTube, Seeking Change to Law,” it was reported that while YouTube is a vital platform for promoting song and discovering new talent, “it has never been a substantial source of revenue and is a vexing outlet for leaks and unauthorized materials.”

Now, even highly successful artists like Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Billy Joel have signed letters asking for United States copyright laws to be changed.

It is no accident that recording and visual artists face similar obstacles as other IP holders – notably inventors and patent holders. Since passage of the America Invents Act, it has been anything but easy for patent holders to stop the unauthorized use of their invention rights, or to get fairly paid for them.

Consumers are Complicit

“New services and platforms are great for consumers,” says Johathan Taplin, a music and film producer who has worked with Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese, “but our weak laws have allowed them to siphon revenue away for the underlying music, leaving song-writers, performers and the he whole industry choking on their dust.”

Taplin is Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. See Do you love music? Silicon Valley doesn’t.”

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

In 2015, after years of battling pirates, Prince, an innovator in controlling the distribution of his work, said in an interview that the Internet “was over for anyone who wants to get paid.”

Let’s hope that blatant disregard of the source of creative expression and new ideas will not continue unchallenged. For less well-known musicians and visual artists who depend on revenue from streaming and copyrighted songs as a means of survival the future may be a little less bleak. Young tech companies, inventors and universities, who are finding difficulty securing patent licenses have yet to turn the corner.

 

Image source: nytimes.com; bloomberg.com; BofA/Merrill Lynch Global Research

Patent Holders can Learn from Angry Musician’s File Sharing Fight

A song writer makes a strong case against businesses that profit wildly from his and others innovators’ work.

Heavy metal band Metallica got serious about battling illegal downloading of their work in 2000 when drummer Lars Ulrich filed an unpopular copyright infringement law suit against Napster, naming 300,000 users. Everyone complained, but Napster was eventually shut down.

Recording artists and song writers remain easy prey for those who who make music files available to anyone with Internet access. Audiences including fans, businesses, software developers, and especially content providers, have portrayed victims as greedy and out of touch with the digital world, just as many tech companies depict all patent enforcers as “trolls.”

For better known artists, unpaid air time on sites like Pandora and Spotify serve as free publicity for their live performances and sales of their earlier or “private” work,  but for less wellfreeloading-cover-image21-known musicians who lack the ability to sell-out arenas, the lack of compensation for air play can mean the difference between having a decent year or taking a day job.

Phantom Royalty Stream

David Lowery, the leader of two bands, Van Beethoven and Cracker, has become a celebrity among musicians, reports The New York Times. He has been speaking out about artists shrinking paychecks and the influence of Silicon Valley over copyright, economics and public discourse.

Lowery, a San Antonio native,  is no run of the mill song writer. He is a trained mathematician and has worked as a quant trading derivatives and providing financial analysis, and is a lecturer in the University of Georgia’s music business program.

His blog, The Trichordist, has documented the income statements associated with his and other musicians work. He claims that 1.1 million plays of one of his popular song, “Low,” on Pandora has netted him just $16.89.

Song writers, recording artists, visual artists and inventors are innovators connected in spirit but bound to different innovation rights. As innovators, they share common challenges for acceptance of their ideas and for economic survival among those who have no qualms about not paying them anything if they don’t have to.

Their  problems are fueled by the speed and accessibility of the Internet, which are both a boom to artists and thinkers and a threat. Consumers and businesses crave low-cost products, or better-still free ones. Companies that need to sell new and more appealing products have a ravenous appetite for inventions. Often, they are actually incremental advancements, or “re-invention”, which their internal R&D is only partially able to provide.

Patent holders can learn from musicians’ copyright battles with content providers.  The frequency and scope of invention infringement has grown, and routine abuse of patent holders’ rights, like downloading, has been as widely accepted.

Inventors and their advisers need to educate audiences about how the patent system works and how it must be protected from bad actors. They also need to show the problem has a human face, and that unauthorized patent use affects not just “eccentric” inventors and aggressive businesses, but consumers, jobs, and the ability of the U.S. to compete with other nations. Invention theft affects the quality of innovation itself.

There are those who would prefer to turn the story line into one about patent “trolls,” when it is really about business acting in bad faith to get the best deal on inventions or improvements that are not theirs.

Lowery’s blog is subtitled “Artists for an Ethical and Sustainable Internet.” Patent holders would be wise to consider adopting a similar tag line for the ethics associated with patent filing and patent quality.

At the Roots

Audiences need to know that unauthorized use of inventions and demonizing all patent enforcement leave many talented, necessary individuals and businesses out in the cold. Moreover, it weakens the DNA of innovation, which is not easily repaired.

Illustration credit: Slashgear.com; thetrichordist.com

The NY Times Says Streaming Sticks it to Musicians

Royalties from so-called legitimate Internet streaming sites, including Pandora and Spotify, pay most musicians less than a penny on a dollar of revenue generated.

In a page one article in today’s New York Times, “As Music Streaming Grows, Artists’ Royalties Slow to a Trickle,” the paper illustrates how cellist Zoe Keating received just $1,652.74 from Pandora over six months for her songs with they played more than 1.5 million times. On Spotify, wrote the Times, Keating netted just $547.71 for 131,000 plays or 0.42 per play.

The formula makes the old days of Tin Pan Alley look pretty good for struggling song writers and recording artists.  

zoeA post on Keating’s blog, “Internet Royalty Math Makes My Brain Hurt,” documents a similar experience with Soundexchange. Her post on Tumblr, More About Data vs. Royalties,” is worth a look from anyone interested in IP rights and business. (In case you had not noticed, inventors don’t fare any better.)  

*     *     *

Fans need to remember that even streaming businesses like Pandora and Spotify, as opposed to Megaupload, which pays no royalties and was shut down by authorities, may be great for their personal library but not so good for musicians trying to make a living — and we’re not talking about the Adele and Rhianna.

Some say music streaming is merely a disruptive technology for delivering content people want in a manner they desire. With sufficient volume, it has been argued, royalty payments for top names will eventually catch up to where they were. Don’t bet on it.

Illustration source: concertlivewire.com; venturebeat.com


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