musicFIRST survey shows support for equal pay across music services

Today, we have one of our first surveys into music opinions for 2018. The musicFIRST Coalition commissioned a poll of more than 2,200 adult music listeners over January 9-11, asking participants for their thoughts on artist payments and accountability among music platforms.

The responses showed that 60% of adults agree that all music services — including AM/FM radio, satellite radio, and streaming services — should offer the same financial compensation to artists for plays of their songs. Few opposed with that concept; 12% said they “somewhat disagree” and 4% said “strongly disagree.” But the telling factor in this is the 25% who said they don’t know or have no opinion. That’s the same percentage as those who “strongly agree” that all services should pay equally.

Next, the survey delved into opinions about the laws governing music payments. At 35%, a majority said they “somewhat agree” that regulations for music licensing and copyright should keep pace with trends in how music is consumed. But the second-largest response was the no opinion/don’t know group with 28%.

Further questions began asking about the fairness of existing regulations. Here we must point out that musicFIRST has been a vocal supporter of performance royalties for radio airplay for years. Also, the wording of the questions given in the survey results suggests bias in favor of those policies, which may have in turn skewed results. Here are the statements to be rated as “fair” or “unfair:”

  • Some regulations dating back to the 1940s impact how the majority of performers are compensated in today’s digital age. Some of these regulations haven’t been updated since before the internet.
  • SiriusXM benefits from provisions granted by the U.S. government over 20 years ago that allows them to pay a below-market royalty rate for the music that they play.
  • On a streaming service like Spotify, it takes one thousand streams for the musicians who recorded the song to earn about $7, while the same number of streams on YouTube yields only about $1.
  • Music creators earn significantly less every time a song is streamed on YouTube than if that same song is streamed on a service like Spotify, based on laws written during dial-up internet and AOL era.
  • The marketplace determines the values of books, films, TV shows, video games and other creative goods. Musical compositions are not treated the same way.

But, biased or not, the results showed more respondents opining that current regulations, particularly those pre-dating the Internet, are unfair.

The topic of music royalties, even just the divide between mechanical and performance rights, can be a complex one even for people in the industry. The layperson perspective on music licensing and its current rules may be helpful in how music companies choose to create messaging around the related legal debates currently on the horizon for this year.

Anna Washenko