Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Led Zeppelin, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and over 150 successful artists and songwriters recently joined the growing chorus of voices demanding changes in the way music streaming pays creators in Britain.
But while the open letter to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson – calling for streaming to be treated like a radio broadcast rather than a sale, giving artists and writers a larger share of royalties – featured a host of household names, the driving forces behind it are rather less celebrated musicians.
Tom Gray, singer/guitarist with indie rockers Gomez and head of the #BrokenRecord campaign, and Crispin Hunt, former frontman of Britpoppers Longpigs and now chair of songwriters’ association the Ivors Academy, together with the Musicians Union, recruited the all-star cast to try and influence the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee investigation into streaming, as covered in last month’s Brit Beat.
Only two of the assembled stars – Martin’s Coldplay and McCartney’s Beatles – appeared in Spotify’s Top 50 Artists Of 2020. But Gray and Hunt are confident the list explodes the major labels’ argument that only unsuccessful artists want streaming reform.
“There are a few artists doing well from streaming,” says Gray. “But the rest of us break down into two categories: those for whom it isn’t sensible to complain, because they need their label or a platform’s support; and those of us who are past caring. Our letter is very strong proof that every type of successful artist you can imagine has a problem with streaming.”
The government is yet to respond. But Geoff Taylor, CEO of the BPI, which represents most of the labels the letter’s authors are signed to, tells Variety: “We all want the best for artists. But ‘treating streaming like radio’ is not the elegant solution it may appear. Streaming today provides exponentially more value to the music community than radio, and the proposed scheme risks leaving many artists and songwriters worse off. They may get a larger percentage, but of a substantially smaller pie.”
Nonetheless, Hunt is “hopeful that most of our recommendations for a fair and free market for music-makers will appear in the DCMS report”. Expect the row to simmer until that report is published later this year. …
As expected, several independent U.K. festivals, including Boomtown and 2000trees, have been postponed until 2022, due to the lack of a government-backed COVID insurance scheme. But the biggest festival of all, Glastonbury, has announced its first ever global livestream, “Live at Worthy Farm,” on May 22-23.
It will star the likes of Coldplay, Haim and Blur/Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn, with Ric Salmon, CEO of livestreaming company Driift, also promising “some pretty huge surprises along the way.”
Driift has already worked on successful livestreams for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Niall Horan and Nick Cave, but Salmon says Glastonbury is a potential game-changer, both for the format and other festivals.
“The audience for something like this is so huge,” he tells Variety. “Glastonbury is a worldwide name. You’ve got to think that as a concept, it’s got legs to position a festival in a different way. All the artists are involved in delivering something magical – it’s going to be a pretty special event.” …
One event that will be going ahead with a live audience is the 2021 BRIT Awards. The UK equivalent of the Grammys will take place on May 11, with the likes of Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo appearing in front of 4,000 fans (down from the BRITs usual attendance of around 15,000) at the O2. The music business will gift 2,500 tickets to key workers, and there will be none of the usual industry tables, with executives confined to suites, although attending artists will be allowed on the arena floor.
The stage show will be similarly scaled down, with time for rehearsals and set-building restricted by coronavirus regulations. But showrunners Rebecca Allen (president of EMI Records) and Selina Webb (EVP at Universal Music U.K.) remain confident the industry will come together to ensure a great event.
“This is a year like no year before,” Webb tells Variety. “At first it was daunting to think about how you could bring together a show of such scale in these times. But, with such a creative team on board, many challenges quickly became opportunities and actually provide the chance to approach the show in a completely different way.” …
While British artists like Harry Styles and Dua Lipa made a big showing at the Grammys, one low-profile U.K. company – London-based artist/songwriter/producer management company the Flight Club – saw its clients involved in three Grammy-winning projects. Singer-songwriter Ari Pensmith is featured on Kaytranada’s Best Dance/Electronic Album winner, “Bubba,” while P2J coproduced Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” (Best Music Video) and tracks on Burna Boy’s “Twice as Tall” (Best Global Music Album).
Until now, the first rule of Flight Club has been that founder Samuel Ademosu does not talk about Flight Club (sorry). But after a post-Grammys surge in interest, particularly from U.S. artists and labels, Ademosu tells Variety he’s planning on expanding the company and pushing its label arm.
“I don’t want to start these things for the sake of it,” says Ademosu. “I want them to be impactful. We want to be a force for good in the marketplace and have art that is disruptive, that people can enjoy and is entertaining in whatever way, shape or form the creative wants. It’s like, how do we get back to the Grammys next year?” …
The closure of live music venues continues to have a far-reaching impact on the U.K. industry, as shown by the latest financial figures from British performance rights society PRS For Music.
Although PRS managed to distribute a record £699.4 million ($956.1 million) to its 155,000 members, revenues were down 19.7% on 2019, due partly to a precipitous 79.1% decline in royalties from live performances, to just £11.3 million ($15.4 million).
PRS CEO Andrea Czapary Martin warns that more “tough times” will follow in 2021, with distributions almost certain to be down from 2020, but adds: “Musicwill bounce back. People love music and it’s just a matter of opening up the public places and getting live music going.”
A good sign that live music really is on the way back comes with confirmation that Outernet, the long-awaited new central London entertainment complex that contains no fewer than three live music spaces, will finally have its coronavirus-delayed soft launch on October 31.
The project combines cutting edge technology (it has immersive content deals with Ridley Scott’s Black Dog Films and BRITs/Mercury Prize organizers the BPI) with Denmark Street/Tin Pan Alley’s heritage as the birthplace of the British music industry, and a crucial landmark in the careers of artists such as David Bowie, Elton John and the Sex Pistols.
Outernet CEO Philip O’Ferrall, a former Viacom executive, tells Variety a promoter partner for the main, 2,000-capacity music venue will be confirmed shortly as he bids to “change the face of entertainment in England,” despite Central London becoming something of a ghost town under COVID.
“Denmark Street has got roots in music that no one can argue with,” he says. “We’ve got to respect its heritage, and try and create new history. There’s plenty of audience to go around – when we launch and gigs start to happen in our space, people are going to come.”
Mark Sutherland has been covering the British music scene for over 25 years, most recently spending five years as editor of U.K. trade magazine, Music Week. Follow him on Twitter at @msutherlanduk.