UK opens inquiry into whether music streaming is fair for artists

Committee chairman Julian Knight MP wasn’t shy about suggesting that music streaming services might need reform, expressing concern that the current models could “limit the range of artists and music” in the long term. He also noted that algorithmic playlists and suggestions might be helpful for boosting the services’ income, but were a “blunt tool” that risked hurting newer artists.

It’s not certain that the inquiry will lead to any new regulations. However, the very act of starting an inquiry is significant. It could put pressure on services to boost royalties, tighten copy protection or change algorithms to better-expose upcoming artists.

There’s already at least some pressure. Artist have complained that even tens of thousands of listens can generate just a few dollars of income, and that they may take as little as 13 percent of that income where labels and publishers take the rest. That’s rough in normal times, but it can be particularly dangerous during a pandemic when in-person concerts simply aren’t an option. A shake-up might be necessary to make streaming sustainable in the long term, although that could lead to rate hikes for subscribers.