Songwriters are earning four times as much as recording artists.
We can reach this conclusion by using the work of Will Page, who is the go-to person for music industries’ statistics. When he worked for PRS for Music he would annually total up the British figures. Now that he is Spotify’s Director of Economics he is performing the same task on a global scale. He has discovered that our planetary music copyright business was worth $24.37bn in 2015. This represents a rise of $941m on 2014.
In his findings, Page lists the money earned by the record company members of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI); the income of the publisher and composer members of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC); and the money that is going to the publishers directly. The results are as follows:
IFPI digital recordings $6.5bn
IFPI physical recordings $5.0bn
IFPI performing rights $2.1bn
IFPI sync rights $0.3bn
CISAC performing rights $6.8bn
CISAC mechanical rights $1.2bn
CISAC private copying income $0.2bn
Publishing sync rights $0.8bn
Publishing other $0.8bn
Non-CISAC publishing mechanicals $0.5bn
It is size of the collections and the increase in the money that has attracted headlines. Nevertheless, Page is also keen to point out that there is ‘a misconception about the David-Goliath relationship between labels and publishing’. The publishers are not dwarfed. The overall income for songwriting copyrights is $10.4bn (42.7% of the total), while the income for sound recording copyrights is $14bn (57.3% of the total). According to Page:
When you factored in all the monies that flow to PROs [Performing Rights Organisations], publishers and songwriters, they were much more neck-and-neck in true value than often perceived. However, how that money then flows from firms (labels, publishers and collectives) to individuals (artists and songwriters) is an entirely different conversation.
Page does not enter into this dialogue and it is easy to understand why. It is hard enough getting the total income figures from industry organisations, but at least this information is available. In contrast, the contract details of songwriters and recording artists remain private. As such, it is difficult to determine the percentage royalties that they are receiving from their publishers and record labels. Moreover, these royalties vary from country to country and from artist to artist. These royalties have also varied through time. Songwriters and performers who signed contracts in the 1950s or 1960s, for example, will generally be on lower royalty rates than artists who are signing contracts today.
But the conversation is still worth having. It provides a means of assessing the relative prosperity of songwriters and recording artists. And while the precise details of contracts are not known, some general figures are available. If all artists were on contemporary UK contracts, the splits would look something like this:
Sound Recoding Copyright $14bn
IFPI digital recordings 80%-85% record labels/15%-20% recording artists
IFPI physical recordings 80%-85% record labels/15%-20% recording artists
IFPI performing rights 50% record labels/50% recording artists
IFPI sync rights 50%-85% record labels/15%-50% recording artists
Songwriting Copyright $10.4bn
CISAC performing rights 20%-25% publishers/75%-80% songwriters
CISAC mechanical rights 20%-25% publishers/75%-80% songwriters
CISAC private copying income 50% publishers/50% songwriters?
Publishing sync rights 15%-35% publishers/65%-85% songwriters
Publishing other 15%-35% publishers/65%-85% songwriters?
Non-CISAC publishing mechanicals 20%-25% publishers/75%-80% songwriters?
Although some of these splits can only be estimated, these percentages would place the income of songwriters far above that of recording artists. Their take home would be something like $7.75bn, while the overall copyright income for recording artists would only be $2.1bn.
Songwriters would also be in a better position than recording artists when it comes to non-recoupable royalties, the money that cannot be used to pay off advances. At least £3.4bn of the songwriting income would be free from recoupment. In contrast, the only element that would be non-recoupable for recording artists would be the $1.05bn earned from their 50% share of the IFPI performing rights.
These total figures would have to be reduced, however. At least half of the worldwide copyright income is derived from back catalogue. Consequently, there will be many recording artists and songwriters who are on less favourable percentages than presented here. However, even though the totals for songwriting and recording would come down, there would be an even greater bias in favor of the writers. Old recording contracts tend to be more punitive than old publishing contracts are. The percentages for the artists are proportionally lower and the terms of the contracts last longer. Moreover, songwriters have been guaranteed at least 50% of the performing rights income in most territories for over a century. This is the biggest single income stream and it is non-recoupable. In contrast, recording artists in many countries are still not guaranteed equitable remuneration for performing rights income. Although this 50% share is now mandatory throughout the European Union, this has only been the case since the Rental and Lending Rights Directive of 1992.
The money is still in the publishing.