The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess on Streaming: “If a Whole Generation of Musicians Goes to the Wall, No One Wins.”

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Tim Burgess performing live. Photo Credit: Tore Sætre

In a newly published guest column, The Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess took aim at the contemporary music-streaming landscape and expressed a willingness to use “the pandemic as an opportunity to look again at how things are working in the industry.”

Tim Burgess, who joined The Charlatans back in 1989, also touched on a number of other interesting points in the approximately 1,200-word-long piece, which The Guardian published today. After highlighting the pre-pandemic financial challenges associated with being a musician – “For years, so many musicians have had to have more than one job to pay their rent” – the 53-year-old suggested that streaming may have exacerbated the difficulties facing the music community because of the pause on touring.

“But there’s a third ingredient to our woes, and it’s the reason why we are potentially so vulnerable to the end of touring. Yes, experiencing the beautiful world of live performances, being satisfied each night by the adulation, applause and associated merchandise sales, has its own strong appeal,” continued the Salford-born creator.

“But for most of the history of pop music, it hasn’t been the whole story. Recorded music was what helped keep artists afloat – giving people the opportunity to listen in the comfort of their own home, or on the dancefloor, or out for a walk with their headphones on.”

Building upon the point, Tim Burgess expressed the above-mentioned willingness to reflect upon the music industry – including its current trends and long-term outlook – amid the pandemic. “It isn’t a selfish act of demanding more for ourselves,” he penned of this reflection. “It’s about tidying up the mess so that musicians have a chance in the future, so that their work can be valued and more names can be added to the list of artists that this country has proudly produced since the very first recordings were made.”

Then, acknowledging some relative bright spots – the British music industry’s solid commercial performance, continued vinyl-sales growth, and more – the I Love the New Sky artist stated: “There’s hope and excitement in the gloom, but there’s also an elephant in the gloom. That elephant’s name is streaming.”

Though a substantial number of UK residents (and international music fans, for that matter) stream music via subscription services, however, the per-stream royalty rate remains decidedly low for most artists. Burgess cited “Cars” singer, songwriter, and producer Gary Numan’s recent statements concerning his royalties, as well as the British government’s ongoing investigation into streaming. As part of the latter, singer-songwriter Nadine Shah specified that she struggles to pay her rent, despite having more than 100,000 Spotify listeners.

“The thing is, streaming has taught us that people are willing to pay for music. Spotify had total revenues of $7.4bn in 2019. A lot of that money goes to major labels rather than directly to artists, so they’re part of the equation too,” proceeded Burgess. “With everything else on hold, we have time to sort it, right? If a whole generation of musicians goes to the wall, no one wins. And let me tell you, when we fix it there’ll be quite a lineup willing to play at the party to celebrate.”

6 Responses

  1. Roger Scott Craig

    Direct sales from musicians to fans with variable pricing eliminating all middle men was something I tried to start TEN YEARS ago with help from many people in the Beatles camp. And got support from the AFM (the largest Union for musicians in the world) too. And from the Beach Boys manager. A Platform owned and run by the musicians where fans know that their hard earned cash is going directly to the people who make the music and not to some large corporation. I asked a lot of prominent musicians to help me build that Platform and most of them would not help. They were all too busy recording their next album for Spotify and Youtube. It is so obvious what needs to be done in 2021. But our leaders are the very successful artists. They need to step up to the plate to fix the music business now. Otherwise how will future generations of musicians ever be able to afford to record a ‘Dark side of the moon’ or a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – and sadly the fans are now used to getting free music and how will we turn this ship around after twenty years of free music since Napster came along? We need to offer the fans more than just the music. Technologies are now available to do that

    • Tom Hendricks

      Pennies for play, is similar. This gives any creative content, anywhere on line a penny per play when someone clicks on it.
      No need for subscriptions, advertisers, middlemen, etc.

      • Urias

        Lots of need for monitoring when people (and bots) game this system, though.

  2. Tom Hendricks

    These issues are all covered in the peaceful music revolution against the big three labels that control the entire music industry , with a marketing ploy that props up tired acts we are all bored with, by suing or buying out or blocking new music.
    When the music media dares to allow our side of thousands of musicians to be heard, the Big Three Labels will fold like playing cards.

  3. Mark Meikle

    My company Easy Song is working on it. Stay tuned. We are promising a penny per play ($.05 recording, $.05 composition) to start, and then plan to keep building on that and go up from there. Power to the creators.