TOMORROW is Record Store Day, an annual celebration of independently-owned record stores. Each one of the 200 participating stores are sacred physical spaces where music lovers and musicians alike co-habit.
Growing up in the North East as an almost-outcasted teenager, who didn’t listen to “mainstream” music, I found immense comfort in browsing independent record stores like One Up in Aberdeen. Despite a “Save One Up” campaign being launched and massive public support for the store, One Up was forced to shut its doors for the last time in 2013, with co-owner Fred Craig citing “steadily falling sales”.
If sales were falling in 2013, I wonder; what hope is there for independent record stores in a post-pandemic, digital-crazed world?
The British Phonographic Industry reported that LP sales in 2020 reached more than 4.8 million in 2020, but with demand for vinyl at an all-time high, there has been very little establishment of new vinyl production companies in the last decade. Artists and labels are squabbling to get their releases pressed in time and with a limited number of vinyl pressing plants, record labels with the biggest budgets have monopolised vinyl by booking their artists’ pressings ahead of independent artists. But hey, independent artists can always host their work on streaming platforms, which pays them virtually nothing…
In 2020, streaming accounted for 80% of worldwide music consumption, yet the value of one stream on Spotify is around £0.004, which is often split between “rights holders” – the record labels and the musicians who create the music. At a time when both domestic and international touring is financially unviable and logistically impossible due to the compounded effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, artists have relied upon making an income via physical CD sales, digital downloads, and streaming royalties now more than ever. It has become increasingly clear to everyone in the music industry that streaming simply isn’t paying artists fairly, and the system as it stands is not a sustainable source of income.
Several campaigns have since been established with the aim to #FixStreaming. Instead of lobbying streaming companies such as Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music directly, The Musicians Union and The Ivors Academy have appealed directly to the UK Government to regulate the streaming system. After gaining more than 18,000 signatures in a petition, the Musicians Union was successful in lobbying MPs and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) to conduct an inquiry into the Economics of Music Streaming.
On Thursday 15th July, the DCMS select committee published the long-awaited second instalment of the Music Streaming Inquiry Report, which called for a “complete reset” of music streaming.
Welsh Labour MP and DCMS select committee member, Kevin Brennan MP set out several recommendations and points calling for “equitable renumeration” for artists, songwriters, and labels. It’s not a big ask for people to be paid properly for their work, is it?
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Today the <a href=”https://twitter.com/CommonsDCMS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CommonsDCMS</a> Committee publishes its report into the economics of music streaming. Here’s a thread of the report’s findings and recommendations. (1/25) <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BrokenRecord?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BrokenRecord</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/FixStreaming?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#FixStreaming</a> <a href=”https://t.co/rdfhyMGdg2″>pic.twitter.com/rdfhyMGdg2</a></p>— Kevin Brennan MP (@KevinBrennanMP) <a href=”https://twitter.com/KevinBrennanMP/status/1415556529751838723?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 15, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
Tom Gray, founder of the Broken Record campaign and director of The Ivors Academy, posted a timely reminder of all the artists, both emerging and established, who signed the #BrokenRecord open letter which was sent to Boris Johnson, urging the UK Government to update UK law to “put the value of music back “in the hands of the music makers.”
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Maybe a good time to remind ourselves of every artist who has signed the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BrokenRecord?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BrokenRecord</a> letter. <br><br>Legends all. <a href=”https://t.co/G3a8iISw9U”>pic.twitter.com/G3a8iISw9U</a></p>— Tom Gray #BrokenRecord (@MrTomGray) <a href=”https://twitter.com/MrTomGray/status/1415662316985651201?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 15, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
The next hurdle is to bring the UK Government on board with each of the DCMS recommendations, but judging by their track record of providing for and representing the interests of self-employed creative freelancers both before and during the pandemic, I wait with bated breath for the UK Government to finally #FixStreaming in a timely manner. Afterall, even some Conservative MPs within the DCMS are inherently out of touch and tone-deaf when it comes to the plight of musicians. This is where we pause and remind ourselves of the fooshty and downright embarrasing Spotify playlist Mr Dowden published in June to encourage younger people to get vaccinated.
As we navigate our way out of the pandemic, we must be mindful of the musicians and creatives who supplied hours of entertainment and comfort for us as we delved in and out of lockdowns. This Record Store Day, as you rummage about the vinyl’s, remember that we need to #KeepMusicAlive in several different ways.
Email your MP: https://bit.ly/3xN0n5F
Sign the Musicians Union petition: https://bit.ly/3BdqAMQ
Iona Fyfe is a committee member of the Scotland and Northern Ireland Regional Branch of the Musicians Union