Online streaming is one of the most controversial realities of the modern music industry. Many artists don’t like streaming platforms because they believe they are losing out on royalties by making their music available for free through them. Even with paid services, artists often earn just pennies for online streams of their songs. One industry veteran who isn’t afraid to voice his opinion about the situation is acclaimed musician and producer T Bone Burnett.
Just this past week, Burnett made a keynote address at the Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Needless to say, he doesn’t like the way the music streaming industry works at all. He feels that the streaming platforms give the music away for free while racking up huge revenue from advertisements. In today’s music landscape, artists have very few opportunities to make money.
“The technologists have been saying, ‘Look, we’ll play your music for free, and then you sell T-shirts’,” said Burnett, addressing Americana attendees. “I tell you what: You play my music for free and I’ll sell records. That is a much better connection between the fan and the audience than a T-shirt.”
He also went on to say that artists should not give in to the demands of the streaming industry. He believes that artists are simply going along with it because they believe that’s how things are. Instead, he hopes that they start demanding change.
Burnett also noted that we’ve seen this type of thing before. During the 1920’s, the music industry saw a massive decrease in revenue after the invention of the radio. Much like today, radio stations were playing music for free and making money off the ads they sold.
But that was before artists and music executives demanded that the radio industry share the revenue they were getting. In fact, many artists completely pulled their music off the air. Eventually, the radio stations agreed to pay them a rate every time they played the song.
While this may not necessarily work in today’s world, Burnett believes that some artists are getting it right. Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean and Adele have all chosen to put their music out on paid services for a certain length of time before releasing it to streaming services. Burnett revealed that he’s also considering taking this route when he releases his new album.
Burnett advocates that “artists should certainly have the choice about whether to put their stuff up for free or not.” As this debate drags on, it will definitely be interesting to see where the music industry goes from here and what changes, if any, they will decide to make.