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Updated: May 6

Music consumption is higher now than at any time since around 2006. The download format is now antiquated, and the consumers concept of music ownership is largely a thing of the past. We’re firmly embedded in the streaming age. According to a mid-year report by Nielson in 2019, streaming accounted for 78% of all music consumption. Streaming has been pivotal in returning our industry to growth and years of decline are now behind us.

This has brought about other changes as a result. We’ve moved into a post-album economy. The song is taking centre stage as streaming algorithms and playlists drive discovery. In many ways this is liberating – artists can jump off the two-year creation-delivery cycle and release more content and take more creative side steps in doing so. Local music trends are able to find global music audiences and non-English language tracks are breaking through more than ever before. There’s much to be excited about in the big picture and I maintain that there’s never been a better time to work in the music industry; change presents a wide-open door of opportunity.

Of course, the impact of COVID-19 is apparent. Although recent reports of Spotify reaching 130 million paying subscribers is great, we should also remember that a subscriber increase does not necessarily lead to a streaming increase. Global streams from Spotify’s Top 200 chart dropped around 11% in the week commencing March 13th – that’s when many countries around the world began lock down measures.

Why would this happen? Some may assume that if people are at home they’d be listening to more music. But if we take into account the abrupt decline of commuters, bars, shops, restaurants and so on that would have been streaming music (often on a loop) the data makes sense. But we should look at these numbers alongside other more positive metrics. In that same week we saw a spike in video streaming of around 14%. Perhaps instead of streaming music on a commute, people are choosing to stream music on visual platforms when at home. Indeed, Deezer reported that their daily spike had moved from rush hour (7am) to between 9 and 10am. This seems indicative of that consumer change.

Another fascinating pivot has come from radio. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in radio listenership. The BBC reported an 18% increase, and Global similarly saw a 15% rise. US radio stations have reported even more impressive results. But why is this? Streaming music on platforms like Spotify isn’t a communal experience right now. Playlists are generally listened to alone. Radio on the other hand has a sense of community – people listening together at the same time. In uncertain times I think we appreciate such shared experiences… and radio has the added benefit of being able to include news updates. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned for DSPs from radio when life returns to normal – how do we build social connection into a streaming platform?

With streaming down, and concerts, tours and festivals cancelled, musicians are facing an unprecedented challenge, and often financial hardship – that’s undeniable. My entire career, be it as a director of SMB: The School of Music Business, artist manager, or board member for Jump: European Music Market Accelerator, has been about highlighting the huge role music plays in the fabric of our lives. The people that create, manage, promote, release, administrate or protect music, are massively important. They need to be supported at all times, but particularly during times like these.

It’s to the credit of the incredible music industry we’re in, that many companies and organisations have stepped up to the challenge. Bandcamp waived its revenue share early in the crisis. A relief fund has been set up by Spotify and they’ve implemented a new method for fans to donate directly to artists. Help Musicians UK, PRS For Music, PPL, BPI and others have all launched initiatives, donated and generally done truly noble work. Government’s need to do all they can to protect musicians and music businesses and recognise the nuances of our industry and how artists monetise, to ensure performers and stakeholders don’t fall between the cracks of any financial support available.

In the industry, it’s the live music sector that has been hit the hardest. With live concerts, festivals, and any large gathering, cancelled or postponed, the implications are far reaching. Live Nation and AEG have suspended all tours. Major festivals such as SXSW, Glastonbury and Coachella are off. Many independent festivals and venues are fighting for survival. It’s smaller venues that face the biggest challenge. A venue with a 200 capacity simply won’t be able to implement social distancing measures that look likely to be imposed for some time after the lockdown. Musicians Union report that UK artists have lost £14 million in earnings during March alone. We’re waiting patiently for the nightmare to end, but at a governmental level, as much as possible needs to be done to ensure these creators and businesses can survive and come through the other side.

As always, artists are adapting and finding solace in their creations and their audiences. The importance of human connection has long been at the core of how we market music successfully. Streaming services deliver listeners, but it’s not listeners that provide a strong revenue source, it’s fans. Musicians are using live streaming and a universal shared experience, to connect with an audience in an authentic and human way, turning casual listeners into devoted fans in the process.

It’s also interesting that sales of instruments and music making software has boomed during lockdown. With artists having the time and the ability to record at home, we could see a wave of new releases when life resumes, and possibly a growth in streaming numbers as a result.

What is certainly true, is that the music industry has proven itself to be extremely resilient over the last 40 years … and with support from consumers and governments, it will undoubtedly bounce back. We also recognise just how important music is! We mustn’t forget the songs, the performers or the song writers that we’ve turned to for solace and escapism, once life has returned to something resembling normality.

We should be extremely grateful to music, it's creators and our industry professionals.

Many music business professionals, and the artists they support, are adapting to new ways of working during the Coronavirus outbreak. The music industry is demonstrating once again how versatile, innovative and determined it can be – resolutely continuing the business of music, both rising to unforeseen challenges, whilst coming together to help those in difficulty.

Some major music companies are working to provide support during the pandemic. Bandcamp waived their commission on downloads and merchandise on Friday 20 March. Live Nation set up a Crew Nation Fund and PRS for Music launched an Emergency Relief Fund. Spotify contributed to various organisations including the W.H.O, and announced a fundraising campaign, committing to match donations. Billboard have compiled a list of similar initiatives coming from the music industry and are keeping it updated.

Artists are finding incredible ways to connect with their fans in genuinely meaningful ways. James Bay is teaching guitar lessons on Instagram. Chris Martin, Pink, John Legend and countless others have live streamed performances from their homes. Secret Sessions are running an ‘In The House’ series on Instagram every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 19:00, with artists introducing us to their homes, families, pets, and music! Participants of Triple J’s new artist program, Unearthed, have been covering each other’s songs. And playlists, including ‘Quarantunes’, aim to provide strength, humour and escapism.

Producers, songwriters and performers are utilising a vast number of tools to collaborate online. Alongside standard screen-sharing and video calling platforms, an array of music specific applications are finding favour such as Soundstorming, ProCollabs, BandLab, Splice and so many more. Artists are also using this time to hone their craft further. For example, SMB alumni, Jai Ramage, a renowned vocal coach (ITV The Voice/The Voice Kids) now hosts online lessons and is even running a regular open mic night on Instagram.

As an industry we are seeing a number of trends. The picture is evolving and is often territory specific, but streaming appears to be down approximately 10%, whereas video streaming is up nearly 15%. The BBC saw radio streaming increases of 18%, and Global similarly reported a 15% growth. Perhaps the sense of community that radio provides could be an interesting consideration for DSP development in the future. Understanding these shifts and recognising new listening habits is hugely important for artists and the wider industry, so we can adapt, respond and grow in line with market changes. That’s work that is directly addressed on SMB’s up-to-date, expert led courses.

Here at SMB: The School of Music Business we’ve worked tirelessly to create an incredible online learning platform so enjoyment, studies and successful course completion can continue during the pandemic and beyond. Our online courses take place live so you can interact with your tutor and other students in real-time! With high quality video and audio, live notes, quizzes, breakout group sessions and much more - our virtual classrooms provide a genuinely immersive experience, wherever you are in the world. Details of all of our courses can be found HERE. We are also hosting free weekly ‘Music Business Question Time’ sessions, details of which can be found on the SMB Facebook page. Lastly, we would like to take this opportunity to send a message of support and solidarity to all those affected by COVID-19; those in the music industry we love, and in all communities facing this global challenge.

Metadata is one of the biggest issues in the music industry today. It’s believed that approximately 25% of all song writing revenue is lost due to incorrect, missing or unmatched metadata – billions left on the table, never reaching those that have earned it, and often, really need it! The problem has existed for decades and with the massive increase in the amount of music that is delivered to streaming services (40,000 tracks a day sent to Spotify!) and the rise of independent distribution, the situation is only getting worse. We discuss metadata best practices, songwriter agreements, music publishing, performance royalties and much more during our immersive and unique course Music Business Fundamentals.

What can be done?

As I see it, there are three ways to address the problem, we need to (1) create a universal standard for how metadata is collected, (2) have a single source for where the data is stored and (3) agree a system of data verification prior to any release.

There are many new start-ups focused on the ‘metadata data crisis’. 'Creator Credits' embeds metadata into the actual files at the production stage and is led by industry heavyweights Max Martin’s MXM Music, Avid Technology, Universal Music Group and DDEX. 'Splits' is a mobile app that makes it easier for artists to create ownership agreements. So there are efforts being made, but the problem is far from over.

Let’s look at the metadata basics:

In music, metadata (amongst other things) is all of the underlying information attached to a song, an EP or album. Let’s look at some of those:

Song name: Sounds obvious, but this should be the clear and full title (not ‘Song title mix 18’). If there is a featured artist on the track, that should be in the title too, for example ‘Song Title (feat. Artist Name)’. And if it’s a cover, that needs to be there too!

Artist: Artist/Band name

Album: Album title. If the song is a single, list the single title here or leave blank.

Composer: List the full names (check these) of all writers, information about their PRO (Performing Rights Organisation), split percentages and CAE number. Make sure the splits have been agreed in one place with everyone in agreement. If these splits conflict with each other later, the money will be withheld.

Grouping: Who owns the master rights and who owns the publishing rights? For example ‘Master (100%) Record Label Name / Publishing (100%) Publishing Company Name’. If you own the song in it’s entirely you can write ‘Artist Name (one-stop)’ or ‘Artist Name (200%)’.

Genre and BPM: Not compulsory but a good idea. Could help it be found in searches by music supervisors for example.

Comments: Include contact information here for licensing. You could also add the mood or a description of the song. If someone is searching for a particular type of song, this could be invaluable. Make it easy for them!

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