After more than four years, Behind the Music is ending – but there will be no let up in the effort to get a fair deal for artists
After four and a half years and more than 200 columns Behind the Music is coming to an end. It’s been an interesting journey and many of the issues I grappled with still remain unsolved.
The first ever Behind the Music asked why songwriters couldn’t get their act together and strike for better terms for online usage of music. Four and a half years later, they’re no closer to doing so – despite streaming rates being so low that one songwriter told me she recently got a royalty check for £26 for 2m plays on Pandora and £2.75 for 330,000 plays on YouTube.
Yet there have been leaps forward for musicians and their fans. For one, there are now more ways than ever for them to connect. Direct-to-fan services such as PledgeMusic, which we featured back in 2009, and Kickstarter are giving fans the chance to support established and emerging artists.
It’s now easier and more convenient to access music legally, at your fingertips, than ever before. In 2008 there were no unlimited free streaming services where one could arrange tracks into playlists and share with friends. MySpace was still the go-to place to discover new music. Facebook had a 10th of the users it has today, and Amazon had just started selling MP3 downloads, and was far from making a dent on iTunes’ hold on the market.
I’ve reported on music services in their infancy. Some have expanded and become successful (notably Spotify) – others not so much (mFlow and Midge Ure’s Tunited). Back in 2009 I argued the case for launching an unlimited ISP-based downloading and streaming service. We’re still no closer to that dream coming true. To quote The Newsroom: progress is slow but I’m in it for the long haul.
The idea of Behind the Music was to give readers insight into the industry – the issues music-makers grapple with, from writer’s block and the secret to writing a hit song (hint: there is no recipe) to getting out of record contracts – and survive being dropped.
Yes, piracy has featured on a regular basis – it’s impossible to ignore something that’s played a part in halving revenue from record sales (and in turn the income of songwriters and artists) within a decade. I’ve covered the Pirate Bay for years, while trials have come and gone, and those behind the site have been convicted. Yet it’s still up and running, along with hundreds of other online businesses making millions from unlicensed copyrighted material. The Digital Economy Act was passed more than two years ago, yet it’s still far from being implemented, as letters to suspected copyright infringers aren’t expected to be sent out until 2014.
I’ve always been a proponent of targeting the businesses peddling in illegal copyrighted material rather than music fans, and recently there have been positive signs of payment services, such as PayPal voluntarily refusing to work with such businesses.
Many of you who disagreed with me were also the most faithful in commenting – an illustration of the Howard Stern effect (those who like him listen for an hour a day while those who don’t listen for two) – and I will miss the heated debates on the threads.
So what does the future hold for those working in music? It looks like we’ll end up with just three major labels – one of them being more like a super major, if the Universal/EMI merger is approved in the US and Europe. No doubt Universal will then be able to dictate the kind of music services we’ll see to an ever greater degree, as well as which artists get the biggest marketing push and how much musicians will be able to earn from such services.
Talent will always prevail and once in a while we’ll see exceptional artists break through – Frank Ocean being one of them – because music that reaches into your heart and makes you see the world in a different light cannot be contained.
The end of Behind the Music does not spell the end of my writing for the Guardian, and you can follow me on Twitter to find out where I land next.
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