Why 2015 should be the year people pay for their music

There are 50 million users on Spotify. Only 25% of them are paying subscribers. Why? People like free stuff. Fact. Even if it means crippling a composer’s career. Too far? I haven’t started yet!

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The idea for Soundcheque – a “fair trade” music licensing company -  came about through frustration from seeing so many talented musicians being shafted (technical term!) by publishers.

Musicians were paid paltry fees and would often lose all of their royalties. So I quit my cushty job at The Times and decided to dedicate my career to ‘helping music makers make it’. It’s 2015 and time to turn the tide. Because if we don’t pay for music, how will its creators continue to make the songs we love?

Soundcheque (see what we did there?) is free and non-exclusive for musicians to join. We take a modest 20% one-off finder’s fee and negotiate fair rates of pay for our artists. 

Unfortunately, the unfair behaviour in the music biz is mirrored by production companies and filmmakers who consistently lament ‘we don’t have a budget for music’. Stop singing that worn out tune! If they weren’t making any money then they couldn’t afford to stay in business. And suggesting free music in return for good ‘exposure’ is disingenuous –  as one witty person posted online, ‘people die from exposure’. Just because we hear music all around us doesn’t mean it is like the air that we breath and can be consumed for free.

As we know, the music business as a whole has been in fatal freefall for the last 20 years since it had an arse-whooping from Napster. Downloading has now been overtaken by streaming services who pay a miniscule amount to the people who make the music – it takes a million spins on Pandora for a songwriter to earn $90! When ranting to the Marketing Manager of Spotify about this, they responded saying an artist needs to be popular to make money through any medium.

At Soundcheque, people can listen to music for free, but if they want to license it they pay for it. We also support independent filmmakers by teaming up with film festivals such as the BFI, Sundance, Raindance etc to teach filmmakers how best to use (and budget for) music.

If you are willing to pay a few pence more for a coffee because you like the idea of supporting an Ethiopian coffee farmer and their livelihood, then why would you not feel the same way paying for a song by an artist living in Yorkshire?

Think of Kickstarter, Pledge, Bandcamp, Topspin or MyMajorCompany in Europe – all are giving the consumer power to enjoy and participate in artist development. We love this! Some of you will have read Aloe Blacc's article about the US Dept of Justice having a formal review of ASCAP and BMI regarding the consent decrees of how most songwriters get paid. That’s a step in the right direction.

So, given our ethos, should Soundcheque consider a relationship with our supposed bête noire aka Spotify? If we feature Soundcheque’s music on Spotify, but they link to Soundcheque for licensing, surely that is the type of exposure artists do want? We certainly don’t want to deprive our users of opportunities to gain fans... But does a fair trade music company want to be seen supporting Spotify?

Streaming services are going to grow, so how do we – lovers of music – deal with this? At the very least everyone using the service should pay for it, so they can afford to pay musicians fairly. Music shouldn’t be free.

By Laura Westcott CEO and Gemma Dempsey Business Development Manager, Soundcheque.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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