Nile Rodgers sees no good times for artists in music streaming

FILE PHOTO: Musician Nile Rodgers poses for photographs as he launches International Busking Day at Wembley Park, in London
FILE PHOTO: Musician Nile Rodgers poses for photographs as he launches International Busking Day at Wembley Park, in London, Britain, July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

December 8, 2020

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran U.S. musician and record producer Nile Rodgers told British lawmakers on Tuesday that artists were losing large amounts of money due to a lack of transparency in money streaming services.

Rodgers, who shot to global fame in the 1970s with his band Chic and their hit song “Le Freak” and who produced, among many other albums, David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, is the latest in a flurry of big names from the music industry to appear before the lawmakers investigating the economics of music streaming.

Appearing via video-link in a suit jacket and tie paired with his trademark dark glasses and beret, Rodgers said musicians were unable to check whether they were losing revenue from the streaming of their work.

“We don’t even know what a stream is worth,” he told members of parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, which is investigating the business models of platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Google Play.

“Can anyone actually really tell me what a stream is actually worth? Yeah, you can’t, and there’s no way you can even find it,” he said.

According to the lawmakers, music streaming in the United Kingdom brings in more than 1 billion pounds ($1.33 billion) in annual revenues, but artists can be paid as little as 13% of the income generated.

Rodgers, known for his distinctive style as a guitarist and for his collaboration with stars ranging from Madonna to Daft Punk, said that whenever he had been able to audit record labels in the past, he had found that artists missed out on revenue that should have gone to them.

“I am not making this up for dramatic purposes or comedic purposes, but every single time I have audited a label I have found money and sometimes it’s staggering, the amount of money,” he said, lamenting that the way the streaming system was set up now did not make any such audit possible.

In previous sessions, the British parliamentary committee has heard from Guy Garvey, lead vocalist of the band Elbow, and from Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien.

The lawmakers are seeking the perspectives of industry experts, artists, record labels and the streaming platforms. The inqiry is ongoing.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Gareth Jones)