2019 American Music Awards

Pandora Hurts the Songwriters and Artists It Claims to Help: Guest Post by Lee Thomas Miller

Songwriter and artist royalties from streaming services, particularly Pandora and Spotify, has been one of the hot-button issues in the music business for the past couple of years. Here, Lee Thomas Miller, songwriter and President of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, responds to an op-ed by Pandora founder Tim Westergren that was posted in Billboard.biz earlier this week. Billboard.biz welcomes responsible commentary – contact jem.aswad@billboard.com with ideas.

Note: Pandora has responded to this editorial in the comments section below.

Have you ever had a song mark an important moment in your life?  Has a song made you laugh or cry or think?  For instance, did it seem like your kids just grew up way too fast?  I co-wrote a song called, “You’re Gonna Miss This,” that reminds us to cling to those precious moments in our lives.

Earlier this week on Billboard.biz, Pandora’s Tim Westergren touted how the music streaming service helps songwriters and artists find big audiences eager for their music.  He did not mention how Pandora is hurting those same songwriters and artists.

Play is one thing.  Pay is another.

As a songwriter, let me tell you, being paid fairly is essential to those of us writing the songs to which you dance at your prom, blast from your car speakers and get played at your wedding. If everyone paid like Pandora, songwriters couldn’t pay rent, our kid’s medical bills or get the car fixed when it breaks down.  Without songwriters there would be no songs to play on the radio or stream on Pandora.

Last year, I travelled to Washington, D.C. with four other songwriters to tell members of Congress how essential this issue is. You may not know our names, but you certainly know our songs: “If I Were a Boy” recorded by Beyonce and written by BC Jean; “Sober” recorded by Pink and written by Kara DioGuardi; “Livin’ On A Prayer” recorded by Bon Jovi and written by Desmond Child; “Beautiful” recorded by Christina Aguilera and written by Linda Perry; and my song “You’re Gonna Miss This” recorded by Trace Adkins.    Over three months, Pandora played our five songs 33 million times.  And for those plays, they paid us – combined – a total of $587.39.  When our songs are played on Pandora we receive micro-pennies. 

The five of us there are lucky enough to have hit songs.  Imagine the songwriters who wrote songs that were played at a special moment in your life who don’t have a current chart-topping composition.  Many of them have simply given up. Some estimate as many as 90%.  Or imagine those songwriters and composers who are struggling to make it….those who may be the next Hal David or Carole King.  They may never get that chance, and you will never hear their songs.  As President of the Nashville Songwriters International Association (NSAI), a group of more than 6,000 members across the globe, I am around songwriters who are just starting their careers or were once at the top of theirs.  For all of us, music is our life.

Pandora claims to be good for new and developing artists, but when it comes to songwriters, even highly successful ones get very little.  New and developing songwriters get even less than that. Westergren’s representation that Pandora is beneficial for songwriters and artists is misleading and very unfair.


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