Recording Academy president Neil Portnow (No. 55 on this year’s Power 100, announced Feb. 12) and Common used the Academy’s yearly time slot on the Grammys stage to hold the royalties paid out by streaming services over the coals.
“When you stream a song, all the people that created that music receive a fraction of a penny,” said Portnow after a performance from 12-year-old pianist Joey Alexander. “Isn’t a song worth more than a penny?”
The speech was more-than-similar to the speech Portnow delivered at last year’s awards. “What if we’re all watching the Grammys a few years from now and there’s no Best New Artist award because there aren’t enough talented artists and songwriters who are actually able to make a living from their craft?” he asked a year ago.
A lot has happened in that time, though the baseline pay that comes from streaming services — particularly freemium, ad-supported services — hasn’t, by much. While the Webcasting IV rate for non-interactive services like Pandora was set in early December, Portnow was clearly addressing the Spotifys and SoundClouds of the world. Spotify pays major labels large upfront payments in addition to royalty agreements if their music usage exceeds what they paid for up front. SoundCloud offers labels inclusion on its ad-supported play, On SoundCloud, which gives rights holders the ability to place advertisements on music posted to the site.
Concluding their joint speech, Common conspicuously mentioned “subscribing to a music service” as a way for fans to support creators. Those fans may not have much of a choice when Portnow and his musical guest make their speech in 2017; postures point to this year being the one where paying for a subscription, not having a willingness to endure some advertisements, becomes the only way for fans to stream music. Both Pandora and SoundCloud are debuting their own paid services this year, and a dust-up over windowing Coldplay’s new album in December showed a chink in Spotify’s freemium armor.
Watch a clip of the speech below.