Arecording artist, songwriter, label founder, producer, author, actor: David Byrne, 62, has seen the entertainment business from many sides during his four-decade career. Amid hearings on copyright and music licensing before the House Judiciary Committee, Billboard reached out to Byrne – a member of the newly formed Content Creators Coalition, a group of musicians, authors and other creators seeking better terms for online use of their works – for some thoughts on the state of artists’ rights. He responded via email from London. (Read the full interview on Billboard.biz.)
What can Congress do to help artists?
I think that artists in general can be given more agency regarding what happens to their work. I don’t own my own old recordings, a similar situation to many artists, so I have no say whether they are licensed to YouTube, Spotify, Beats or Apple; for what percentage; and for how long. Philosophically, I think the issue is: Do we always do what is best for the consumer in the short run, or do we think more long-term about our culture and quality of life? Is the giant corporation that underprices everyone else best for our future?
How has the decline in sales of recorded music affected you?
I’ve always been budget conscious, but even more so now. I’m lucky: I came up when record companies still spent on marketing – a lot of those budgets have dried up now. I tour regularly, yes, but no more than I used to. It is a source of income, more than sales of recordings, but I also feel the concertgoer deserves his or her money’s worth. Tickets aren’t cheap … For creatives, other avenues could be a way to survive.
How can artists’ needs be balanced with the needs of digital services?
There needs to be transparency: Artists should have access to data on their streaming income in a way that’s comprehensible. I’ve been trying to understand my Warner Bros. streaming data for years now.