The Sway of Artist’s Rights

The Sway of Artist’s Rights

November 30, 2015

Caroline Strickland

The atmosphere within the music industry is arguably as convoluted as ever. The industry is infamous for “ripping off” an artist by using their work as content, while paying little to no royalties out. This story is as old as the dawn of the 18th century when player piano companies were not paying royalties to artists when they programmed an artist’s piano piece into the piano. At the time, Congress declared that only music that could be read by the human eye (read: sheet music) would be protected by copyright. That decision was later appealed in favor of requiring a copyright for each mechanically reproduced song.

One could say that the wheel turns, but nothing ever changes. However, such is not the case here. Today’s playing field is vastly different in that the technologies used are infinitely more advanced and an artist’s work is infinitely more widely spread. As soon as any song is uploaded to a single website, it has the capacity to permeate thousands of websites, webpages, streaming services, etc. by the next day. Thus, royalties today are not nearly as simple as a player piano company copying down a song into their machine. It is a matter of defining who is responsible for an artist’s royalties, what portion of royalties is distributed to the artist themselves versus the others involved, and how ethical current practices are in the face of plummeting album sales for most artists in the industry.


Artists like Adele, who are highly influential in the music industry, have the ability to pull their albums from various streaming services with stock-moving influence. (Photo Credit:

Some people have speculated whether or not the few major artists’ decisions to pull or keep their albums from streaming services is a trend. However, it is important to note that there is a big difference between the power held by the “big guys” and the “little guys” in the industry. The highly influential artists like Adele, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé have enough clout to hold back albums and actually make so much of a difference that they can directly influence stock prices. They stand to lose enough that pulling an album is a viable option. For instance, the year Taylor Swift pulled her album 1989 from Spotify, she was on track to make $6 million from the streaming service. Contrast that to the fact that Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” streamed 6.5 million times within the course of a year, and only brought in $110 in royalties for the artist and his two co-writers. However, the industry has very few of these artists. The rest of the crowd is made up of less influential bands everywhere in notoriety from Maroon 5 to St. Lucia. These bands don’t have the power to pull their albums from streaming service, so the “trend” created by the big artists are little more than individual choices. The following video is from ABC News and helps one to fully grasp the numbers involved with these artist’s choices.



Although the country star has “shaken off” spotify, the real trend here is still barreling toward streaming services. . . Unsurprisingly, artist’s rights are still being mauled in the process. The hope of streaming services “[making] music cheap — or free — for consumers while assuring that the artists who created the songs would be fairly compensated,” as quoted from Rolling Stones, is just not coming into fruition.

My forecast at this point in time is that, in the near future, artists will feel enough pressure from streaming service’s drain on their profits. They will migrate to a new breed of content-sharing: direct-to-peer platforms. In this way, they will share their content directly to fans without the third party that is SoundCloud and iTunes. Most often, changes in the industry has come when artist’s rights have been infringed upon so substantially that millions of dollars are being lost because copyrights aren’t being applied to their work in some capacity. Largely, that has been due to new technologies.


Mentioned Sources:

The Wall Street Journal; Adele Says Hello to Pandora

The Motley Fool; Adele’s “25” Isn’t on Spotify or Apple Music–Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter

CBS News; Songwriters: Spotify Doesn’t Pay Off. . . Unless You’re a Taylor Swift

Billboard; Official: Adele Breaks *NSYNC’s Single-Week Record U.S. Album Sales Record

Rolling Stones; The 10 Biggest Holdouts in Digital Music

YouTube, ABC News; Taylor Swift Shakes Off Spotify

8 thoughts on “The Sway of Artist’s Rights

  1. Darren Williams

    As a huge music fan and a person that has to have music playing all times of the day, no matter what is happening, I go through a lot of songs and albums per year. This being the case, platforms that make music very cheap or free, without sacrificing quality, are very appealing. I believe that artists are due the value of their work, however, with the advancements in technology I believe that they will have to come up with new ways to monetize the art that is music. Two platforms that are large on the music sharing scene are SoundCloud and These two entities allow for artist big or small, to get their pieces out on the scene and to gain recognition, but at the same time they are free, so where is the value in the work coming from? Well it all comes from the artist strategy behind putting their work on these particular sites. SoundCloud is often used by people remixing songs and taking credit for the new sound to gain popularity, which can fall directly into the copyright issue if deserved credit is not given. That action begs the question, What if they aren’t making money off of it? Is it still a copyright violation? A perfect example of all this is Chris Brown. Last week, on Black Friday, he released a mixtape on which contained 34 songs. All of these songs can be listened to and downloaded for free through the website. However, on December 18th he has an official album called Royalty, named after his daughter, which will be sold on platforms such as ITunes. This makes me wonder, well what is the difference between the songs on the Mixtape, which is free, versus the album, which costs money? Well to me, as a big Chris Brown fan, the mixtape increases anticipation for the actual album, but the songs are not quite as good. Yes, he may put out 34 songs on the Mixtape versus only 18 on the album, but the difference in quality between the album and the mixtape is apparent. Clearly he put a lot more effort into the songs on the album versus the ones on the mixtape, but it is his art nonetheless. Chris Brown, like some of the other artists Caroline mentioned, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift has established a large following and reputation for his music regardless of his other actions outside of music. This being the case I have no doubt that he will retain a large income from this album not unlike his previous albums, but the difference will be how that money comes about. Obviously there will be those traditional fans who buy the album or individual tracks from it on ITunes and those loyal fans who attend a concert of his. However, now there are new platforms on the scene that we must take into consideration. One that I am particularly a fan of is Apple Music. This platform allows for subscribers to pay a monthly fee to have access to the entire ITunes library and treat it as if all of those songs are in their library. Now of course Apple pays the artists to have their music featured in the library but I personally am not quite clear on how the values of the individual songs and albums are determined and paid out. Of course Apple has a method for tracking amount of plays and downloads per song from their platform but will this create a whole new problem in itself where albums aren’t bringing the artist the amount of money they deserve for the actual popularity of their music? Where a premium price is paid for an album or single and it exceeds expectations and becomes more popular than expected or the complete opposite… It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

  2. Stephen Gallic

    The crisis that is rocking the music industry is the lack of sales artists receive due to their involvement with online or app based services that stream their music. Instead of selling their records on cd’s and vinyl records technology has allowed consumers to gain access to their work with a click of a button. It has also allowed them to reach a vast amount of fans which in turn increases their popularity. But this technology has a dark side as Ms. Strickland points out. With a spike in the creation of online streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, ITunes music, and even YouTube, the artist’s songs have grown in popularity while their bank accounts haven’t. As Ms. Strickland noted many of “the highly influential artists like Adele, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé have enough clout to hold back albums and actually make so much of a difference that they can directly influence stock prices.” But it is the little bands and artists who suffer from these transgressions the most.
    Personally, I am a big music fan and can attest to downloading artist’s music illegally. My thought process being that these artists already make enough money that my download will not hinder their success or sales. But, with advancements in technology the ability for kids and consumers to download and listen to an artist’s music free and sometime illegally has never been easier. Thus, artists have seen a significant decrease in sales and revenue. Now one must also understand artists are able to make money in several ways through shows, and tours. Although I do not know how much money they receive for one performance it is safe to assume the “big guys” make enough to comfortably live off of. But where is the music industry going to be in the next decade. If sales have already plummeted like they have how is it that artists are looking to protect themselves and combat this infringement. According to Ms. Strickland it comes down to the responsibility of the artist’s themselves, “they will migrate to a new breed of content-sharing: direct-to-peer platforms. In this way, they will share their content directly to fans without the third party that is SoundCloud and iTunes.”
    One of the more interesting cases of artists protecting their music can be seen in the case of the Wu-Tang Clan. The Clan had produced a secret album and they only planned on selling one album. Fans would have the opportunity to come listen to the album if they attended their shows where tents would be setup with headsets and you would be able to listen to the album there. It was not until recently that the Wu-Tang Clan decided to make their album available. According to, “Wu-Tang wanted to reverse the devaluation of music and help it regain the fine art status it enjoyed during the Renaissance; RZA later said the group received a $5 million offer for the record (Greenburg).” Now it must be understood that not every artist is as famous and renowned as the Wu-Tang Clan and if they tried to pull this charade they would not receive an offer from any record company, BUT. Maybe popular artist’s should learn from the Wu-Tang Clan and instead of working through record companies who care only about their profit and getting the music to everyone and everywhere but instead sell a limited amount of records through a private auction company such as Paddle8. This in turn may reverse the devaluation of their music and put new emphasis on how privileged people are to listen to their quality music.

    Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. ‘The Wu-Tang’s Secret Album’. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.

  3. Aaron Varghese

    The disturbances of technology regarding the music industry is simply astonishing. Before I address the article, I feel the need to tell a short story that recently transpired that sheds some additional light to the gravity of this matter. I was eating dinner with three of my good friends the other night. We had just finished eating and were discussing different Christmas gift ideas for our other friends. My one friend was having difficulty finding a gift for his girlfriend. My other friend suggested to get her a CD from her new favorite band, 21 Pilots. When my other friend heard this he had the most perplexed look on his face. I will rephrase some of his language but he said, “dude, who the heck listens to music on CD’s.” My other friend couldn’t really give a response. My third friend has been laughing non-stop since my other friend suggested a CD as a gift. My perplexed friend the said, “What is this the 90’s? Why stop there I should also give her a vinyl record while I’m at it.” Then we all burst into laughter. We laughed because that’s the truth. CD’s are outdated now. I mean who even has a CD player in their room anymore? I don’t want to lie, so I will admit that my family still owns a Speaker with a CD player, but the times we use that CD player are incredibly rare. Most of my friends listen to their music through companies like Pandora and Spotify, which was mentioned in this article as well. I also have many friends who illegally download music off the internet onto their smartphones. I tell them not to do it but it has become such a norm in our society amongst the younger generation to not pay for your music. And that has proven to be a huge hit to the music industry as a result. Caroline had mentioned how big artists who had the power to control the music economy like Adele, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé, were able to get away with taking extra efforts to secure their music to ensure people would have to buy their music. And because they are so popular, they can do this and walk away with legitimate profits. Lesser artists, on the other hand, have to resort to being cheated by the system and lose out on money to Spotify, online piracy, and other means of attaining these artists’ music without getting full profit from the music. This is definitely quite the disturbance to the music industry and it is clear that only the top 1% can get away with and evade this disturbance adequately. How these musicians will manage future disturbances I have no idea. I do know this: while artists today may not be getting the full glory, they are doing much better than other artists of the past who received no money in royalties even with top hit songs. This applied to the movie industry as well. The prime example is the Brady Bunch. Had the cast received royalties for every time their show was played in the future, they would have made out like bandits. Sadly, the Brady Bunch and many other entertainers are not making their top bills from their works. However, these artists do have their status as celebrities and live performances on their side, leaving them all much richer than many of us average Joes.

  4. Matthew Flanagan

    Most people are guilty of illegally downloading music. Before I subscribed to Spotify, I never paid for music in my life. Until most of the illegal downloading serviced like LimeWire got shut down, that was the only way I got my music. Now, $12 per month isn’t that bad of a price to pay for music, considering that most people would go crazy without it. Music is one pleasure that people really can’t live without. It is an emotional tool that helps people express the way they feel. If someone is feeling depressed, they might listen to one of Adelle’s songs. If someone is angry, they might turn on Seton Hall Pirate Radio which nearly always plays heavy metal. It is a stress reliever and it also helps some people concentrate and focus on the things that they need to get done.
    The way artists make money with streaming services is through royalties. They get paid based on the amount of listens that a song has. Obviously it is a very low amount per listen, but still adds up. It all depends how much money the artist is generating for Spotify. It is especially hard if it is a subscription based service because there is no dollar amount put to each song. There is a flat monthly rate that does not very per song listened to. The person that listens to one song pays the same as the person that listens to 1,000. So the amount of money that is received by subscribers combined with the money received from ads are split into profits to the company and then money paid out to artists. If an artist (like Bon Jovi) only gets a few million listens, then they will get almost no money because after diluting all of the profts down to each artist, If there are 10 billion listens in total, a few million is nothing. But if One artist holds most of the listens, then they get the most money because they are generating the most revenue for Spotify. Because Swift decided to pull her album from Spotify, she could have cost the company millions of dollars in money from ads and subscribers because huge Swift fans now have no reason to subscribe and Swift is one of the biggest names in the music industry.
    When it comes down to how much money the artists make, they make millions of dollars whether their song is on Spotify or not. They make millions of dollars from radio stations and album sales alone. Its true that Streaming services do reduce the number of albums sold, but they are still making millions of dollars anyway.

  5. Lauren Gutowski

    In life, there are some lies that no one can ever believe: “I have never illegally downloaded a song”. We’ve all done it before and of course we feel no remorse about it. Only because it is so easy to get away with. YouTube and other applications make it eligible for people to download music for free. As discussed in the post, this only worsens the issue artists face when it comes to earnings. They’ve been getting ripped off regarding royalties even before technology boom; now people are illegally obtaining their songs for entertainment left and right. What I found surprising is how influential a music artist really has to be in order for pulling an album from streaming services to be a viable option. I thought Maroon 5 was big and influential enough to pull their album from the streaming services. “[making] music cheap — or free — for consumers while assuring that the artists who created the songs would be fairly compensated,” This statement still has yet to be fulfilled. I agree with the prediction of artists selling their music directly to the consumers without the third party, but I do believe streaming services such as Spotify will continue to thrive. After clicking on one of the hyperlinks, Taylor Swift made a good point of why she decided to make her album unavailable on Spotify: “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and the creators in the music industry”. This is definitely the right choice if Swift feels like she is no receiving the returns she feels she deserve. Unfortunately, most artists do not have the privilege to choose whether to keep their music on particular streaming services or not.
    Bon Jovi’s band only kicking in $110 dollars from his Pandora-debut in 2012 is absolutely ridiculous. As a consumer, of course I love listening to cheap, or free, music whenever I please. But it really is not fair for artists to get ripped off through streaming. And the singers are not the only people suffering from this. What about the people who helped write and record the song? Everyone is receiving an unsubstantial amount of a very small pie. Ever since streaming was introduced, artists need to tour more than usual in order to make more money from assets such as ticket sales, merchandise, etc. Most of these earnings go to the artists and the production crew while the creators of the albums do not make money off any of the merchandise. This industry has so many variables that someone is always getting the “bad end of the stick”. Not only that, but it seems like the middle level of success is shrinking for artists. Sure, getting a one hit wonder is easier than ever before due to technology. But the charts are much skewed earnings wise. Artists constantly struggle to remain relevant in order to keep their earnings steady since they get ripped off from streaming services anyway.

  6. Joseph Belli

    Since I have the perspective of a music listener, rather than a producer, I love streaming services. I am a premium member of Spotify, an active user of Soundcloud, and a supporter of apple music, therefore, I am able to basically get every album that is released from every artist for around $10 per month, around the same cost as one album. Since I listen to music solely because I like it, not because I feel like supporting the careers of the artists, I do not really care how streaming services affect very popular artists, but more how the variation of streaming services affects me. One example would be how Jay-Z, a very influential artist in the music industry, has recently tried, and failed, to start his own music streaming service, Tidal. Tidal essentially has exclusive content that only Jay-Z claims rights to from artists that want to be sponsored by his service. When Lil Wayne released the “Free Weezy” album, an album I was very excited for and had been anticipating for awhile, it was only released to Tidal, and I was not a member. Unlike Spotify and Pandora, you must pay a monthly rate to access any of the website’s content. That being said, since I absolutely needed to listen to the album, I signed up using the student discount option, paid for the first month, and immediately cancelled my subscription after signing up, to ensure I did not pay for any more than a month of use. Why would I cancel the subscription if I knew the only way to listen to the album was on that website? The answer is piracy. Even disruptors in the music industry like streaming services must be disrupted in some way, and that is piracy. I knew the album would be illegally uploaded somehow, somewhere onto the internet within the coming weeks, so I only signed up to listen to it until that happened. Turns out, there was a very large $50 million scandal that resulted in Jay-Z not even having the rights to claim Lil Wayne’s album, which then resulted in it being released to iTunes and Spotify. Me being a huge Lil Wayne fan, I ended up buying the album anyway for unlimited listening purposes if not able to stream it. So, just to listen to one album, I ended up spending around $15 and went through more hassle than I should have. The above shows that streaming services are not only disrupting musicians, but those who also enjoy listening to music are being disrupted as well. Overall, big name streaming services are just preforming as a business and, if the artists are that affected by the streamers actions, they should revise their contract to exclusively allow their music to be available where they desire.

  7. Marquise Moseley

    I think if you asked anyone about their favorite things in life that at least half of the people surveyed would mention music. It is funny because earlier this semester I was not too big on listening to music because I felt the artists were pricing their music way to high, and I only spend large money on music from my favorite artists. For example, Drake, Future, Big Sean, and The Weeknd just to name a few. Other artists that really are not on my favorites tend to have music that I do not care for, and due to that I do not like paying large sums of money to hear their music. Anyway, recently I have discovered a beautiful app that goes by the name of Spotify.
    Spotify has been one of the best things to ever happen to me. They have such a large array of music that it is hard to not enjoy their services. They have almost every artist on there, and at the same time they have almost every song they ever produced. For a small fee, usually monthly, you have unlimited access to this music whenever you want. Even for free you get to listen to the music, but the only difference is that you have to shuffle the music and just can not pick the song you want to hear specifically. That is what I do for the moment, but I am going to start paying for it in the next month or so. To hear that some of the musicians are pulling their music off of the app is terrible, but at the same time it is terrible to see what the app is doing to these artists.
    Artists do not usually plan to make the price of their music incredibly high, but at the same time it costs a lot to make the music and get it produced so they have to make their money back some how. For smaller artists that do not really have a fan base, they have to promote their music as well. These streaming services make it easier and more convenient on us consumers. It is unfortunate that these same services that are so great and loyal to us, are at the same time trying to “rip off” the artists. Music is something that everyone enjoys, and I think artists know this and that is why they make music. The musicians want us to hear their music, but they just do not want to be shorted money/compensation for all of the hard work that they put into the process. I think it is true that in the near future music will be shared directly from artist to consumer to cut out this middle man/third party. When this day comes artists will be happier, will receive the money they deserve, and will not have a problem with streaming their music. It may cost a little more, but it is the future of music streaming. Whether we like it or not it is going to happen, but I’m just hoping I get to listen to a lot of music at this low price before that day comes.

  8. Isabel Goodman

    I believe this is a real issue artists are facing today, as backed up by this blog post. Streaming services allow users to listen to music at virtually no cost so it only seems mathematically correct that the artists are making less money from the deal as well. While I am a huge proponent of allowing music to reach the masses, I do not believe it is fair to underpay the artist who is the one making the music. When Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify, I admit I was a little annoyed because I was an avid listener to her catchy pop girl-anthems while driving in the car with my friends. I realized that to have the same experience I would have to buy all of her music on iTunes and the amount I would pay would be much higher than the $9.99 I was paying a month for my Spotify subscription. This makes sense to me now however for the very reasons I stated before, artist’s rights to fair compensation. While it was sad Taylor Swift took her music down, she took a stand and defended her rights and made this issue more widespread. This is a not a win-win for the listener and artist. The listener benefits but the artist does not win as much as they should. Taylor’s stand should have sparked a movement for artists everywhere, but not everyone has the clout that she does. In order for this to truly be solved, the streaming services need to realize the value of artist’s work. Without them, they would have no business. The artists have a lot more influence than they probably believe they do, but not everyone can expect to make $10,000,000 like Taylor Swift would when she pulled her album from Spotify. The only way to make this better is on the streaming services. As the video posted says, they are the future of music. 57% more people have used them this year and the numbers will continue to go up because it is economically a smart decision to use the service instead of buying the album through iTunes. iTunes has realized this too and that is why I believe they came out with Apple music, which is a service similar to Spotify. People using that do not necessarily have to buy the album and can listen to it just as they would with a service like Spotify, but it has the Apple brand associated with it, which gives it brand recognition and a positive outlook on the product. I have used both of these services and personally like Spotify better because of the playlists I already have built up through it. I think this issue has a long way to go before it will be resolved, but I do not think it is impossible to be fixed. Artists have rights and as listeners we have an obligation to make sure they get their fair share of money because that is their career.


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