Ninja Tune execs say there are “clear issues the wider industry needs to resolve regarding royalties and streaming”

From music NFTs to indie labels – striking a balance between the needs of artists and those of the business seems to be the key to longevity.

Man listening headphones

Image: Jasper James

Ninja Tune’s Tom MacDonald and Peter Quicke have highlighted the need for change in the music industry in the advent of streaming and growing issues with royalties.

The last 20 years have been a period of intense change for the music industry as the rise of digital technology embraces modern technologies and business models previously unheard of. While the music industry is no stranger to evolution, the new battle between artists and labels for fairer pay is certainly different.

Deals offered by major record labels have progressed little since the days preceding digital music, and the explosion of music streaming as many fans’ go-to listening method has led to the dwindling of income via royalties for artists. A recent UK study revealed that only 0.4% of artists make a living from streaming revenue, a number that’s hardly surprising when you learn that artists earn an average of only $0.01 per stream.

In an interview with MusicTech, the execs of indie label Ninja Tune shared that a shakeup of industrial practices especially with regards to how artists are being paid is long overdue.

“There are certainly clear issues the wider industry needs to resolve regarding royalties and streaming,” says Tom MacDonald, the UK label’s head of digital operations. “From contracts written up in the days preceding digital music not necessarily being fit for purpose now, to discussions around the percentage of royalties paid.”

Nevertheless, they admit that the advantages to working with an experienced label are clear: a powerful pool of resources and team dedicated to the production, release and promotion of artists’ music so they can focus on what’s most important – making the best music they can.

Will Spence of UK indie label Oleeva Records also advocates the benefits of an independent label, telling MusicTech that “a lot of big labels and labels that I’ve signed with in the past have a clause that says, ‘it cost us x amount to release your EP, we need to recoup those costs before you get paid.’ The problem is your track might get streamed half a million times, and it might only make the label a few hundred pounds. So you end up in debt to the label, and you don’t get paid a penny.

“I’ve always said from the beginning that the [Oleeva] artist can get paid on their tracks as soon as the tune is out,” Spence adds.

Now, many artists are opting to self-release (via platforms like Bandcamp and Soundcloud) or sign with independent labels to cut a better deal. Music NFTs are also on the rise as artists take advantage of a bullish crypto market in a bid to upend the dominance of ‘Big Music’.

As the major-indie debate rages on, striking a balance between the needs of artists and those of the business appears to be the key to longevity.

To learn more about how artists can navigate an ever-changing music industry and what going indie means for artists and businesses in 2022, click here.