Nile Rodgers thinks David Bowie would have failed in today’s industry

“The labels took on this financial responsibility and they would carry the artists they believed in that at some point in time would finally break, those days are truly over.”

Nile Rodgers and david Bowie

Nile Rodgers and David Bowie. Credit: Cedric Ribeiro/Michael Putland/Getty

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Nile Rodgers reckons that David Bowie would have been dropped before he’d ever released a global hit if he’d been starting out in music today.

Rodgers produced Bowie’s 1983 record Let’s Dance, which afforded the late artist his mainstream breakthrough. Rodgers argued that in today’s hyper-competitive music industry, which he perceives prioritises profit over nurturing genuine talent, no modern label would have given Bowie time to produce a hit record after his run of albums in the 1970s that didn’t make a splash beyond the UK.

“They gave him all that time to try and make a hit, he called me up and we made [Let’s Dance],” he said. “[The labels] took on this financial responsibility and they would carry the artists they believed in that at some point in time would finally break, those days are truly over.”

Rodgers’ comments came during a speech made in front of a House of Commons select committee investigating the streaming economy and artist remuneration. It follows a landmark series of recommendations in 2021 that called for a “reset” across the industry to make streaming fairer for artists and songwriters.

Rodgers demonstrated the extent of the problem faced by modern songwriters and artists by comparing today’s streaming remuneration with what he received in the 1970s. He told the committee he made $100,000 in 1977 after his first Chic album sold a million copies, while in comparison, Snoop Dogg revealed last week he got $45,000 for a billion streams.

In response to Snoop Dogg’s claims, Spotify said it made money for music mainly from two sources – Spotify Premium subscribers and advertisers on Spotify’s Free tier. “Nearly 70% of this money is paid out to music rights holders to what we call the ‘royalty pool’,” a spokesperson said.

Rodgers dismissed labels’ claims that their majority share of streaming revenues is fair because they invest millions into A&R, which involves taking a financial risk on artists who might not succeed as they would hope.

“I really hate the fact that they keep using that argument that is completely archaic,” said Rodgers. “I hate to use words like ‘lie’ – but it’s a lie.”

Indeed, a new report has found that independent musicians need to generate five million streams annually to make the US federal minimum wage.

The report by music financing platform Duetti also found that earnings per stream are down by two percent in 2023, despite price increases by the streaming platforms. Independent artists are said to make $2.95 per 1,000 streams.

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