Image Credit: Artem Bryzgalov

Indie rock singer Nadine Shah has been praised for her bravery as she very publicly described struggling to make a living from music streaming, even as a Mercury-nominated musician.

Giving evidence to the committee of the UK government’s inquiry into the economics of music streaming, Nadine Shah spoke candidly about the gap between streaming figures and income she and many other independent artists have noticed in recent years. The inquiry will kickstart an important conversation that can only mean exciting things for the future of the music streaming world, and Routenote is keeping an eye on the proceedings, eager to pass on the spoils.

Shah gave evidence alongside Guy Garvey of Elbow and Ed O’Brien of Radiohead in the second half of the meeting. All those involved instantly acknowledged that music streaming services offer incredible opportunities for musicians and are a ‘miracle’ for consumers, as Garvey was keen to stress. Despite the widespread assumption that if you’re a reasonably well-known artist you must be doing OK, money-wise, the current system can make it very hard to make a consistent living solely from streaming. We often recoil at the prospect of talking about money – it’s an awkward, often taboo subject especially in the UK, and Shah was commended, by the MPs on the committee and later on Twitter, for her courage.

It was good to see someone with the industry reach of Shah stick her head above the parapet and essentially say “look, this has been a problem for me, so if it’s a problem for you too, you’re not alone”.

So what, if anything, can be done to reset the balance? The argument put to the committee is for equitable remuneration – an equal split between artists and labels from streaming just as they get from broadcast. ‘Equal pay for equal work’ was the phrase repeated throughout. The panel were quick to assert the extraordinary benefits that can be wrought by artists from DSPs. Shah herself thinks Spotify is ‘brilliant’, but she wasn’t shy to address the gap between the hard work she puts in as a musician and the rewards reaped. As she put it: ‘I believe that I deserve to be treated better.’ Shah is an artist who has always explored difficult themes in her songwriting so perhaps it’s not surprising that she came forward despite being ’embarrassed to talk about these things publicly’.

The honest discussion comes at a time when other monetary avenues for artists have been stripped away due to Covid 19, but the problem existed anyway before the dreadful spectacle of 2020 arrived to ruin all our lives. The crux of the issue is that when streaming came on the scene, new administrative bodies weren’t created along with the new platforms, and contracts never caught up. Enough time has passed to see what works and what doesn’t with regards to the streaming model. Now is the time to address these issues and start a positive discussion.

The session is available to watch back online. Yes, I know, a UK government inquiry seems an awfully dry prospect, but the first hearing turned out to be a fascinating discussion, filled with eye-watering statistics, with the issues and suggested solutions explained in clear terms. Because the MPs were keen to wrap their heads around the problem at hand it also featured a peek behind the scenes of the music industry, with descriptions of processes such as the signing of record contracts.

It’s not all doom and gloom – the very fact that the inquiry is taking place at all is a step in the right direction. As pointed out in the session, the arrival of DSPs was the cavalry that saved the music world from the devastating blight of illegal downloads. You can distribute super-easily with RouteNote and your music is available for the entire world to buy.

Nadine Shah’s candour shone a light on the importance of asking for help if you need it; the ‘starving musician’ has been a glamourised trope for donkey’s years, but talented musicians shouldn’t have to struggle for their art. The inquiry hopefully offers an exciting chance to restructure the streaming model to benefit the artists who are the reason they exist in the first place.