🔵 Is it weird that I don't want this Universal/TikTok spat to end?
Exposing Universal's true market share, and why this all might actually help artists
We are now five days into the Universal/TikTok fallout that has seen the former removing all content it controls from the platform.
What has been interesting is seeing just how far Universal’s tendrils reach when it comes to the music in the marketplace. Killer Mike, a long time client of Motive Unknown (and the only client we have that I personally work on, alongside Run The Jewels), is a case in point. At the Grammys he had a clean sweep, picking up all 3 awards he was nominated for.
Could fans post about this on TikTok?
Honestly, I’ve no idea, but I am going to guess that Concord might have a distribution relationship with Universal or something. Given all music was pulled from that record, it certainly wasn’t a publishing thing, as Mike’s publishing is signed to Reservoir, at least according to Rostr, who I now rely on for these kinds of answers in the convoluted web of intrigue that is the music business.
For now though, the only way you’ll hear music from Michael on TikTok is if you see one of our adverts for it - which, it is interesting to note, can use any of the music currently otherwise banned, at least in our experience anyway.
This merely bears out what I’d said in last week’s Network Notes, namely that this takedown extends far, far beyond just the recorded music Universal releases as a label.
Two thoughts have since come to mind as I’ve watched this unfold, however.
The first is about Universal’s market position, specifically its dominance. Perhaps one unforeseen side effect of this takedown is we are now seeing just how far the company’s interests go… and it’s pretty damn far. Universal is unquestionably the largest major, but we are surely at a point now where that size should be reviewed and questioned, particularly as it starts to hoover up chunks of the formerly indie music industry through deals such as its 49% stake acquisition of PIAS.
Should any company have the power to, in one fell swoop, knock out that much of the commercial music business from a platform? I would argue maybe not.
The second thought relates to the artists themselves. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if social media disappeared tomorrow, I suspect most artists would rejoice. We have created a landscape in which the artists are expected to be the marketers, not the labels, and fixing them onto these content-creating hamster wheels is not healthy for them, and it is not good for the industry either. Artists, creative people who, pre-fame, plugged that energy into the music itself, are now expected to generate TikTok shorts, Instagram reels, virals, just more and more “content”.
It is horrific and hardly conducive to creating better music.
A great article on that subject is “Everyone’s A Sellout Now”, which I highly recommend you make time for. It details how everyone is now expected to become a personal brand, and how negatively that is affecting the creative space.
And if you cannot spare the time for that, consider this video, also in the article, in which Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast outlines her issues with the current state of affairs:
Now you may choose to view Cosentino’s view as one of embitterment, but I feel it is just indicative of how things are. We have created a landscape where the onus is far too greatly on the artist to carry the weight of the promotion and marketing for any album, only for that album they slaved over to disappear quicker than ever.
Is TikTok solely to blame? No, of course not, but it is accelerating a situation in which everything is getting a lot, lot worse.
For those reasons then, I have a curiously strong desire to see this holdout continue for as long as possible. If, by having to essentially lay bare all its interests, Universal’s market position is questioned and investigated, well, good. Similarly, if TikTok suffers thanks to the removal of all this art, then again, good. This is two behemoths fighting over money and in the meantime - once again - the artists whose work enables both companies to exist and grow, well they get stuck in the middle, earning nothing. Not that they were ever earning anything meaningful from TikTok anyway.
By being stuck in the middle though, this merely exposes the mess the music industry now finds itself in, and that in turn might encourage us all to collectively look to what comes next and how things sorely need to change. Reading Will Page’s SoundCloud Rockonomics article is a fine case in point, showing just how much that platform can help artists generate more meaningful income with a payout system that seems sensible, logical and, well just better. Bandcamp should never be ignored either. I don’t care who owns it now; it remains a beacon for artists that far, far more labels should be engaging with, and it offers a raft of brilliant features including live premieres among other things that artists to make use of.
Or, y’know, we can just keep asking artists to plug their work on TikTok and hope it goes viral. Is that really the future we all want? Only you get the future you wish for.
Let’s wish for better than this.
Have a great evening,
PS - Motive Unknown is hiring! Full details at the bottom of this email, or just go here for the full skinny.
🎶 listening to “Caterpillar” by Royce Da 5’9” feat Eminem & King Green. Eminem’s best ever guest verse? Quite possibly. Royce is no slouch on the mic, and in my head Eminem decided to step up. And my god, does he step up. How in hell does he even deliver that first verse without drawing breath?
📺 watching “She” by KISS on The Midnight Special channel on YouTube. ICYMI, there is now an official Midnight Special channel, uploading both full episodes and select performances from the legendary US music show. This one of KISS is great, underlining that before the insane shows, before the egomania of Gene Simmons reached epic levels, before everyone fell out, they were a seriously great rock n’ roll band with many a fine riff up their batwing sleeves.
Stories from the Music Industry:
Despite the drive towards efficiency, Spotify posted a quarterly loss of €70 million (around $75 million), down from a profit of €65 million ($70 million) in Q3. But this was an improvement over the €270 million loss (around $290 million) it posted in the same quarter the previous year. Its net loss stood at €532 million (around $570 million) for the whole of 2023. But average revenue per user was up, and now sits at €4.60, versus €4.34 last quarter and €4.55 in the same quarter a year earlier.
👆🏻Hot take: I think my sentiments around Spotify are known to all, but one positive here is that the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) is up, doubtless as a consequence of the price increases. Good to see.
The report claimed that a group of executives from the tech and creative industries were “unable to agree on a voluntary code of practice”. That in turn means that the task of setting rules has been kicked back to the UK’s Department for Science Innovation and Technology, working with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. “There are competing interests on the table. This won’t be solved overnight,” said one source of the talks.
👆🏻Hot take: at this point I think common sense will only kick in when the current UK Govt is dispensed with come the next election.
The report includes three artist case studies: Lil Uzi Vert, Kelow LaTesha and DJ ShortRound, representing musicians at different stages of their growth. The emphasis is on the impact of SoundCloud’s ‘fan-powered royalties’ (FPR) model, noting that 6.5% of Lil Uzi Vert’s listeners account for 72% of their earnings on the platform. Finally, the study discusses streaming fraud, suggesting that SoundCloud’s hybrid model – artists can opt in to the ‘user-centric’ fan-powered royalties or remain in the existing ‘pro-rata’ model – gives SoundCloud an advantage when spotting and tackling fraud.
👆🏻Hot take: make time for this, as it’s a terrific bit of analysis. That stat about Lil Uzi Vert is the killer one IMO, and I think its high time labels and artists all start considering changes to their strategies accordingly. But will that happen? I’m sceptical, for now.
Beggars Group, Secretly, Partisan Records among indie labels pushing back against Apple Music’s higher payouts for Spatial Audio
According to a report from the Financial Times, some indie record companies – including Beggars Group, Secretly, and Partisan Records – are “pushing back” against the plan, arguing it will take money out of their pockets while benefitting the biggest players in the music industry. “It’s literally going to take the money out of independent labels and their artists, to benefit the biggest companies in the marketplace,” an unnamed senior exec at an indie record company told the FT.
👆🏻Hot take: the argument seems logical enough here, and once again this highlights another issue of the pro rata approach to remuneration. Not good.
Stories from the Broader World of Tech:
The company’s subscriber count didn’t distinguish between the two tiers, which makes it hard to tell how many people are actually using YouTube Music compared to other music platforms like Apple Music and Spotify and how many are paying extra for YouTube Premium.
👆🏻Hot take: I’d love to see the YouTube Music numbers, but one thing’s for sure, which is that TikTok might be hogging headlines, but YouTube absolutely remains king of the hill.
The multi-year deal with Rogan, which is estimated to be worth as much as $250m, involves an upfront minimum guarantee, plus a revenue sharing agreement based on ad sales, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. The company declined to comment on the terms of the deal but in an email response said the estimated value of the deal mentioned in the WSJ report was incorrect. It did not provide a figure for the contract, however.
👆🏻Hot take: one thought keeps coming back to me on this, namely “can they really recoup on that $250M?”. Granted, the sum is being disputed, but I still marvel at such sums being paid for non-exclusive content. Interesting the difference in value between two types of content, too (ie music and podcasts).
“Piracy also threatens to damage our business, as its fundamental proposition to consumers is so compelling and difficult to compete against: virtually all content for free,” Netflix writes.
👆🏻Hot take: in the last edition of Network Notes I remarked that we must be approaching another wave of piracy, and sure enough, Netflix is fearing it now too. Telling…
Need something else to read? Here you go:
Tobias Becker Explores Popular Culture’s Continued Revival of the Past
👆🏻Hot take: a great look at nostalgia and how that obsession with the past is about connection. Worth your time.
The hacker whose involvement with anti-piracy software ended in a jail sentence has emerged from prison struggling to make rent as he starts paying his fine. ‘It could be worse,’ he says
👆🏻Hot take: a sad tale, and whilst there’s doubtless an argument that this man did wrong, the response and treatment here feels a little heavy-handed.
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