Why I am taking my label off-stream

Paul Baxter (Pal Steaphan Baxter) owns and operates a beautiful niche label in Scotland. Delphian Records, which regularly appears on my review list, rejoices in its difference. Paul has now decided to buck industry trends and take his recordings off streaming devices such as Spotify, and freeviews such as Youtube.

Paul explains why, exclusively on Slipped Disc:

purcell's revenge

A few months ago Delphian’s releases mysteriously started to appear on a very well-known video streaming site, available to stream at no cost and accompanied by arbitrary visuals – most commonly representations of the title’s cover image, or atmospheric images of the musicians.

I wasn’t knowingly contacted for permission in advance of this rollout. Artists began to contact me in panic – were their discs being ripped and hosted on the net, free for all, illegally? “How can I encourage listeners of my music to buy from iTunes, when they can listen for free?” one artist asked me. “Surely this is a con?” asked another. “People can listen without even paying a subscription?” chimed a younger artist. Yes, and No.

Yes, our catalogue is – for the moment – available to be heard, limitlessly, and no, there’s not even a subscription involved. This new availability of our catalogue was ‘progress’ that had been anticipated in our agreement with our aggregator (the industry’s term for the broker organisations that license content to individual sites). Some of my colleague label owners immediately opted out of this rollout, and took down all their content. Others regard it as good publicity, and even some artists want their content to be available as widely as possible with no view to remunerating themselves for their creative output. I decided to run with it for a couple of months, to see for myself what the results would be.

This morning I had a chance to go through the sales information. On the basis of many tens of thousands of streams of individual tracks, my income from ad based streaming services has been 0.002 of a cent per stream. Some listeners argue that they go on to service providers such as iTunes to buy something they’ve sampled on streaming services – I can discern no obvious uplift in Delphian’s paid download income. On this basis, I have asked my aggregator with immediate effect to remove my catalogue from all ad based streaming sites.

The way we consume music is changing, and it’s changing ferociously fast, but a model that pays 0.002 cent per stream can’t possibly be progress. The relationship between artists and labels can be an incredibly fruitful and symbiotic one. The prevailing notion of the commercial value of music amongst young people threatens that, and it threatens everything else. I want to support my artists’ future endeavours. I have a team of first rate creative and administrative individuals to pay as well as a program of print advertising and PR to fund. I cannot do that if the value of listening to one of my tracks is perceived to be 0.002 of a cent. Just because something’s new, doesn’t mean it’s better; this needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.

PSB

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  • Thank you, Mr. Baxter.

    This piece leaves out one piece of information. You said, “I can discern no obvious uplift in Delphian’s paid download income.” But has there been an obvious decline in paid download income? That is the big question.

    Is the decline of album sales due to free streaming? Or is it the result of a variety of other factors? Does anyone know the answer?

    I wonder one thing. If there is no obvious decline in paid download income, what is the real harm of streaming? Might it move more people into concert seats? Or create interest in the next recording?

    • “If there is no obvious decline in paid download income, what is the real harm of streaming?”

      On a statistical basis, it depends whether general trends would have otherwise predicted an increase — for a label that is active in making new releases as well as maintaining a back-catalogue, I suspect that a gradual increase over the years would be a reasonable expectation. However, more evidence would be required to draw any conclusion with a high confidence-interval.

      On a principled basis, I think the matter is clearer. Musicians are professionals, and deserve to be renumerated at a reasonable rate for their work — 0·002 cents per stream is not even close to reasonable. Making the tracks available at such a low rate also has the effect of undercutting the loyal customers who paid the proper price for the recordings. A business model that relies on giving new customers a better deal is rarely sustainable.

    • “But has there been an obvious decline in paid download income? That is the big question.”

      Presumably this is a question that will be answered in the course of time. As to whether streaming moves people into concert seats or creates interest in the next recording, if neither of these translates quantifiably into worthwhile sales, should it be any label’s duty to make its output available via streaming?

  • It seems like a lot of labels are having the same change of heart.

    Naxos, Bis, and Chandos all have changed their practices recently, and their latest releases are no longer available on the biggest US streaming services–Spotify and Rdio.

    This is too bad. I became interested in classical music just a couple of years ago, and would never have learned about any of these labels (or many others like harmonia mundi, Ondine, Signum, or the house labels like LSO Live or LPO) without streaming. I would be happy with mainstream offerings of the remaining “major” labels.

    Over the past two years, I have spent at least $600 on independent-label classical music, over and above my fees to the streaming services.

    Surely there are other fans like me?

    Now that these labels have reduced streaming access, I’m less inclined to buy the products, because I prefer to spend money on things I know I will like. That said, I am more likely than I used to be, simply because the labels past streaming availability put them on my radar screen. Their past good judgment will continue to pay some dividends.

    It is discouraging to get a small amount of money per play, but in a world where customers have limited money and limited attention (time), and tons of entertainment options, streaming may be the best way to expose your label to new customers and (in the long run) to sell music.

    In any case, without the ability to sample the new

    • This approach will not work. Naxos, etc. have to come up with a business plan for this new online world. An artists CD will literally never be seen if we stick to the old ways. There might be a few that only read the review magazines and I, for one, appreciate those but that’s not enough to sustain.
      The big record companies original mistake was that they tried to buck the internet. The key word is “adapt”. Thanks.

  • I have a mixed opinion on streaming. The notion of exposing people to new music is good. the downside is the rate that artists receive per stream is pathetic. I have several musician friends who have declined this form of exposure for this reason. The streaming services claim that the amounts paid to artists will increase as more subscribers increase. My friends claim they can make more by hawking their CDs after a show.

    Yes, music delivery is changing, but the present scenario leaves much to be desired.

    I do own several of Delphian’s releases; great music, recordings and nice liner notes. Too bad more labels were not like this. Now if they could have some viola music…

  • Will Mr. Baxter continue to make Delphian recordings available on paid subscription streaming services such as Naxos Music Library?

  • As a large classical label manager based in UK I can answer the main questions:
    1. Yes download sales (per catalogue item available) have been declining ever since streaming started to grow in the classical area 2-3 years ago. Whilst new issues produce varying degrees of ‘spike’ the overall decline is steady but impossible to ignore.
    2. Whatever the arguments about ‘sampling’ surely no streaming customers believe that the rates payable are in any universe worthwhile? The YouTube thing started with Labels wanting to promote (full price, physical) releases via video media, but they now realise it has backfired massively, enabling ironically the most promoted titles to be offered free.
    3. Streaming may continue to work for just a tiny number of global pop artists for short periods, but that’s a very different thing to classical catalogues which depend on long-term low-numbers interest to survive and fund new projects. There are not the audiences or fashion trends to make it conceivably worthwhile at 100 times current rates.

    It’s surely possible to sample sound quality and performance style for free via legal paid sites anyway for those genuine consumers who can’t access reviews ?

    musicalmerit

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