Nile Rodgers calls for ‘seat at table’ for songwriters after streaming report

·4-min read

Hipgnosis co-founders Nile Rodgers and Merck Mercuriadis have unveiled plans for a songwriters guild to ensure they are given a “seat at the table”, following the publication of a scathing report into streaming.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry concluded the music streaming model is in need of a “complete reset” and that “pitiful returns” for performers and songwriters were impacting the “entire creative ecosystem”.

MPs also raised “deep concerns” about the position of the major music companies and recommended the UK competition watchdog investigate their commercial power.

Music manager Mercuriadis, who co-founded the Hipgnosis Songs Fund with disco pioneer Rodgers in 2018, told the PA news agency the guild would be based on screenwriters guilds in the US, which represent the interests of their members in Hollywood and beyond.

Music Industry Trust Awards – London
Merck Mercuriadis, right, with producer William Orbit (Matt Crossick/PA)

He said: “Hipgnosis is starting a guild that we won’t own. It will be owned by the songwriters, it will be for the songwriters, it will be for the entire songwriting community. We are just giving it the opportunity to succeed. But the guild will basically involve songwriters in the same way that Nile said.

“It will be like the screenwriters guild where you walk into the movie companies every three years and we just say, ‘Hey listen, it is great that you have got Reese Witherspoon and you have got Denzel Washington but if you don’t have my writers sorted out you aren’t getting the script. Those are my boys and girls and I am protecting them, so you need to cough up’.

“That has never happened in the music business.

“It happens in the movie business every three years.

“It has never happened in the music business.”

British Summer Time festival – London
Neil Young sold his back catalogue to Hipgnosis (Isabel Infantes/PA)

London-listed firm Hipgnosis has in the past three years snapped up back catalogues and songs from artists including Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie and Barry Manilow.

In their report, MPs called on the Government to introduce a system of equitable remuneration for streaming income – where performers have a right to receive a share without reference to their label contracts.

According to the Broken Record campaign, under the current system artists receive around 16% of the total income from streams, while record companies receive around 41% and streaming services around 29%.

Chic guitarist Rodgers told PA: “The solution is rather simple. We have to have a seat at the table.”

He added that “in a strange way this music represents my heart and soul”.

“You don’t know how many years it took me to learn how to create a song like Get Lucky with Daft Punk and Pharrell,” he added.

“You don’t know what I put into that to be able to deliver on that particular day.

“This world that we live in now allows people to take my heart and soul, which I have no power in negotiating who gets to push play and listen to it any time they want.”

Mercuriadis, a former manager of Sir Elton John and Pet Shop Boys, welcomed the report as a “wonderful first step”.

He said he had expected a change in the streaming model to be a “10-year battle”.

But he added: “With all the moves that have been made over the last three years, that we have been advocating for songwriters, we now think that it is a five-year battle – ie another three or four years from now.

“But the work needs to be done.

“So we are excited, we are excited that the process has accelerated, we are excited that this group of MPs in the UK have taken notice and we believe that their work will permeate around the world.

“But we are just getting started.”

The inquiry, which was launched following increased scrutiny prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, received more than 300 pieces of evidence, including from Rodgers himself, plus Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey and singer-songwriter Nadine Shah.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of record labels association BPI, said in a statement that the Government should “consider the vital role that labels play as the leading investors into artists’ careers, with investment in artists by record labels growing year-on-year”.

He added: “Artists also now have more choice in how to manage their careers, with independent and self-releasing artists growing their share of the market.

“Labels are committed to ensuring that artists share fairly in the growth from streaming.

“We will carefully examine the findings of this report, but it is essential that any policy proposals avoid unintended consequences for investment into new talent, and do not imperil this country’s extraordinary global success in music.”