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Platoon just quietly raised the bar for songwriter services

Cover image for Platoon just quietly raised the bar for songwriter services

Photo: Cottonbro Studio

Photo of Tatiana Cirisano
by Tatiana Cirisano

Over the past few months, singer-songwriter RAYE has been using her spotlight to campaign for fairer pay for songwriters — advocating for them to receive royalty points on master recordings, per diems for studio time, and more. As if directly answering her calls, artist services company Platoon quietly just launched a new division that addresses both of those things, plus more. But understanding just how big this news is requires understanding how songwriters got here in the first place.

The streaming income paradox

In the CD era, songwriters earned the majority of their songs’ lifetime revenue upfront from initial sales of physical albums, followed by a steep revenue decline. Importantly, it did not matter if your song was a flop; so long as the album sold, songwriters would participate in the revenue. 

Technically, the streaming era massively extends the lifetime revenue of a song. Rather than monetising only the initial album sale, songwriters also monetise each time the song is consumed, in more regions of the world and on more platforms than ever. Yet that revenue is paid out in a slow trickle over time — so even if the lifetime revenue of the song is higher, songwriters often wait so long for the pennies to add up that they are effectively worse-off. Adding to this is the fact that every song needs to be a hit in the streaming era; songwriters can no longer rely on the success of an album. It is no surprise that 67% of songwriters surveyed for MIDiA’s upcoming report on songwriter services name “lack of meaningful streaming income” as their biggest challenge — and it remains the biggest challenge regardless of songwriter tenure, professionalism, or income level.

So songwriters need to diversify revenue, ideally on the front-end. Artists do this by building their merchandise and live revenue streams — in other words, monetising fandom. Yet this is much harder for behind-the-scenes songwriters, which is why many are pushing for front-end payments like per diems, in addition to growing overall revenue through master royalty points.

The song accelerator 

The music industry is now home to a flourishing artist services economy, of which Platoon is a key part. But there has not been nearly as much innovation in the field of songwriter services, in part because of the complexities of publishing and conflicting interests of its stakeholders. Platoon is able to manoeuvre more flexibly, and not only because it is owned by Apple. The payments RAYE and other songwriters are campaigning for would come out of the recording budget for songs. Standalone publishing companies would have to rely on labels to enforce them, and companies with both recording and publishing arms earn much more from recording side, so they are not incentivised to change their ways.

Under Platoon Songs, songwriters are paid for their time so long as the song is finished, preventing tracks from getting stuck in limbo. Songwriters can reserve a song for six months to give the artist time to record, after which they may take it to someone else, and Platoon gets the first look at publishing rights of those compositions. Critically, deals give songwriters a share of royalty points on master recordings. 

Through this new division, Platoon extends its role as a song accelerator. Platoon songwriters work with Platoon artists — as well as others outside the network — inside Platoon’s studio spaces, giving the company a hand in every step of the creation and release process. Songwriters get the security and respect they are seeking, and Platoon gets the first look at new talent.

Happy songwriters = better songs

Arguments for fairer compensation for songwriters usually take moral grounds. But there is a business case, too. Platoon seems to understand a very simple, but often underestimated, truth: if songwriters are taken care of, they are going to write better songs. If songwriters can pay their bills, the songs will be better. If songwriters feel respected by their peers, the songs will be better. If songwriters can afford to take risks in the studio, the songs will simply be better. Music begins with songwriters: helping them earn a sustainable living is not just to the benefit of songwriters or the publishing industry, but the music business as a whole.

Look out for MIDiA’s upcoming report on the songwriter services market, based on a global survey of songwriters. If you are not a client but would like to learn about how you can access this report, please reach out to enquiries@midiaresearch.com.

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Maria Forte
To be Noted: The publishing part of the streaming pie amounts to a maximum of 15%. Songwriters will receive the majority of that through their publishing agreements. However in conjunction with the above comments - this adds significantly to the reduction in income a songwriter can earn. The income ratio needs to change.