Recently, Rolling Stone gave Spotify a pat on the back for its new resolve to give away more free music in a scheme that promises to convert listeners into buyers. With fleeting objectivity, the magazine recognized the concerns of skeptical artists and record labels, then quickly rerouted readers by crediting Spotify—which became a public company in early April 2018—for kick-starting the stalled industry and initiating the recovery process.
"Thanks to the boom of streaming in recent years, music is finally coming out of its two-decade slump. The United States posted music revenue of $8.7 billion last year–a 17 percent year-over-year increase that took the industry back up to its 2008 levels." -Rolling Stone, April 24, 2018
"Finally coming out of its two-decade slump" may be a bit overstated. According to the latest report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), 2017's total global revenue of $17.3 billion represented only 68.4 percent of the industry's peak in 1999 when worldwide revenue topped out at approximately $27 billion, with the U.S. staking claim to $14.6 billion. Attributing the great decline of illegal free music downloading, the IFPI fought long and hard for measures to sanction unlicensed music services, so it begs the question: if more music is distributed for free (and free is free whether legal or not), can the music industry sustain its tenuous growth? The majority of artists and record labels say "no."
Admittedly, streaming music platforms—now the largest revenue source—have pushed the needle, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the U.S. market, but when it comes to how artists are paid, there is a wide chasm between what the top platforms are earning and the royalties they are paying to the artists. A January 2018 report from Digital Music News provides an overview of the leading platforms' pay-per-play rates, underscoring why artists and labels have every reason to believe Spotify's bold move coupled with its existing royalty structure will continue to hinder the industry's recovery:
- Napster: Listed as Rhapsody, Napster paid $0.01682 per play in 2017, with a 1.75 percent U.S. market share.
- Apple Music: As a subscription-only service with no free tier, Apple now offers a pay-per-play rate of $0.00783, with a U.S. market share of 22.29 percent.
- Amazon: Though facts on artist payouts for Amazon Prime Music and Music Unlimited are guarded, The Trichordist (Artists for an Ethical and Sustainable Internet) reports a pay-per-play rate of $0.0074, with a 3.8 percent U.S. market share.
- Spotify: Spotify, with the highest number of paid subscribers, pays a paltry $0.00397 per stream, commanding more than half (51 percent) of the U.S. market share, with top executives reportedly earning seven-figure salaries.
To add insult to injury, Digital Music News reports that 99 percent of 2017's 377 billion streams were from the top 10 percent of available songs—which were dominated by male artists. What's worse, the current royalty structures continue to hold artists hostage even under the best circumstances. Independent labels, for example, may offer artists half of the profits (that's at wholesale—not retail), but the typical split with big record labels is significantly smaller—between 10 and 16 percent in favor of the label.
Equal Pay for Equal Play
Satisfying consumers at the expense of the artists they promote, the current leading streaming platforms being credited for resuscitating the music industry inarguably benefit only top-tier musicians—and least of all women. A new study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reveals these harsh realities for female artists, who continue to find themselves at the bottom of the multi-billion-dollar industry:
- Just 22 percent of releases on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart between 2012 and 2017 were from women artists.
- Only 12 percent of releases on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart between 2012 and 2017 were penned by female songwriters.
- In the previous six years of Grammy nominations in five categories, less than 10 percent of all nominees were female.
- Since 2013, no women have been nominated for Producer of the Year.
- Females traditionally represent less than 10 percent of nominees for Record or Album of the Year.
- Slightly more than one third of the female nominees at the previous six Grammy Awards were women from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.
- In 2017, of the total 1,239 artists attached to the 600 top songs, only 16.8 percent were women, reflecting a six‐year low for female artists in popular content.
- In the recording studio, male producers outnumber female producers 49 to one.
So, while it may have been a banner year for some, not all pieces of the music industry pie get divided equitably. With women so blatantly marginalized and underrepresented, it will take more than inclusion to bring them above water; it will take an entirely new platform that opens the access gates and a royalty structure that removes the handcuffs once and for all.
Addressing the Challenges of a Tone-Deaf Industry
Continuing to be the voice of change, calling for fair compensation as well as freedom from discrimination and sexual harassment in every sector, women are finding new inroads into the music industry while simultaneously impacting society on a larger scale. Consider Michele Anthony, Executive VP of Universal Music Group, who was named the 2017 UJA-Federation of New York Music "Visionary of the Year" for her commitment to philanthropy, and Nicki Farag, Senior VP of promotion at Def Jam Records, who pushed to the top of the charts—against all odds—the rapper Logic's controversial and heart-wrenching song "1-800-273-8255," which features Alessia Cara and Khalid and supports suicide prevention efforts. Yet, these women and others like them are just the tip of the iceberg. Recognizing the need for a level playing field in order for women—and the music industry—to not just survive, but thrive, record companies are pitching in and partnering with innovators and entrepreneurs to enrich and enhance the music experience and its potential to positively impact fans, labels, artists and charitable organizations alike. With new players pushing the boundaries and providing platforms that offer independent and established artists equality in access, exposure and earning strategies, a new dawn may be on the horizon.
We can hear it now, a music industry of the future, where female artists represent half of all award winners, songwriters, producers and top earners. Where full and fair compensation means a 90/10 split in the artist's favor. Where fans can engage with artists in new ways and where the transformational power of music is unleashed, appreciated, shared and benefitting to all.
Edge Music Network (EMN) is a music video streaming service providing live and on-demand content through a video syndication platform designed to enable a fair compensation structure ensuring artists get the royalties they deserve and fans get uninterrupted access to the music they love—anytime, anywhere. With powerful search tools for discovering and streaming on demand, users can watch the latest music videos, concerts and events of the highest quality. The EMN mobile app unlocks premium content, allowing users to easily create, manage and share custom playlists and enjoy channels with music videos curated by EMN experts. The Edge Music Network dedicates a percentage of profits to charitable causes that feed the hungry, aid victims of natural disasters and support homeless veterans. Supported by an advisory board of renowned musicians and industry professionals, and in partnership with leading content creators, independent artists and marquee music labels like Universal, Capitol Records, Def Jam and Geffen—Edge Music Network is on a mission to reinvent how music is heard, viewed and shared. Edge Music Network delivers an unlimited, unrestricted and unbelievable audio and video experience—and unites people with the transformative power of music.
"The Edge Music Network dedicates a percentage of profits to charitable causes that feed the hungry, aid victims of natural disasters and support homeless veterans"
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.