European independent labels trade group IMPALA says it has concerns that the new “artist-centric” streaming model being rolled out by Deezer and Universal Music Group (UMG) later this year could create a “two-tier” music market that unfairly disadvantages indie artists and labels.
In an announcement on Friday (Sept. 15), Brussels-based IMPALA says that Deezer’s plans to introduce a new methodology for paying out streaming royalties for UMG artists from October 1 — at first only in France, Deezer’s biggest market — risks impacting independent and micro labels, which provide 80% of all new releases in Europe.
Among those whom IMPALA warns could be affected by the new streaming model announced by Deezer and UMG last week are new artists yet to be discovered, acts that deliberately cater to niche audiences and musicians from smaller markets.
The European trade body, which represents nearly 6,000 independent companies and labels, including Beggars Group, Cooking Vinyl, Epitaph and PIAS Music Group, says “the fact that the Deezer proposal has been developed in a vacuum” with UMG, the world’s biggest music company, “instead of the sector generally is also a concern.”
In response to its members’ worries, IMPALA says it is seeking “more clarity” from Deezer about its new streaming royalties model, which replaces the existing pro-rata setup — whereby one stream equals one play, with the total number of plays proportionally divided up by artists and labels — with a new system that prioritizes active listening, meaning users who intentionally search for or click on an artist’s song.
Under the new “artist-centric” model, “professional artists,” which Deezer and UMG categorize as artists who have accumulated at least 1,000 monthly streams from at least 500 unique users, will receive a higher share of streaming royalties, while Deezer will remove “non-artist noise” — essentially, white noise and nature sounds, which the company says accounts for 2% of streams — from the available royalty pool. As part of its reforms, Deezer has also vowed to crack down on streaming fraud and malicious actors exploiting the system.
At present, Universal is the only label signed up to the new streaming royalty allocation model, although in an interview with Billboard, Deezer CEO Jeronimo Folgueira said the Paris-based company is in discussions “with all content providers” and anticipates that more than 50% of its repertoire will be on the new model come its launch in October. He said the company also plans to expand the offer beyond France, where it will be piloted this fall, to “all providers in all countries” in 2024.
Responding to the UMG-Deezer plan, IMPALA’s executive chair Helen Smith said she welcomes Deezer’s “commitment to improve the streaming market” but cautions that “more debate is needed on this vital question… and its potential impact on the music ecosystem.”
In April, IMPALA published an updated version of its own 10-point plan to reform streaming, which proposed various changes to how digital royalties are allocated, including attaching a premium value to tracks that the listener has sought out as well as a so-called “Fan Participation Model,” whereby artists and rights holders could generate incremental revenue within digital services through offering special features and extra tracks.
The trade group says it has discussed its proposals with multiple digital services and will continue to push for “meaningful streaming reform.”
“It’s a common thread through the history of recorded music that the great artistic advances and changes have come from, and through, the independent sector. I don’t expect Goldman Sachs to know that but Deezer and UMG certainly do,” said Mark Kitcatt, chair of IMPALA’s streaming reform group.
Kitcatt added, “We hope that services will join with us to reform the streaming world in a way that increases opportunity and reward for all dedicated music creators, and enhances and enriches the experience for fans, rather than just diverting more royalties towards the biggest artists.”