Updated Oct 13, 2023 - Economy

Music artists should unionize, top industry exec argues

A man on stage sitting in a white oversized chair wearing a blue suit answering questions to a woman reporter sitting on the same kind of white chair

UnitedMasters CEO Steve Stoute speaking on Thursday Oct. 12, 2023 to Axios' Hope King in New York. Photo: Steven Duarte/Axios

Recording artists like Lady Gaga, Drake and Nicki Minaj should unionize, argues one longtime music industry exec.

  • "Artists were not involved in negotiating the rates that they get [for streaming]," Steve Stoute, CEO of digital music distribution startup UnitedMasters, said at the Axios BFD conference in New York yesterday.
  • "Whether it's formally called [a] union or some committee that comes together that represents their values," artists need "structured discussion" for "transformative deals," said Stoute.

Why it matters: Hollywood writers and actors have been fighting for more pay as streaming platforms use their content to drive growth.

  • Within the new Writers Guild of America agreement, a new payout structure will provide residuals based on viewership instead of a flat fee, for example.
  • Actors have been working to get 2% of the total revenue generated by streaming shows.

Zoom in: UnitedMasters is a digital platform that lets independent artists upload their music online and distribute it across more than three dozen platforms including, YouTube, Tidal, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Napster, TikTok and Instagram.

  • Releases can go live in as little as two business days, the company says. And the service allows artists to track their streams and get real-time payouts, which can be up to 100% of their royalties.

The big picture: Streaming has reverted music listening to a "lean-back" behavior, Mark Mulligan, founder and music analyst at Midia Research, recently wrote in a blog post.

  • "There is a lot more consumption than before ... but the previous, finite artist economy has been replaced by an in-effect infinite song economy. Consumption needs 'fixing' before remuneration."

The intrigue: Some musicians are unionized, the LA Times notes.

  • "The American Federation of Musicians [has] 80,000 members in the U.S. and Canada [and] collectively bargains for orchestra, film and live theater musicians ... But the vast majority of artists who dominate the streaming charts and fill nightclubs, arenas and stadiums have no such counterpart," the LA Times reports.

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information throughout.

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