Nadine Shah: 'I can't pay the rent on unfair music streaming revenues'

MPs told streaming has revived music industry’s fortunes but not helped artists

Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter Nadine Shah has said that she makes so little money from streaming that she is struggling to pay her rent.

The 34-year-old told MPs that despite achieving commercial and critical success with four albums, payments from services such as Spotify were not enough. Shah added that the way streaming platforms and record labels carve up revenue is unfair for all but a few mega-artists.

“The earnings from streaming are not significant enough to keep the wolf away from the door,” she told the digital, culture, media & sport select committee inquiry into the economics of streaming. “I have a substantial profile, a substantial fanbase, I’m critically acclaimed but I don’t make enough money from streaming and am struggling to pay my rent. I am a successful musician, but I am just not being paid fairly for the work that I make.”

Tom Gray, singer with rock band Gomez and founder of the Broken Record campaign, told MPs that the streaming revolution had transformed the fortunes of the music industry but not trickled down to the tens of thousands of artists underpinning that success.

Tom Gray of Gomez performs on stage in Glasgow.
Tom Gray of Gomez performs on stage in Glasgow. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns

“I’m not here to argue for Paul McCartney to get more money,” he told MPs. “Far from it. This is happening while a few multinational corporations, foreign-based corporations, are making the most money, the best growth, the best profit margins, they have ever made in their history.”

Universal Music, the world’s biggest record company that is home to stars from Taylor Swift to the Beatles, recently reported recorded music revenues up 11% in the third quarter to £1.33bn. And Spotify, the world’s biggest streaming service, reported £1.6bn in revenues in the second quarter from almost 140 million subscribers paying $9.99 per month in the US, £9.99 in the UK.

The streaming revolution has dramatically reduced the costs associated with physical sales of CDs, records and cassettes – such as factoring in significant losses for stock damage – but music deals have not been restructured to give artists a share of the cost savings.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

“The system as it is is threatening the future of music,” said Guy Garvey, singer and songwriter for Elbow and a BBC6 Music presenter. “It sounds dramatic … but it has become so skewed. Streaming is a bit of a miracle, the fact we have access to every piece of music in our back pocket for £10 a month is almost a miracle. If musicians are equitably paid then it is sustainable and everyone can be proud. Streaming has saved us from piracy – but not paying in such a way that it is making a difference to musicians starting out.”

The musicians who gave testimony to the select committee, including Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, also expressed fears that the UK government has not planned to ensure that live touring remains viable in Europe following Brexit.

Live music, including tours and playing festivals – worth £1.3bn to UK artists in pre-Covid times – is the biggest income stream for almost every musician. Despite the UK preparing to exit transition arrangements with the European Union from January, there has been no news from government as to whether acts touring abroad will face costly new restrictions and red tape.

“We are not prepared for [Brexit] at all,” said O’Brien, who cancelled a solo tour earlier this year. “I speak to my managers and they are just waiting, we don’t know what is going to happen. It is key to sort this out.”


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Digital streaming behind biggest rise in UK music sales for two decades
Platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify plus renaissance in vinyl records help fuel fastest annual growth since 1998

Sarah Butler

03, Jan, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
UK watchdog to study music streaming amid claims of raw deal for artists and fans
Competition regulator acts after stinging criticism by MPs of record labels and platforms such as Spotify

Mark Sweney

27, Jan, 2022 @8:52 AM

Article image
Streaming accounts for more than half UK record label income
Revenue from Spotify, Amazon and Apple rises as CD sales continue to fall

Mark Sweney

21, Mar, 2019 @12:01 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on music streaming: the tide is high | Editorial
Editorial: Classic tracks by groups such as Blondie are fuelling an online music boom. But emerging artists need a bigger slice of the profits


25, Dec, 2020 @5:16 PM

Article image
Guy Garvey says music fans should pay more for streaming services
Elbow frontman says system is not sustainable and bands are struggling to sustain careers

Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

30, Nov, 2020 @2:38 PM

Article image
Streaming deals reflect success of biggest artists, says label boss
Universal’s UK head tells MPs services are not perfect, as it emerges it can take over 1m streams to make £1,000

Mark Sweney

19, Jan, 2021 @4:53 PM

Article image
Taylor Swift strikes a blow for fellow artists as digital revenues soar
The star’s big new deal with Universal offers a Spotify windfall for all – and remarkable personal terms for herself

Mark Sweney

24, Nov, 2018 @4:00 PM

Article image
Is Spotify really worth $20bn?
Music service will soon have its IPO and investors think it can be as big as Netflix. Are they right?

Alex Hern

02, Mar, 2018 @3:53 PM

Article image
Slipping discs: music streaming revenues of $6.6bn surpass CD sales
Popularity of services such as Spotify outstrips traditional formats for first time

Mark Sweney

24, Apr, 2018 @12:50 PM

Article image
Paul McCartney and Kate Bush lead call for change to music streaming payments
Open letter to Boris Johnson signed by 156 musicians including Led Zeppelin and Annie Lennox aims to reword 1988 Copyright Act

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

20, Apr, 2021 @1:25 PM