Senior Researcher Ron Knox joined Rufus Williams on the Morning Show — at WVON 1690 — to talk about monopoly power in the music industry. Knox reported on how corporate concentration is exploiting small artists in a Wired article last March.
In the early 2000’s independent artists, record labels, and venues thought the music industry was a dying art. The growth of the internet made it easy for people to illegally download songs and buy albums on iTunes for $9.99, putting an incredible strain on traditional revenue streams. In the early 2000’s streaming platforms were considered the great savior, but they came with a price.
“[The music industry] has created one or two extremely powerful platforms that most music listeners are forced to go to and certainly what bands and record labels are forced to use in order to reach an audience. They’ve become this powerful unaccountable gatekeeper,” Ron explains.
Today, streaming is how music reaches people all over the world and is the industry’s primary revenue generator. As streaming spread and popularized, so did the outsized corporate power that regulates nearly all distribution and revenue. Spotify and Youtube together control 75 percent of all streams played in America, preventing smaller, independent streaming platforms from competing. These large streaming services are paying artists “penny fractions” per stream. This means, if an artist is lucky, they are making a third of a penny per stream. Spotify and Youtube have monopolized the industry. Now, thousands of artists are suffering the consequences.
The consolidation of streaming services is the direct result of lax antitrust enforcement. But change is on the horizon. Ron explains that Lina Khan, newly appointed chair of the FTC, is an ardent antimonopolist working to apply and enforce antitrust policy. He closes by saying “[The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice] give me a lot of hope that some of the worst parts of the industry are going to be shut down, changed, and hopefully made more equitable for small artists and venues.”
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