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‘The next 10 years in music hold a wealth of opportunity, but only if copyright, revenue collection and distribution catch up.’

The following MBW op-ed comes from Roberto Neri, who was recently named COO at fast-growing music tech company Utopia Music. Prior to joining the firm, Neri spent 20 years in publishing, most recently as EVP of Business Development at Downtown.

Utopia, headquartered in Switzerland, has been hitting headlines recently with its acquisition of AI startup Musimap and financial services company Lyric Financial as well as a string of senior hires. The company is building a platform that will bring near real-time trust and transparency to tracking and distributing music rights and royalties.

There’s no doubt that, despite the pandemic, music is looking like a pretty lucrative business right now.

Universal Music Group debuted on the stock exchange in September with an impressive $54.3bn valuation, which has since helped increase Warner Music Group’s value by $4bn. 

At the same time, lots of big money deals are being signed to snap up music catalogues — a surge in interest that’s been led by Hipgnosis (which recently secured $1bn from investment house Blackstone to continue its spending spree), with the likes of Primary Wave, Round Hill, UMG, BMG and KKR, and Sony also getting involved.

Last year, the IFPI said global music industry revenues grew 7.4% to hit $21.6bn, marking a sixth consecutive year of growth, driven by streaming. All of this is good and exciting news.

However, we do know that growth in revenues from music streaming is slowing and while there’s still lots of potential in developing markets, subscription fees in places like Asia, Africa and South America are considerably lower than those in the Western world.

This is exemplified by MBW research that estimates that global subscription streaming annual average revenue per user (ARPU) fell by just over $2 per head in 2020. 

As we note in our report with MIDiA Research, Growth From Transparency: Reframing the Value of Music Through Creator Rights, as these markets continue to develop, there is still opportunity short-term for monetisation growth in recorded music streaming and sync. 

“the music industry must look beyond streaming in order to continue capitalising on the great potential that’s currently being recognised by a wealth of investors and ensure its future.”

However, the music industry must look beyond that in order to continue capitalising on the great potential that’s currently being recognised by a wealth of investors and ensure its future, whilst making sure that creators, and not just corporates, are benefitting, too. 

According to our research, total retail revenues in the global recorded music market have the potential to grow by 58% to reach $61.7bn in 2028 — up from $39.2bn in 2021. This will be made up by:

  • Recorded music streaming $26bn (up 86% on 2020s $14bn value)
  • Sync $5.8bn (up 66% on 2020s $3.5bn value)
  • UGC and social $8bn (up 100% on 2020s $4bn value)
  • Creator tools (plugins, DAWs, VSTs and services) $2bn (up 100% on 2020s $1bn value)
  • Live streamed concerts $6.4bn (up 967% on 2020s $600m value)
  • Fandom $5bn (up 900% on 2020s $500m value)
  • Games $4bn 

As you can see, longer-term growth will come from UGC and social, creator tools, livestream concerts, fandom and games. Those latter categories take music into a more experiential era, where more than just the recording is monetised.

So what needs to be done to support this significant opportunity? Firstly, the music industry shouldn’t be stifling new technology. It’s pretty shocking that Twitch, which was founded in 2011, is only just securing licensing deals this year.

We need to educate new players and onboard them into the music industry as quickly as we can in order for them to understand the value that music brings to their service and customers.

Secondly, every territory must respect, understand and value music copyright, which isn’t currently the case. Territories like India and China count for a third of the world’s population and yet don’t align with what’s in place elsewhere when it comes to valuing the work of creators. 

As we put forward in our report, there’s also a case for expanding music copyright to recognise the non-music activity of a music creator in digital environments with the establishment of a creator right.

Today’s ubiquitous online world demands a lot from creators who are now expected to be present and active on a wide array of platforms while also keeping up with their core function of making and performing music. In doing so, music creators bring sizeable audiences to platforms, helping to generate revenue, for which they often don’t receive a cut of. 

“music creators bring sizeable audiences to platforms, helping to generate revenue, for which they often don’t receive a cut of.”

In music, creation, distribution, fandom and monetisation are fragmented across different places (like streaming services and social media platforms), so musicians can’t typically capitalise on this environment in the way that, say, social media influencers can. If a creator right was established, musicians would be able to monetise their non-music activity on all platforms, therefore capturing the wider value they bring. 

This would increase the number of revenue streams that would need to be tracked and distributed globally, which brings me onto the music industry’s next barrier to growth. When I started working in the music industry at PRS for Music in 1999, we were working with millions of lines of income. Last year, PRS processed 22 trillion lines of income.

It’s an incredible amount of data that current antiquated revenue collection and distribution systems worldwide just aren’t equipped to process. As our report points out, this results in several billions of dollars of unallocated royalties, unclaimed, with estimates pitting this at 15-30% of total collections.

Overall, due to problems with this system, we think that creators could potentially be missing out on 50% of their income (including admin charges). 

“antiquated revenue collection and distribution systems worldwide just aren’t equipped to process the amount of data that music consumption generates.”

In today’s advanced digital age, this isn’t good enough and poses a significant risk to music’s value going forward, especially when those trillions of lines of income are only set to increase.

This is why, at Utopia Music, we’ve raised capital to build robust and effective solutions to this problem, which we’ll be offering to collection societies worldwide. We believe there should be one underlying independently owned platform that services everyone and promises ‘fair pay for every play’ in a timely manner.

Music Business Worldwide

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