Universal Music Declares War on Streaming Noise

Under the new model, Deezer promises to separate professional artists from the musical clutter of hobbyists, functional music, and system-gaming bots, and to future-proof its platform.

Folgueira explains that the new design of the model aims to efficiently prevent gaming behavior by utilizing white noise. Additionally, it will provide a structure for further advancements in creating solutions to address upcoming issues such as fraud and copyright violation, which may involve AI-generated content.

This agreement is expected to be advantageous for professional artists. Deezer asserts that they can anticipate a 10 percent increase in payouts. David Turner, the founder of music business newsletter Penny Fractions and a strategy manager at SoundCloud, believes that in the end, most artists that people know or care about will benefit from this model. He suggests that hobbyists will receive minimal payouts, equivalent to less than the cost of a cup of coffee, while artists with a small but devoted fan base may now be able to cover their rent.

However, there are some issues with this statement. Firstly, it creates a division between hobbyists and artists, suggesting that hobbyists are to blame for the lack of higher earnings among “real” artists.

“I cannot reword”

Determining the distinction between malicious individuals, functional music with a specific purpose (such as masking tinnitus), and more experimental forms of “noise” is also challenging. Allowing major labels and streaming executives to decide what qualifies as “nonartist noise content” and what qualifies as “art” can lead to a slippery slope, according to Pelly. There is a considerable amount of music that falls into a gray area, such as ambient and noise musicians who incorporate field recordings. On the other hand, Folgueira argues that these types of artists will benefit from the support given to professional artists, and initially, Deezer will only remove monetization from white noise.

Deezer is primarily designed for music and podcasts, while my tinnitus mix is sourced from apps like Calm. However, Pelly raises some concerns about Deezer’s plan to release its own functional music. This move could potentially lead to streaming services creating and sharing their own recordings, which may have negative implications for artists in the future. Folgueira clarifies that Deezer has no intention of producing and distributing content that would directly compete with professional artists.

Both Pelly and Turner agree that Universal’s main goal is to increase its market share. They believe that the independent music scene in the UK has been growing because streaming algorithms are promoting lesser-known artists. In this context, removing irrelevant content could be a strategy to gain investor confidence. Pelly states that Universal Music Group is likely trying to expand its market share and ensure that their catalog receives the most streaming activity. Major labels perceive non-artist content as a threat to their market dominance.

The pro rata model in streaming, where revenues are distributed based on total streams, has faced criticism. This means that lesser-known artists can be overshadowed by popular ones like Bruno Mars. Deezer, a smaller streaming platform with 16 million monthly active users, has advocated for a user-centric model, where revenues are allocated based on what individual users listen to. However, the current deal being discussed does not follow this approach. Universal’s involvement in the deal is significant because, as highlighted by writer Cory Doctorow in his book “Chokepoint Capitalism,” it is a misconception that streamers determine the streaming model. In reality, major record labels hold the power as consumers are more loyal to specific artists like Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny than to platforms like Spotify. Therefore, any deal involving these record labels will be conducted on their terms.