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Music streaming

Even Abba couldn’t make money now

Olle Lindeborg/AFP/Getty Images

Every bit of the music industry, from live shows to band T-shirts, starts with the song. And the song starts with the songwriter, says Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus in this podcast for Ted Talks Daily. But we’ve become the “invisible victims” of the age of streaming. The tiny royalties you get from services such as Spotify, usually only a fraction of a penny per stream, won’t pay anyone’s bills. After Abba’s Eurovision win with Waterloo in 1974, the royalties that “came pouring in” meant my writing partner, Benny Andersson, and I “could afford to throw away 95% of what we wrote and just keep the very, very best”. Modern songwriters must churn out tunes to keep up with “insatiable demand”, often working in large groups to create “genetically modified hits” that are optimised for algorithms.

Part of the problem is that streaming services usually pay about four times more for a song’s recording than they do for its composition – a legacy of the days when a single or album required expensive physical packaging. This is anachronistic and needs to change. And there’s no reason streaming services shouldn’t increase their prices, which have stayed more or less flat for a decade. “Netflix seems to increase its pricing every week.” Without reform, music itself could dry up. And “if we couldn’t hear music, then what else would we become deaf to”?

Listen to the podcast here.