Darren Fung
Darren Fung

Award Winning Composer Strikes Out At Puny Streaming Payouts

– The following is in part an opinion piece penned by Darren Fung, and published in the Toronto Star on May 30.

Fung is a three-time Canadian Screen Award-nominated film composer. He caught the composing bug at age fifteen when he wrote a piece for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composer Project. After finishing his degree at McGill and living and loving Montreal for twelve years, He is now based out of Los Angeles.

Amongst his credits, Fung recreated Canada's second national anthem, the Hockey Theme, for CTV and TSN. Every weekday morning his music is heard on CTV’s flagship morning news program, Canada AM. His work was the focus of Bell Canada’s Orchestra spot, run during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and was voted as Canada’s top commercial by readers of The Globe and Mail.

I love going to the farmers’ market. There’s something amazing about the smell of vegetables that were just picked from the garden not too long ago. It gets me every time.

Imagine a farmer who has deals with various sellers at different farmers markets across town. This farmer gets back a certain percentage of sales from these vendors. Now over time, imagine that many of these farmers markets are shutting down, but there’s a new player in town. This new player wants to pioneer a subscription model, delivering boxes of vegetables straight to customers’ houses weekly, without a storefront.

Now imagine that the parameters defining those vegetable deals are regulated by the federal government. This concept of delivering fresh vegetables to your door is so new, the subscription service was able to get a great deal by arguing that the rules shouldn’t apply to them, because they are not a vendor, they are a subscription service. As a result, the farmers are seeing drastically lower revenue and the new subscription service is making incredible profits.

The farmers are providing the same vegetables to the farmers market vendors as they do to the subscription service. So why would the revenue stream between the two be so drastically lower, in some cases by as much as 95 percent? Especially when you consider that the only difference between the two models is how consumers are getting their vegetables.

It seems brutally unfair. Even more so when you consider that the federal government regulates how much each revenue stream is worth. And, while overly simplistic, this model illustrates the new reality that music creators are in.

Various creative trade organizations and artists have put forth their policy ideas for discussion to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. And last week, I smiled as I read their recently released report, because finally, it seems like someone in Ottawa is listening. Aptly named Shifting Paradigms, the report issued 22 recommendations, many of them looking at closing the value gap that artists and creators are seeing with the advent of the technology that brings their work to the public.

In the not-so-distant past, composers and songwriters were able to build a solid livelihood from royalties generated from traditional broadcasters: this was our version of the farmers market.

Canadian Songwriters Hall of Famer Eddie Schwartz reminisced that a song selling a million copies would net him about $45,000 U.S. in mechanical royalties and a platinum record. A major music service pays an average of $0.000035 per stream, or about $35 for a million streams. In his words, it was akin to “reducing a reasonable middle class living to the value of a pizza.”

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