Musicians get paltry pay from worldwide digital play

New figures for musicians’ royalty earnings shine a light on a significant digital income gap.

UK royalty collector PRS For Music reports British songwriters and composers collectively earned £187.7 million ($301 million) in 2011 from plays of their songs outside the UK.

That total was 10.6 percent more than in 2010. But it contains downloads and streaming royalties of a tiny £2 million ($3.2 million).

That is miniscule, perhaps scandalous. Domestically, last year’s digital royalties totaled £38.5 million ($61.7 million) – yet British musicians are consumed heavily in the rest of the world.

In fact, British music has rarely been so popular overseas, with acts like Adele and One Direction proving to be successful in the United States, for example.

What’s to blame for the discrepancy? A PRS For Music spokesperson tells paidContent:

“In the US, there is no performing right in downloads, so any revenue from these types of services would come direct from publishers.

“Similarly, streaming rates are low and you have to have many plays to see big money.”

And things aren’t looking up either. PRS For Music’s best optimistic spin, in Friday’s announcement, is that “the figures look set to more than double by 2022″…

Big deal. At that rate, in a whole decade’s time, all of Britain’s musicians would be earning a total of just £4 million per year in performance and mechanical royalties from digital services.

By far the healthier bulk of musicians’ royalty income will continue to come from analogue music – yet consumption is rapidly moving to the digital formats which pay them less.