Saqib Bhatti: Labour’s plans for the music industry would have a disastrous impact – at a time when we should be promoting its growth

Saqib Bhatti is MP for Meriden.

Joy Crookes, the 23-year-old British-Irish-Bangladeshi singer, is one of the rising stars of British music, reaching critical acclaim this year both at home and abroad.

She has a Top 5 album and was nominated for Rising Star of the Year at the BRIT Awards last year. It may appear that Joy has suddenly risen to stardom. In reality, there are years of investment, creative expertise and promotion behind the promising trajectory she is on today.

Joy is just one example of why Britain’s music industry punches above its weight on the global stage, topping charts, racking up awards, and fronting sell-out tours. From The Beatles and Elton John to Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Adele, we should be proud of our creative heritage and globally renowned music talent.

Our music sector plays a vital role in creating jobs and opportunities, including for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and in projecting British soft power across the globe. Our artists are a vital advert for UK plc in growing markets internationally.

The UK music industry cannot risk losing that critically acclaimed reputation. However, a Labour-led Private Members’ Bill – being branded as a ‘simple fix’ to how much artists earn from streaming – has been tabled and is expected to seek legislation for the introduction of so-called ‘Equitable Remuneration’ or ER.

The proposal suggests that streaming revenue should be diverted away from the labels who take the initial risk and make the upfront investment in an artist’s career.

Of course I want artists to get paid more, especially if it results in a more thriving music industry. However, while ‘Equitable Remuneration’ might sound appealing, the system it describes would be far from equitable. It would do exactly the opposite of what it intends to do.

First, the proposal would cripple small independent British labels and make it harder to be a DIY artist because of the new red tape. A logical conclusion is that if record labels (of any size) have their revenues significantly cut, there will be less money to invest in emerging new artists.

This means fewer opportunities for the young superstars of tomorrow, or for those from under-served communities. Some of our greatest UK artists have come from extremely underprivileged backgrounds and that is part of the reason we must continue to encourage record labels to invest in growing talent.

Second, there’s also a real risk ER would make Britain’s music industry uncompetitive and harm our music export potential. As free-market conservatives, we need to do all we can in the industry to become attractive for investment. Additional barriers will only hinder growth opportunities for local talent.

International competition is already eroding our position as a global leader in music. Markets in Asia and Latin America are booming, while the UK’s overall share of global music revenue has slipped by seven per cent in just six years. This legislation would hasten that decline if large labels decide to invest more in overseas territories than the UK, as larger markets like Latin America or the US would have lower costs.

Third, a change to the entire streaming model in the UK, and its economics, will add further complexity to an already complex business model which in turn will force operational costs to rise. This cost will ultimately be passed onto the consumer, bad for fans and another inflationary pressure.

We need to support the dynamism of this industry and continue to create opportunities for the next wave of British music talent, rather than stifle investment with the unintended consequences of regulation. Our efforts should focus on maximising investment in British talent, ensuring that streaming platforms responsibly protect and value music, and enabling the live music industry to continue to bounce back post-pandemic.

The Government is already doing great work in this area, looking at thoughtful and collaborative reforms in the music industry via several DCMS working groups that report back next spring – an important and thorough industry-led process.

Ultimately, success in music is largely driven by consumer choice and popularity in a fiercely competitive industry. It is vital that we do everything in our power to ensure the continuation of the sector’s global competitiveness and throw our weight behind initiatives that encourage investment in UK music and foster international success.

If we want a thriving music industry with lots of upcoming talent then we must encourage investment, not take away the incentives for doing so. Let’s not pull the rug from under the feet of our future musical talent.

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Author: Saqib Bhatti MP


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