Believe Calls Out Universal Music and Deezer Over “Unfair ‘Reverse Robin Hood’ System” Within “Artist-Centric” Model

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Believe founder and CEO Denis Ladegaillerie, who’s criticized streaming-compensation models that enable “top artists to take away revenue from emerging acts.” Photo Credit: Believe

Last week, Universal Music Group (UMG) and Deezer unveiled an “artist-centric” compensation model that the French streaming service is expected to take live in France next quarter. Now, Paris-headquartered Believe has formally called out the “unfair ‘reverse Robin Hood’ system.”

The nearly two-decade-old music company made clear its stance on Deezer’s forthcoming compensation pivot today, via a release that was emailed to DMN. For background, Universal Music and the publicly traded Deezer had for some months been coordinating to develop a retooled approach to streaming royalties.

Their collaboration (which represents one of several such partnerships for UMG) kicked off against the backdrop of AI music’s rise and amid continued revenue for non-music uploads including “white noise” tracks. Consequently, Deezer signaled that it would begin zeroing in on fraud as well as demonetizing white noise and replacing the easy-to-replicate listening options with its own (royalty-free) content.

Believe “fully supports these initiatives,” the TuneCore parent relayed today – albeit while taking issue with the royalty-redistribution component of the “artist-centric” model.

Within the latter, Deezer disclosed plans to begin paying “professional artists,” defined here as those with 1,000 or more monthly plays from at least 500 unique listeners, “a double boost” for their streams.

Ostensibly designed to give proper musicians a streaming-revenue edge over the multitude of AI-powered accounts with only a handful of monthly listeners apiece to their credit, the change would also render it harder yet for new and emerging artists to make ends meet. Meanwhile, UMG and its commercially prominent roster are, of course, positioned to benefit from the shift.

Believe touched upon these and other points when laying out its reservations with the current “value-sharing” framework, emphasizing that it’s “favorable to exploring” this type of system in theory. However, said system “must be built responsibly through open dialogue and collaboration of the entire music industry,” per the Sentric owner.

“As a company working with artists and labels at all levels,” the business elaborated, “Believe considers that all artists shall be compensated equally by streaming services regardless of their stage of development.

“We strongly oppose an unfair ‘reverse Robin Hood’ system that is centered around taking compensation from rising artists to allocate it to top and established artists. Further, it is our belief, based on data, that such a system would reduce diversity and discourage creativity.”

Additionally, the entity drew attention to the entirely feasible possibility that the profit-hungry majors could eventually push for the above-noted listenership thresholds to increase – further boxing out new talent in an industry where it’s already exceedingly difficult to succeed.

“Right now, the debate about ‘value-sharing’ does not exist,” Believe founder and CEO Denis Ladegaillerie drove home. “Instead, we are experiencing commercial negotiations to lower the market share of all independent artists. We do not think it is right to trade less diversity for better economics, nor for top artists to take away revenue from emerging acts.”

Beyond this new discussion about efforts to bolster the streaming income of acts with a certain number of listeners and plays, the deck is stacked against indies in other ways as well. The cash-flush majors have long been capitalizing upon paid-promotional initiatives, for example, and the terms of their Spotify deals reportedly enable them to maintain a stranglehold on ultra-valuable playlists.