Julia Lopez – 2022 Speech on UK Songwriters and Composers

The speech made by Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2022.

I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for securing this debate and for superbly highlighting the enduring talent and ingenuity of Britain’s songwriters and composers, the value of their creativity in and of itself, and the cultural and economic capital they generate for our nation. I also congratulate him on his election to be the new chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music.

I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the incredible night on Saturday, when we had the most perfect result we might have hoped for at Eurovision. I congratulate Sam Ryder on his performance and on restoring our reputation for Eurovision mightiness.

If the hon. Gentleman has noticed a modest uptick in his Spotify stats this week, it is because I researched this debate to the mournful strums of “The Wrecker of Wick” and “The Clown & The Cigarette Girl,” two of his great contributions to the British catalogue of compositions. Should his bandmate, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), one day retire, I stand ready to dust off my drumsticks to fill the gap in his magnificent band, MP3/MP4.

From the Beatles to Kate Bush, and from Ed Sheeran to Sam Ryder, the work of UK songwriters and composers is a prized national asset that resonates with audiences all over the world, giving us tremendous soft power globally. I suspect we will shortly see that talent showcased at the platinum jubilee concert. Their skills are vital not only to the music industry but to the creative industries as a whole, including advertising, film and television. The hon. Gentleman cited the role of the BBC, and I recently met its head of pop music to discuss how the BBC nurtures creative talent.

I also thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the importance of music, musicians and composers to wellbeing during the pandemic, when many people found solace in music. At this juncture, I would like to thank an important charity in my constituency, Singing for the Brain, which does fantastic musical work with dementia sufferers.

As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, Monday marked the start of Ivors Week, a celebration of UK songwriters and composers hosted by the Ivors Academy. I am very excited to attend the Ivor Novello awards tomorrow alongside the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I was pleased to hear about the Ivors Academy’s new diploma. That ceremony will place a spotlight on the economic value of music to the UK economy. As UK Music has calculated, the sector employs more people than the steel and fishery industries combined. However, it does face challenges, partly as a result of the pandemic and because of how technology is changing the economic model in the sector.

The hon. Gentleman has been a powerful voice in this House about the ways in which the rise of digital technology is bringing about dramatic changes to the UK music landscape. The advent of streaming has undoubtedly revolutionised the way in which we consume and engage with music, but it has also had a profound impact on the industry. That shift has significantly altered how creators earn an income, as royalties from streaming largely replace music sales as the dominant source of that income. That shift has called into question the business models operated by platforms. I am aware that campaigns such as #brokenrecord, which is led by the Ivors Academy and the Musicians’ Union, highlight concerns about the distribution of streaming royalties. The Government want the UK music industry, including songwriters and composers, to be able to flourish in the digital age. In response to concerns raised by his Committee, the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in its inquiry on streaming, we are undertaking a wide-ranging programme of work to delve into the evidence and find solutions to the issues highlighted by the inquiry.

I have recently met key stakeholders, such as the British Phonographic Industry, UK Music and Warner Music Group, to discuss the music streaming debate and how creators can be further supported. The Secretary of State has also engaged closely on these issues. The major record labels play an important role in helping artists, including emerging talent, so that they can connect with audiences and thrive in the streaming era. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, they have now each announced that they will disregard unrecouped advances from pre-2000 contracts and pay more to more artists for streaming, which was one of the recommendations from the Select Committee’s inquiry. I know that that was greeted positively by artist representatives.

We think that those kinds of industry initiatives are a step in the right direction to make sure that the streaming market is fairer, but we are looking at what else we can do and whether further action will be necessary. Similarly, although we agree with many of the issues raised by the Committee in its inquiry, we want to ensure that any action is based on the best available evidence. The Minister for science, research and innovation, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), and I have written to the Select Committee this week with an update on the work under way. In advance of the hon. Gentleman receiving that letter, let me update him by saying that the Intellectual Property Office is now working alongside industry experts to develop solutions to issues around contract transparency and music metadata, one of the issues he highlighted today. That will have an impact on the way in which songwriters and composers are remunerated for their work on streaming. We have also commissioned independent research on the impact of potential legislative interventions aimed at improving creator remuneration.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is progressing work on the effects of algorithms on music consumption and the potential impacts on music creators. It is also exploring how streaming services can better communicate with creators and mitigate against potential harms for those groups. The hon. Gentleman cited the Competition and Markets Authority. It is undertaking a market study into music streaming, which will add value to and complement the Government’s programme of work, and could help inform any future intervention. That CMA market study was launched in January 2022, as he will know. An update is due in July, with the study scheduled to conclude in January 2023. We are encouraged by the progress of the programme of work so far, with industry stakeholders engaging constructively and taking the issues seriously.

Another key income stream for our composers and musicians comes from live music. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, the live music scene is undergoing a period of recovery, in the wake of a very difficult experience during the pandemic, and we are working hard to support it. I am glad to reflect on where we stand today compared with the grim situation that faced us over the Christmas period with omicron, when the team and I were talking through the needs of the live music sector in emergency support meetings. I am glad that some of the worst fears highlighted at that time have not come to pass and that we have been able to open up the economy, which has been crucial in getting that income flowing into venues again. But we also want to build on existing schemes to continue to support the live music sector. Since the national lottery project grant’s “Supporting Grassroots Live Music” scheme launched in 2019, the Arts Council has made 253 awards, and invested £4.7million in venues and promoters through that fund. That has supported everything from upgrading equipment and offering free rehearsal spaces and mentoring, to refurbishing bathrooms and staging family-friendly gigs. That is separate to a lot of the support that we put in during the pandemic and via the cultural recovery fund. I am pleased to say that the Arts Council has confirmed that the fund has been extended until 31 March 2023. That will, thanks to national lottery players, provide a £1.5 million ringfenced fund that will support the grassroots live music sector.

Not only are we seeing domestic recovery from the pandemic, but we are a major presence on the international music scene. We are the largest exporter of music in the world after the USA, with around one in 10 of all tracks streamed globally being by a British artist. That is incredible. The sector’s high export capacity and its ability to access international audiences will continue to elevate the UK on the global stage, forge new international relationships and enable us to promote British values around the world.

Alongside the work I have outlined, we continue to provide export support for the UK’s creative industries through a range of export-support programmes, including the international showcase fund and the successful music export growth scheme, which provides grants to music companies to help them with marketing campaigns when they look to introduce successful UK music projects overseas.

We are looking at what more we can do as part of the wider creative sector vision—to be published in the summer —on support for UK creative talent. As part of that sector vision, we are working with the industry to build a more resilient workforce, and we have co-funded research from the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre to look into the job quality and working practices of the creative industries. That will help us to better understand some of the really tricky issues that affect the workforce in the creative sector, including in respect of freelancers and creators, and particularly when it comes to job security, remuneration, professional development and wellbeing. As I say, the sector vision is due to be published this summer. We hope to use the document as the basis of a longer-term strategy that takes us up to 2030.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about investing in the future of music makers to make sure that our music success story continues. We want to make sure that all young people engage with music, and we plan to do so through the implementation of a national plan for music education. The NPME strategy sets out our vision for all children and young people to learn to sing, play an instrument and create music together, and to have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents, including professionally. We are confident that such initiatives will help to provide the next generation of aspiring creators with the tools and knowledge they need to achieve their full potential. I hope to make further announcements on the subject when we have finished that piece of work.

I think everyone present would agree that the work of songwriters and composers is not only crucial to the success of our music industry but hugely beneficial to the UK’s culture and economy. That is why we will continue to work alongside the industry to seek solutions and make a tangible difference. We will also continue to celebrate and commend the work of UK songwriters and composers. I wish the Ivors Academy and every participant in the awards tomorrow the very best of luck.