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Craig Anderton’s Open Channel: Dear Screenwriters and SAG-AFTRA

Columnist Craig Anderton pens an open letter from the music industry to the Hollywood unions on strike.

Craig Anderton.
Craig Anderton.

Hello! We’re the music industry, and we know what you’re going through. We were devalued long before you were. People were stealing our music when your customers were still buying DVDs. And with music requiring little bandwidth, music streaming had a head start on video streaming. The movie industry had to wait for widespread broadband.

When streaming music became a thing, if customers were okay with ads, they didn’t have to pay anything for unlimited listening to whatever they wanted. If they didn’t like ads, paying less than the price of a single CD provided a month of unlimited listening from a collection of tens of millions of songs. Oh, that reminds you of Netflix? Well, you’re mostly right, except that Netflix creates new content. The music streamers make money without actually having to create any new music. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

And now, you’re being told the movie/TV model is broken, so you need to tighten your belts. We’ll ignore that the people telling you that are the ones who broke the model. But, hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time to trash a profitable, established model and instead try to chase Netflix’s success.

Well, the music business model got broken, too, but in a weird way streaming kind of saved us. Although nuclear energy never did make electricity “too cheap to meter,” music became too cheap to steal. Revenues inched up, labels made some money again, and new income sources emerged for artists.


So, take it from us: Go with the flow. Been there, done that, and we’re still here. Sure, we understand it’s upsetting that you’ll have to shoot your own auditions, and pay for your own lighting and writers. Sounds bad, right? It’s not! Some people are doing that now, but instead of pitching movie studios, they’re making bucks on YouTube. It could be a good side hustle to supplement your income from waiting tables.

If you’re concerned you won’t be able to match Hollywood’s quality, look at some YouTube or TikTok videos. Quality isn’t a thing anymore; authenticity is. Without corporate overlords telling you what to do, now’s your chance to make that film noir project about how sausages are made.

Of the subculture of people who monetize music and videos on YouTube, only channels with millions of streams make money. But we’re realistic. The record business was always about the rich getting richer, and everyone else owing the label money. And we’re resilient. When big-studio budgets disappeared, we migrated to home studios—and some musicians produced megahits on laptops in their bedrooms.

Oh, and about AI taking over your jobs. The music business couldn’t make stealing or streaming go away. It can’t make AI go away. Neither can you. However, so far it’s almost painfully obvious when web content has been AI-generated, and people didn’t like the de-aging in the last Indiana Jones movie’s backstory segment. So, hopefully there’s a best-case scenario: fakery becomes unhip, and AI does your grunt work.


As to base pay and residuals… Not to get all French Revolution about this, but if a business isn’t doing well, isn’t that on the people running the business? To paraphrase Disney head Bob Iger, when he essentially said, “the model has changed and we have no idea yet how to deal with it,” at least give him credit for honesty. But talk about a self-own—shouldn’t the C-level folks tighten their belts until they figure out a business model that works? I kinda thought that was their job.

Yeah, us music industry peeps know what you’re going through. Like you, we have to pay for food, clothing and shelter. But consumers think that anything you can see or listen to online should be free, or at least dirt cheap. They don’t want to pay us for what we produce for them. Which brings up the elephants in the room for music and movies: Subscribers need to pay more, and streaming services need to go all-in on ad-supported free tiers.

Did you notice that when Netflix added more subscribers recently, their stock price went down? That’s because their revenue didn’t go up as much as expected. For years, the holy grail for streaming services was subscribers. But the crazy proliferation of video streaming services has diluted the available subscriber pool for each one. Now, the holy grail is revenue—extracting more money from fewer subscribers.

Spotify raised its single rate to $10.99. That matches cost increases from Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music. Spotify’s Daniel Ek said, “These updates will help us continue to deliver value to fans and artists on our platform.” Sounds good to me. I’m tired of music being devalued. If people aren’t willing to pay something like $19.99 a month to listen to all the music they could ever want to hear, then they can listen to an ad-supported version. Ads kept radio free—deal with it. Netflix raised prices and cracked down on password sharing, and they’re doing fine.

But if price increases mean fatter executive compensation, that won’t help. Streaming companies depend on content. Giving greater financial incentives for the people who create the content is better for all concerned.

Who knows? Maybe someday the bean counters will stop counting beans long enough to remember why there are beans in the first place.