DJ Jazzy Jeff is a hip-hop legend, but how is that legend being monetized in 2019?
In a new interview with Vibe, the 54-year-old Philly native, born Jeffrey Allen Townes, broke down how record labels and DSPs (digital service providers) are keeping artists relevant in an era where no one is going out to buy CDs. What is of critical importance, however, is Jeff's astute observation about how labels, not artists, are benefiting from the deals they inked with artists prior to the streaming era.
"Someone pointed out to me that I signed a record deal in the '90s and my record deal was for albums, CDs, and cassettes," Jeff said. "My record deal wasn't for streaming, so who negotiated my terms for streams? Who negotiated my money for streams? Someone is making a lot, a lot, a lot of money off of streams and it's not me."
"Everybody who complains about the streaming industry are only artists," Jeff continued. "I have never heard a label say one bad thing about the streaming culture. They figured out a way to make themselves relevant and latch on to something and they also figured out the way to be very quiet about it. They don't say anything. Understand, everybody didn't go to the store and buy records, but everybody's got a phone. Everybody got some form of streaming something so we are getting paid off of everybody with a phone."
What Jeff points out is the genius of the streaming era: accessibility. In the past, the barrier to entry in music was predicated upon having a physical CD and a CD player, but now, all you need is an Internet connection to access music. Streaming is so prevalent because there is nothing standing between the listener and the artist.
On the flip-side, Jeff and all of his legendary peers have every right to be upset about their 2019 royalty payments—or lack thereof—given that streaming revenue wasn't a consideration in record negotiations in years past. For example, in 1987, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) released their debut album, Rock the House, on Zomba, a former subsidiary of SONY which was renamed Jive in 2009 before eventually being folded into RCA. At the time, cassette tapes, compact discs, and vinyl were the most popular and preferred audio formats.
Unlike major labels, who are constantly renegotiating their individual stream rate deals with DSPs like Apple Music, Spotify, and TIDAL, artists who blossomed prior to the streaming era don't have the ability to renegotiate their own deals based on the current popularity their material might hold.
Streaming indeed saved the music industry, and it is by far the easiest and most cost-effective way to consume music in 2019. But for the artist community, the current set up is far from perfect.