Week 4: Soundcloud and the Changing Roles of Publishers

Passman (2003) suggests that at the turn of the 20th century, publishers were the most powerful people in the music industry. With the monopolisation of sheet music and places such as Tin Pan Alley, the publishers controlled the songwriters, and therefore in return they too controlled the artists as the artists needed the songs their songwriters published with them. In an era where the digital evolution has disrupted the traditional business model of the music industry, particularly in the way in which copyright and publishing is understood, it is important to reflect, perhaps, on the role in which the publisher plays and its importance in the digital era (Hollander, 2011).

With organisations such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp acting as realms in which artists can upload and share their music accessible to anyone with an internet connection, these sites can offer artists the functionality of proxies for popularity and a measure of the market potential of the music (Maturo, 2015). From this, I suggest two things. Firstly, Soundcloud and Bandcamp acts under copyright law and is focused on promoting and protecting independent artists. So if this is the case, is this platform seen as a training ground for sharing music or a legitimate platform for publishing music to a wider audience. Secondly, in what ways can publishers utilise these platforms to handpick artists and songwriters to sign and publish, or if at all. It is interesting to note that both of these are questionable in considering the role of the publisher, especially as the line between a record label and a music publisher is becoming considerably more blurred, with music publishers challenging and rejecting the traditional domain of the record label by nourishing inexperienced performers’ careers (Wikstrom, 2013; Toynbee, 2016). It is important to understand that the internet provides publishers with a platform to continue the intensification of their capacity to act as exploiters of copyright, through giving them wider access to newer independent artists, however in turn the dynamicity of the situation allows room for the reach of what is classified as published work to be questioned.

Platforms such as Bandcamp operate on a pay-what-you-want guided-by-the-artist model, in which a minimum price for a particular piece of music is set and as long as that price is met, the music is theirs. Hougaard and Tvede (2009) suggest that a system such as this will become part-and-parcel of the industry in the future to maximise efficiency in the sense that the music is produced and made available only if the total willingness to pay is positive, ultimately allowing the publisher to capture all gains of exchange. With platforms such as Soundcloud currently accessible, could a model such as this translate over to a point where the publisher decides on behalf of the artist the minimum value of their own music, to which the consumer than values just how much more valuable it is to them.


Hollander, S. (2011). Listen to the Music: Lessons for Publishers from Record Labels’ Digital Debut Decade. Publishing Research Quarterly, 27(1), pp.26-35.

Hougaard, J. and Tvede, M. (2009). Selling digital music: business models for public goods. NETNOMICS: Economic Research and Electronic Networking, 11(1), pp.85-102.

Maturo, N. (2015). Music as Immaterial Labour: SoundCloud and the Changing Working Conditions of Independent Musicians. Masters. McGill University.

Passman, D. (2003). All you need to know about the music business. 5th ed. New York: Free Press.

Toynbee, J. (2016). Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity, and Institutions. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Wikstrom, P. (2013). The Music Industry: Music In The Cloud. 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.


1 thought on “Week 4: Soundcloud and the Changing Roles of Publishers

  1. Really interesting read that’s not only extremely relevant currently within the industry, it shows a longer-spanning issue within the industry regarding gate-keeping as it relates to music publishers, as well as the general monopolisation-centric attitude some of the industry holds (in
    reference to record labels acting as music publishers (and often event promoters amongst other roles)). I’d recommend cross-analysing these issues with the recent news that Soundcloud will be paying artists moving forward – fair pay is obviously a widely debated issue in music, but it’s rarely touched on from the publisher’s side.


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