Music Opinion

Universal stops the music while Birdman makes a comeback

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Australian punk legends Radio Birdman are set to take the stage for a reunion tour (Screenshot via YouTube)

While a feud erupts between Universal and TikTok over the mighty dollar, Radio Birdman makes a triumphant comeback. IA's Music man David Kowalski dives into the week's biggest music news.

Combs shares a 'fast car' with Chapman

Starting with something heartwarming this week: the recent performance by U.S. country artist Luke Combs at the Grammy Awards in LA.

Combs has seen his stock go up in value in the last 12 months or so, with his remake of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car — one of the biggest-selling singles of the year. For his performance, he coaxed the notoriously reclusive Chapman back onto the stage to perform her song as a duet and it is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a while.

Combs is a big bloke with a big voice, and Chapman is shy and graceful on stage. Yet Combs gives due deference to Chapman, giving her space and dignity to perform the song her way. Combs was humble enough not to sing over her or to try and out-perform her. Watching her smile throughout is utterly gorgeous, and she seems humbled and appreciative of the huge show of support from the crowd.  

Universal and TikTok have stopped the music

At the end of January, licensing talks broke down between one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, TikTok, and one of the biggest record companies in the world, Universal Music.

As a result, Universal removed all its music from the TikTok service, meaning that content creators cannot use any of the music that Universal had previously made available. It also means that artists on the label cannot promote their music to the platform hosting the biggest audience looking to discover new music.

The way these things work is that Universal would make the music available for content creators to use in the backdrop of their short-form videos and TikTok would pay a royalty to copyright holders for the use of that song. It’s generally not very much money at the end of the day (usually a small fraction of a single U.S. cent per stream), but it’s money, nonetheless.

This may sound like something of a storm in a teacup, however, when one considers the fact that Universal Music hosts the copyrights to between 30-35 per cent of all music on the platform (source: Rick Beato), that’s a big loss.

Universal argues that TikTok wants to pay a below-average rate for the use of music on its platform and TikTok says it wants to pay the original artists of the music directly, bypassing the record labels altogether. Universal reckons it’s been “bullied” into agreeing to this proposal by TikTok.

Either way, neither side has the moral high ground. Both sides are really just worried about their fiscal bottom lines. TikTok may want to pay less money, but record companies in general have a long history of fleecing artists with dodgy contracts and it’s my theory that very little of those royalties paid to Universal would stream back to the creators anyway.

The only people that win in a scenario like this are the corporate shareholders.

Chelsea Berman — 'If I Have a Daughter'

NSW Central Coast artist Chelsea Berman returns in 2024 with a beautiful new track, a co-write with fellow up-and-coming country star Missy Lancaster

Together the two songwriters have penned a heartfelt message to a future daughter, if they ever have one:

'If I have a daughter she’ll be strong,

She won’t make the same mistakes and get things so damn wrong...'

Berman may be young, but already she has thought about the advice she’d pass on to the next generation of women to ensure they are brave and empowered. The music is simple. The words are inspired. The combination is powerful.

Birdman 5-0

Exciting news! One of Australia’s legendary, pioneering bands is reuniting for one last go at treading the boards. Radio Birdman, one of Australia’s most influential bands and one that inspired the local punk movement is doing an Australian tour in April to celebrate their 50th anniversary since coming together as uni students in Sydney.

For a band that couldn’t get gigs in venues in the Sydney metropolitan area and who couldn’t get signed to a record label or get any kind of press coverage, Radio Birdman rented their own venues, ran their own shows, and sold their records from car-boots. They inspired musicians far and wide, including (but not limited to) Brad Shepherd and Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus.

The band also can boast a super-fan in the form of a certain Anthony Albanese, the (at the time of writing) current Prime Minister of Australia.

In a recent interview with the Vinyl Guide podcast, Birdman’s guitarist Deniz Tek said that Albo has already tried to get tickets and reached out to the band to go backstage for a beer with them after the show in Sydney. The band had to add a third show in Sydney as the first two sold out on the day the tickets were released. 

For a band that only lasted four years (from 1974 to 1978, occasional reunion shows notwithstanding), the "Birdmen" have made some brilliant music, which still sounds as fresh now as I’m sure it did when first issued. It will be great to see them one more time. Yeah, hup!


David Kowalski is a writer, musician, educator, sound engineer and podcaster. His podcasts 'The Sound and the Fury Podcast' and 'Audio Cumulus' can be heard exclusively here. You can follow David on Twitter @sound_fury_pod.

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