Helping Musicians Take Back Control of Their Content

Greek Startup Orfium promises to reorient music distribution back toward artists, giving them a higher proportion of royalties. Artists will appreciate the better deal, but can the new platform get enough listeners to make it pay?

Side view of young student girl using mobile phone and looking at screen, wearing headphones while listening to music.
Photo: Davidovici / stock.adobe.com

The jump from digital downloads to streaming revolutionized how people consumed music. But while the ability to listen to more music for less money has benefited fans, the economics have not been so rosy for the artists.

Spotify – by far the largest streaming service today – typically pays an artist a fraction of a cent per stream; the calculation is complex and depends on various factors, including where the listener is based, how much they pay for their subscription, and how many tracks they listen to per month. But on average, an artist makes just USD 4 for every 1000 streams.

Compare that to the USD 90 an artist used to bank for 1000 downloads, and we see that for the musicians, at least, streaming is far less lucrative. Unless you are a top-tier name getting hundreds of thousands of streams per month, it’s now very difficult to make a living from releasing music alone.

Artist-Friendly Orfium

Enter Orfium, the Athens-based ‘global technology company solving the entertainment industry’s biggest challenges around digital music.’ In other words, Orfium is making it easier for musicians and record labels to find, track, and get paid for their music when it’s streamed or used on user-generated platforms such as YouTube or Instagram.

Orfium Co-Founder and CEO Chris Mohoney explains: “Orfium is a music social network and online retail music store with an integrated rights management platform. For artists, Orfium is a one-stop solution to promote and monetize their music with, by far, the most artist-friendly terms of any music platform. And for fans, Orfium is a place to discover, listen, and share great music.”

Mohoney believes that most of the major music platforms today have been going down the wrong path, both ethically and from a utility standpoint. This spurred him on to build a better solution. He gives the example of Soundcloud’s failure to properly capture the correct metadata of their music, which he says severely limited their ability to monetize individual pieces of content on their platform. Artists who were unable to get paid when others used their music were forced to resort to using the takedown policy, seriously undermining Soundcloud’s utility.

Empowering artists over big streamers

Mohoney is well-positioned to take on what he sees as the biggest problems with current music licensing. He was previously an administrator of music copyrights in YouTube’s Content ID system, representing over 6 million music copyrights. He also managed a sync-licensing library with over 400,000 recordings.

Learning from the mistakes of others, Orfium is approaching the problem differently, building a platform that is up to the extremely complex task of tracking the thousands of places where music is being used and providing a way for artists to get paid – fairly – all in one place.

Orfium offers licensing, publishing, distribution, YouTube Content ID monetization, and digital rights management services. All of this is provided strictly on a revenue share, with artists receiving 80% of the royalty, higher than almost every other retail platform and certainly higher than any other licensing platform.

Their goal is to “empower artists and make them less dependent on the established system.” Orfium still has a long way to go if it wants to compete with the likes of Spotify as a platform for discovering and streaming music, and Mohoney concedes the company is only at a very “infant stage.”

“Our main focus is on bringing artists to Orfium, building out and refining core features, and developing mature monetization services where artists actually get paid,” says Mahoney. However, with many artists unhappy with the low revenues they earn from ‘Big Streaming,’ Orfium has a chance of stealing market share as artists seek ways to get a larger share of earnings.

Athens, London, and the world

The company has steadily grown since its inception in 2016 and has made two acquisitions of other companies. Now, with a global team of over 500, their biggest office in Athens, and bases in London, Tokyo, and LA, the company seems set for the long haul.

“We believe Orfium can become an industry-leading platform where anyone who partakes in the music industry can plug in, contribute, and benefit. To build the next great music platform means we need to build a complete solution, which is what we promise to do.”

Greece may not be famed for tech companies, but the success of Orfium and others may change that. With more than $200 million in incremental revenue generated for music rights owners and creators in 2022, Orfium could become a major player in the music platform landscape in the coming years.

Sam Baldwin

is the author of For Fukui’s Sake; Two years in rural Japan, and founder of BregDesign.com – Slovenia-inspired designs. He has written for The Guardian, The Times, Men's Health, and numerous guidebooks and websites. He currently lives in Austria’s Deep South.

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