We all knew that streaming services provide a handy smokescreen for the activities of major labels; the convoluted confusion behind it all has led many to damn music streaming services to eternal hellfire, and at the same time majors use their financial heft to push these often nascent companies around – like in the case of Sony and SoundCloud, for instance. It is very easy to blame new technology, or even just a new face on the scene, a new household name, for a pre-existing problem and make it seem ostensibly a new problem: When we pay for music, where does our money go?

This is something that has not passed ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne unnoticed; he's written an op-ed for The New York Times on the very subject. The article begins brightly – "THIS should be the greatest time for music in history — more of it is being found, made, distributed and listened to than ever before," he writes.

But soon the lack of real adaptation by major labels to a thoroughly new landscape of music consumption becomes apparent, still thriving by their adherence to paying their artists 15% of royalties. "This might make sense if streaming music included manufacturing, breakage and other physical costs for the label to recoup, but it does not," Byrne continues. "When compared with vinyl and CD production, streaming gives the labels incredibly high margins, but the labels act as though nothing has changed,"

However, the lack of adaptation is perhaps only on the part of the labels in the case of making things fair for the artists. They certainly seem very capable of making things very cosy for themselves, as the article goes on:

"The labels also get money from three other sources, all of which are hidden from artists: They get advances from the streaming services, catalog service payments for old songs and equity in the streaming services themselves."

Byrne delves into the world of the modern music industry, making some alarming discoveries along the way. It turns out that it's not just the labels who are at fault here. He questions companies like YouTube and Apple – the former for its "oddly meager payments" and the latter for, well— we all know what Apple is like. It's transparency, or the complete lack of it, that seems to be the most worrying issue:

I asked Apple Music to explain the calculation of royalties for the trial period. They said they disclosed that only to copyright owners (that is, the labels). I have my own label and own the copyright on some of my albums, but when I turned to my distributor, the response was, “You can’t see the deal, but you could have your lawyer call our lawyer and we might answer some questions.”

Why is this the case? What have they got to hide? You have to wonder. And if you don't wonder, I'm sure Apple and the big three major labels are silently thanking you for your complacency.

Read the whole David Byrne op-ed here (don't worry, it's not all depressing; there's hope at the end, but I won't spoil it for you).