Sony, Universal, Warner and Merlin strike music licensing deals with Twitch for DJ livestreams

DJ Jazzy Jeff

Amazon-owned livestream platform Twitch has struck what it calls “first-of-its-kind” deals with multiple rightsholders to allow DJs to legally play music in their livestreams on the platform.

Twitch has struck deals with all three major music companies, including Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music, and a large number of independent labels via Merlin.

According to Twitch, since early 2020, the number of DJs streaming on the service has more than quadrupled and that “over 15,000 of them have been able to build and monetize communities of music fans on Twitch”.

Twitch says that the new program, set to launch later this year, will also create promotional opportunities “on and off” Twitch including placement on the Twitch homepage, as well as sponsorship opportunities exclusive to DJs.

“We’re proud to be the first major service to provide a safe, permanent home for DJs, and we are excited to now be able to promote and support these creators as they build communities on our service and beyond,” said Twitch CEO Dan Clancy in a blog post on Thursday.

Commenting on the news, Michael Nash, EVP and Chief Digital Officer, Universal Music Group, told MBW: “Expanding the opportunities for artists to reach their fans and connect with new audiences, through licensed and innovative services like Twitch, is integral to the continued growth and long-term health of our artist-centric music ecosystem.”

Michael Nash Universal Music Group

“We are thrilled that music from UMG’s catalog is now licensed and legally available for DJs to stream and mix across Twitch.”

Michael Nash, Universal Music Group

He added: “We are thrilled that music from UMG’s catalog is now licensed and legally available for DJs to stream and mix across Twitch, generating new engagement dynamics that will benefit artists, as fans will get to experience and share new music while better connecting across this uniquely engaged platform.”

Twitch says that “to help cover the music rights costs”, an unspecified percentage of the earnings generated by DJ livestreams will be paid to the artists and labels of the music being streamed, a cost that Twitch says it will share with DJs in the program.

According to Twitch, for the majority of DJs, the cost will be split 50/50.

For existing DJs on Twitch, the platform says it will offer a one-year subsidy to help cover the difference in revenue that will be paid out to labels and their artists.

DJs who aren’t yet monetizing will not be required to pay any fees.

Twitch said on Thursday (June 6) that the deals agreed for its new DJ program apply only to its users who live-stream as DJs and do not apply to other uses of music on its platform, such as VODs, Clips, and Highlights.

MBW asked Twitch CEO Dan Clancy how close we are to seeing the platform strike deals with rightsholders for uses of music on its platform other than the DJ live streams.

“I’d love to have that but there are a variety of complexities with that with rights,” he told us. “Twitch’s core platform is live. 90% of the playing of VODs [on Twitch] is within the first 24 hours. It’s actually a catch-up experience.

“It’s more complicated because they are different rights and since that’s not Twitch’s core platform, [rightsholders] already have other venues of distributing [music]. So really, I don’t know if we’re ever … our focus, our strength, is live.”

“This is a humongous deal.”

DJ Jazzy Jeff

Today’s news marks the latest chapter in Twitch’s relationship with the music business.

In January 2022, Universal Music Group (UMG) expanded its agreements with both Amazon Music and Twitch.

That followed the news in September 2021 that Twitch and Warner Music Group (WMG) struck what the two companies said at the time was a “first-of-its-kind” partnership, marking the platform’s first partnership with a major record company.

In February 2022, Twitch also struck an agreement with independent label agency Merlin to create “revenue-earning opportunities for Merlin members and their artists”.

Twitch also struck a deal with the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) in September 2021, which, according to a statement at the time, would see them “work together to build productive partnerships between the service and music publishers.”

That deal between the NMPA and Twitch arrived two months after Twitch said it was ‘disappointed’ with the music publishing industry after being hit with 1,000 copyright infringement claims.

The platform is legally required to comply with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests served by rightsholders (for example a record label) or by an entity on behalf of a rightsholder, such as the RIAA in order to be protected under US safe harbor laws, and not be held liable for infringing user-generated content on its platform.

“It’s crucial that DJs understand the status quo on Twitch was not sustainable, and any viable future for the community required we find a solution.”

Dan Clancy, Twitch

In a blog post on Thursday, Twitch CEO Dan Clancy noted: “When streaming pre-recorded music over the internet, there are a variety of copyright issues that need to be considered that vary across regions.

“DJs have been streaming on Twitch for some time now, but have been personally responsible for the challenges of tackling these issues, along with the risks of not doing so. Twitch has been able to mitigate these risks during ongoing negotiations with music companies, who have been willing to keep the status quo during our discussions.”

He added:  “It’s crucial that DJs understand the status quo on Twitch was not sustainable, and any viable future for the community required we find a solution.

“We’ve worked with music partners over the past few years to develop this program. Without it, those who stream DJ content on Twitch without the necessary rights do so at the risk of receiving DMCA notifications and copyright penalties which could restrict their ability to stream on Twitch.”

He also said that DJs will need to opt-in to a new agreement that will apply to all streaming on their channel.

Speaking with MBW, record producer, DJ and prominent Twitch streamer, DJ Jazzy Jeff, said: “This is a humongous deal. When you really sit and think about it, for the most part, what DJs have been doing [has] been illegal, but it’s been necessary. The DJs are the music messengers.

“So, to come to a day that Twitch has worked out an agreement… I never thought I would see this day come. I have to take my hat off to Dan and the Twitch team for putting this together.”

Elsewhere, in September 2020, Twitch launched a creator tool called Soundtrack by Twitch, offering rights-cleared music for livestreams via partnerships with a number of labels and distributors including the likes of UnitedMasters, DistroKid, CDBaby, Anjunabeats, SoundCloudEMPIRE, Future Classic and Nuclear Blast.

According to the landing page for SoundTrack, the service is no longer available.

A message on the website states: “Soundtrack is no longer available. Every great song has an end. Unfortunately, Soundtrack’s time is up, and its deck has been powered off. We have decided to close Soundtrack and focus our efforts on better ways to support our music communities and all streamers on Twitch.”

In July last year, Los Angeles-based B2B music licensing company Songtradr forged a partnership with Twitch to bring Songtradr’s music service, Pretzel, to Twitch streamers, offering what it said is “a treasure trove of licensed music to enhance their streams”

Music Business Worldwide