You may have heard about a new report called “Fair Music: Transparency & Money Flows in the Music Industry,” which was recently published by Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (ICE), as part of its Rethink Music Initiative. (Full disclosure: FMC was part of stakeholder convenings that informed the report, and works with Berklee on educational collaborations like our “How the Money Flows” infographics.)
The report has a lot to recommend it, particularly its call for better data standards and royalty reporting within the digital music industry. Although it’s a bit of a dense read—though certainly not as much as the recent Copyright Office report on music licensing—we encourage artists, songwriters and music managers in particular to take the time to explore the issues outlined in the report and consider closely its recommendations, which are as follows:
- The development of a “Creator’s Bill of Rights”
- A “fair music” certification of transparency for digital services and labels
- The creation of a decentralized, feasible rights database
- The investigation of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies to manage and track online payments through the value chain directly from fans to music creators
- Educating all types of music creators regarding their rights and the operations of the music industry.
Most of these recommendations are in keeping with what Future of Music Coalition has advanced over the past 15 years of serving the artist community. You can learn more about all of these issues (and hear from many of the experts consulted in this report) at the upcoming Future of Music Policy Summit (Oct. 26-27, Georgetown University, Washington, DC). $25 musician scholarships are available, so act fast!
The Rethink Music initiative includes a wealth of knowledge and expertise from many corners of the industry—artists, managers, labels, publishers performing rights organizations, legal experts, policy wonks, developers and more. But even cooler: it puts students in the driver’s seat. FMC is incredibly proud to have been part of these conversations, not only because of their importance to today’s working artists, but also because the project is student-driven from back-to-front. We love to see upcoming generations of music leaders digging into some of the most complex and counterintuitive issues in any industry, working together to identify solutions to shared challenges. (It’s kind of our whole thing.)
Now, it’s unlikely that every topic in this report is going to be immediately addressable. This IS the music industry after all, and it can be notoriously difficult to align the incentives among all the various stakeholders. However, we do think that the recommendations in the Rethink/ICE report are a great place to start in terms of moving this industry forward.
We’ve read some criticisms about the report being too focused on opacity in the traditional music business (labels, publishers, PROs, etc.). We certainly believe that the digital platforms need to be held to the same standards to which we hold rightsholders and intermediaries. Transparency can’t just happen in one or two areas of the business—it needs to be a shared value so we can build systems that serve as a rising tide to lift many more boats. And that includes the tiny skiffs.
For example, we think that it is crucial wherever possible to consult musicians at the product design stage of digital music services. Too often, systems are constructed to serve the needs of the larger rightsholders or tech platform without much thought given to how things work for artists (and their most loyal fans). We’re encouraged by the idea of a “fair music” certification for transparency, but why stop there? Let’s continue to think big and re-imagine how digital music can serve the needs of creators big and small. We want tomorrow’s audiences to benefit from a diversity of music and entreprenurial approaches.
It’s easy to be cynical; it’s harder to be proactive. We recognize the difficulties in even coming up with ways to consider these issues, so congrats to Rethink/ICE—especially the student authors and participants—on their great work. We look forward to continuing these important conversations.