Sometimes, the internet just seems like a bunch of yelling. Then you discover a new artist or make a connection with a fan and it all makes sense. And it’s not just online—if you’re lucky enough to have a great local radio station, then you know how powerful even old-school technology can be when it comes to falling in love with music all over again.
So why is everyone so doom-and-gloom? Well, if you don’t have a sense of the challenges in today’s creative marketplace, you haven’t talked to a musician. But instead of retreating to our respective corners and waiting for the sky to fall, we think that it’s time to come together. read more
Back in early 1990s, you couldn’t go anywhere without stumbling across an AOL “Internet starter disc.” Whether on an airplane seat, a high school cafeteria tray or tucked inside a pizza box, AOL’s blitz marketing campaign was pretty much unavoidable. As we recall, each individual disc had a big number stamped on it, indicating the amount of hours of free Internet access you had before you had to pay for a subscription (700 hours, 1000 hours, 1025 hours, you get the picture). Back then, the fact that AOL was offering Internet access in terms of hours wasn’t weird. In fact, charging by the hour was the norm. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s, when this all changed. AOL introduced its unlimited plan (along with the Buddy list) and the rest is media history.
Paying for every hour you spend online is a form of usage-based pricing—a model where price is determined by how much of the service you consume. Usage-based pricing is a model that is common in many other industries. For example, when you get on an airplane, you have the option of paying for a first-class ticket in order to get bigger chairs, and more privacy. On the DC Metro, you pay according to the distance you travel.
For the last couple of decades, we’ve gotten used to paying one price for an unlimited number of hours online. Many of us leave our email open all day, watch YouTube videos of our favorite bands for hours, and download albums whenever we feel like it. And when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it came with an unlimited data plan, upholding the decade-long user expectation of being able to go where you want online without worrying about how much each website visit would cost.
But the days of unlimited data plans may be numbered. Both wireless and wireline providers are now experimenting with usage-based pricing in the form of data caps—limits on the amount of data you can upload or download per month. Most ISPs have instituted some form of hard or soft caps.
“The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art—many dos and dont’s.” – High Fidelity
This is the essentially the argument made by dance record label Ministry of Sound in their lawsuit against Spotify in the United Kingdom. Most of the label’s profits come from selling compilations featuring artists they haven’t signed—albums with names like Running Trax 2013, Clubbers Guide and Chilled House Classics.
“We painstakingly create, compile and market our [compilation] albums all over the world,” wrote Ministry of Sound chief executive Lohan Presencer in his Guardian Op-Ed.“Millions trust our brands, our taste and our selection.” (Note: Lohan Presencer is only a slightly-less awesome name than Benedict Cumberbatch.)
According to Presencer, the effort that goes into this curation process is intellectual property that needs to be protected.
As musicians, we know that the internet is awesome. And challenging. And hilarious. And sometimes even infuriating. We also know that, despite its complexities, the internet remains a profoundly powerful way to connect with fans and pursue our creative ambitions.
Imagine what it would be like if just a couple of companies where able to determine how, where and under what conditions you reached audiences. Imagine having to ask permission to sell merch, route a tour or even access the online tools you need to make an impact as an artist.
But not musicians like us. That’s why thousands of artists and independent labels have demonstrated support for a level online playing field where creative expression and entrepreneurism is available to everyone—not just the biggest companies.
To the casual observer, musicians probably seem like a disorganized bunch. Unlike doctors or lawyers, there are no qualifying exams or prerequisites that certify a musician’s level of “professionalism.” On a group level, there is no central organization that represents their collective interests.
But that’s not the case. In addition to record labels, booking agents, managers and other teammates, musicians and songwriters can align with a vast array of music-related organizations that serve a number of purposes, everything from performance rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and SoundExchange, to unions like AFM and SAG-AFTRA, to genre- or role-based organizations like Folk Alliance, Chamber Music America, or the Songwriters Guild.
As musicians and advocates, we at FMC know that these organizations serve an important purpose, and we have a sense that membership makes a difference. But in what ways? Do musicians that belong to certain organizations participate in more revenue streams? Do they make more money because of these allegiances? Or is the inverse true; do particular types of work make it possible and/or necessary for musicians to join certain organizations?
Having had time to digest a 100+ page report on digital copyright policy, we can report back that this “green paper” covers a range of issues around copyright and technology with an understanding of the complexities for creators. The report is a product of the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force (IPTF) with input from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). We wouldn’t say that the green paper is a good beach read — and not just because it’s after Labor Day — but it does lay out very clearly the challenges and opportunities of the digital marketplace.
Of course, we’re mostly concerned about how these issues impact musicians and composers. This is why we’re also delighted to announce that one of the contributors to this report, Shira Perlmutter, Chief Policy Officer and Director of International Affairs at USPTO, is going to give a keynote at the Future of Music Summit (Oct. 28-29, Georgetown University, Washington, DC). Don’t miss the chance to hear from the horse’s mouth about how executive branch agencies are dealing with the issues that impact YOUR livelihood — registration is open now (with a limited number of musician scholarships available)!
On July 31, the Canadian government approved a new set of fees that may make it prohibitively expensive for international bands to play bars and restaurants in their country. Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment Social Development & Multiculturalism, announced the change on Aug. 7, but it’s taken a few weeks and a widely shared article by the Calgary Herald for talent buyers to get wind of the changes and to appreciate their effect on the music industry.
Now that the word is out, outraged music fans have been signing a petition against the fees by the thousands, claiming that “this will inevitably cripple small music venues and small business talent buyers.”
PBS Newshour recently produced an online feature on the difficulties faced by Austin-area musicians seeking healthcare, which highlighted the admirable efforts of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAMM), a Texas organization giving access to healthcare for Austin’s large community of working musicians. read more
It seems another rash of Bieber Fever is breaking out across the internet as a new “green paper” from the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force goes public. This report [PDF], published in July, takes the position that it should be a felony to stream copyrighted works, echoing a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) back in 2011. Two years ago, passions were ignited with an online campaign to “Free Bieber” from prison, where he was supposedly sent for posting the cover songs on YouTube that launched his career. The too-cute-to-be-accurate campaign even inspired The Bieb himself to come out against Klobuchar’s Commercial Felony Streaming Act.
Well, don’t “belieb” the hype. It wasn’t true then and it’s even less true today. The Task Force is not recommending that cover artists—or even the fans streaming potentially infringing videos—be sent to jail. Rather, the report merely recognizes an anomaly in copyright enforcement in which the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works—such as illegal downloads—can be punished as a felony, but public performance—such as streaming—is currently a misdemeanor. In other words, the Task Force thinks it makes sense to harmonize digital and streaming standards. (This outlook is also shared by the Obama administration and the Copyright Office.) The reasoning, according to the report, is that “the lack of potential felony penalties for criminal acts of streaming disincentivizes prosecution and undermines deterrence.”
A US-based band is recording an album of material they wrote, but wants one of the tracks to be a cover of The Rolling Stones’ song “Brown Sugar”, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The band sells all 500 vinyl copies of the album plus 500 downloads on iTunes to US customers. According to the current statutory rates, how much does this 4 minute, 30 second-long cover of “Brown Sugar” generate in mechanical royalties, based on these sales?