Michael Bracy is a partner with the government relations firm Bracy Tucker Brown and Valanzano. He is also Executive Director of the Low Power Radio Coalition and a partner in the independent record label
J= Jenny Toomey
M= Michael Bracy
J: So Michael, what made you decide to join the Future of Music Coalition?
M: I’ve always been deeply interested in music — as a quasi-obsessive fan, garage musician, college radio DJ and a partner in an indie label. I’m also very engaged in the political process, and how things get done here in Washington.
Technology is obviously changing the entire structure of the music industry, and the policy makers here in DC are likely to be in the middle of the debate. It’s important that artists also have their viewpoints expressed, and I’m excited to help carry their messages.
J: So what role do you see yourself playing here as a lobbyist?
M: In many ways, these are new issues for policy makers in Washington. Our first step is an enormous education effort — helping existing members of Congress understand the technology at a basic level so they can see what’s at stake for artists and consumers. The second step is preparing to educate the new Congress and new administration. No matter how the November elections break, there will be a whole new group of people in power in Washington, and we will be bringing them up to speed on our perspectives as soon as possible. The third step is tracking legislation and making sure our voice is part of the debate. For example, Congressman Boucher may be taking on the “work for hire” issue, so we will work to notify the indie community about what is happening and provide information on how folks can help educate local officials.
One reason FMC will influence the debate is because of the role technology now plays in lobbying. No longer is lobbying simply a function of smoky back room deals. Rather, through websites and listservs it is possible to educate and mobilize entire communities to participate in the process. We are particularly excited to apply the techniques that were so successful in the Low Power Radio fight, especially the ability to connect local advocates with specific members of Congress. For example, if Congressman “X” in California has taken an unfortunate position on an issue, the Internet makes it possible to inform his constituents about the need to make sure he understands the error of his ways, and for his constituents to respond with letters, emails and phone calls. This ease of outreach was simply not possible ten years ago.
Huge corporations and their special interest groups still dominate Washington, but through creative use of technology and true collaboration and communication it is possible for grassroots efforts to have dramatic impact on policy debates. If the music industry is able to single-handedly push their technology agenda through Congress, without the active participation of artists, the entire industry (primarily artists and consumers) will suffer. We’re going to do what we can to make sure policy makers hear the artists’ point of view and not just the major labels’ agenda.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of lobbying is creating a context where decision makers and the media can get their arms around very complicated issues and understand how policy decisions can impact stakeholders. There is such an amazing lack of knowledge about the entire music industry (major vs. indie; how songs get on the radio; how to acquire retail shelf space; how artists get paid) that I really think there’s a great opportunity to fill in the blanks for folks here in Washington.
J: How do you plan on creating this “context” of understanding in Congress and explain a bit more on how these very narrow issues connect with the broader ones you suggested in your last answer?
M: The context emerges from weaving together the perspectives of artists, distributors, retailers, technology professionals, consumers and other stakeholders into a single narrative that clearly illustrates the impact of policy in human terms. This is one reason Future of Music stresses terms like collaboration — it is important for this organization to understand and articulate both the “big picture” and the minutia of a specific issue. The collaboration is already happening. Since our launch several weeks ago we already have hundreds of individuals on record in support of our manifesto and hundreds more signed up for our listserv. People are hungry for the opportunity to discuss these issues in an open, creative and non-litigious setting.
Policy makers often deal with so many huge issues at any one time that they have to be able to break an issue down into the simplest possible terms. Those who are most effective in defining a debate on *their* terms usually win.
Right now we have a situation where the indie music community is feeling squeezed by technology companies on the one side, who want regulatory freedom, and the major labels on the other side, who want total control over digital rights. Consumers and artists need to ensure this debate goes way beyond Lars from Metallica chasing down 300,000 Napster users or Chuck D. using music on Rapstation.com as a loss-leader. Policy makers need to understand this goes to the core of consumers’ ability to access content that currently is priced out of the market, and indie artists’ ability to make a living.
The impact of digital technologies on the music industry has relevance to a broad spectrum of other issues including Internet privacy, intellectual property, digital rights management, and the ability of small businesses to thrive in a digital world. In many ways, the digital transformation of the music industry will be an important precursor to what will happen in film and other media, and the policy decisions made today will have long-ranging implications. These issues have implications on our culture’s ability to connect with our traditional artistic roots. They raise questions about consumer electronics, and how the market will respond to digital distribution of other forms of entertainment, like movies or books.
So the impact of digital technology will have relevance to almost every Congressional committee, and most Administration agencies. They will also be incredibly relevant to local economies throughout the country, including music retailers and performance venues. And we simply cannot sit back and allow the major labels to continue to control the debate.
J: So what “story” do you plan to tell about Digital Downloads and who are you going to tell it to? In other words, what are your main goals for the next six months as the POlicy Director of FMC?
M: The current story is pretty clear — artists and consumers both have a dramatic opportunity to benefit from digital download technologies, as long as there are ways to ensure artists are fairly compensated for their work and the major labels are unable to mess everything up. Now, connecting this idea with policy or legislative proposals that will make this happen is a different story. In many respects these issues need to be solved by the technology community or the marketplace, not the government. But we can be sure that the various industries will be in front of Congress pushing for legislation that will benefit their position.
Again, the key concept for Future of Music is collaboration. If we succeed, it will be because we are able to help move the music and technology communities beyond the highly competitive worlds of policy and litigation into a space where issues can be proactively addressed in an open and productive manner that will benefit all. A specific political agenda, or set of principles, may emerge from that collaboration.
At the same time, we are going to have a very, very busy six months. First off, we are going through the process of introducing Future of Music Coalition to policy makers to make sure they know we are a valuable and credible information resource. Second, we are taking on issues that are of clear interest to the indie community — “work for hire” for one — and doing what we can to support existing efforts. Third, we are working on a number of initiatives to present seminars or workshops to help educate Capitol Hill staff and the media later this year. Finally, we are preparing a specific statement of policy principles that will be ready for the transition of power in January. These principles will be outlined in a policy paper that will serve as a resource for policy makers as they consider different policy options. It’s a busy agenda for the next six months, but we are excited about moving ahead.