Earlier this month, the New York Times Magazine reached out to Future of Music Coalition with regard to a forthcoming feature. We like to help out with this sort of thing, because we know that music business structures and practices can be quite complicated, and think it’s important that journalists get the facts and context as correct as possible, whatever narrative they’re advancing. Last week, fact-checkers from the magazine followed up with FMC staff. There was a good deal of back and forth as we were provided short paragraphs, and later, individual sentences, from the article and asked to verify whether they were “true.” (Unfortunately, we weren’t provided with much context.)
Alas, what ended up running was rather disappointing.NYT Magazine chose to publish without substantive change most of the things that we told them were either: a) not accurate or b) not verifiable because there is no industry consensus and the “facts” could really go either way.
And just as there are more avenues for consumers to pay for creative work, there are more ways to be compensated for making that work. Think of that signature flourish of 2000s-era television artistry: the exquisitely curated (and usually obscure) song that signals the transition from final shot to the rolling credits. Having a track featured during the credits of ‘‘Girls’’ or ‘‘Breaking Bad’’ or ‘‘True Blood’’ can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a songwriter. (Before that point, the idea of licensing a popular song for the credits of a television series was almost unheard-of.) Video-game budgets pay for actors, composers, writers and song licenses.
To vastly oversimplify, there are typically four stops in a revenue chain. (For more specific details about how particular revenue streams work, see the Future of Music Coalition’s series of charts here.) Consumers pay a service, the service pays labels/publishers, each label/publisher pays its musicians. But each step of this chain is shrouded in some form of obfuscation. Consumers see a sticker price on the service—their $10 or $15 or $20 a month—but revenue also goes into the services from advertising, and services can be cross-subsidized by their parent companies’ other businesses. read more
Kristin Thomson is a co-founder of the non-profit, The Future of Music Coalition, which among other things has conducted studies about how musicians earn revenue. Back in the 90s she played in the indie-band Tsunami, and co-ran the DC label Simple Machines, which put out records for Ida, and Dave Grohl’s Pocketwatch, plus they distributed “The Mechanic’s Guide”, a DIY handbook for independent labels that was way, way ahead of its time.
The idea of so-called compulsory licensing has been getting attention lately, because songwriters feel they’re being underpaid for their work. But having compulsory licensing makes the music business more efficient and serves a social good, according to Casey Rae of the Future of Music Coalition. “After all, what would the world be like if Patsy Cline had never recorded ‘Crazy’ by Willie Nelson,” he writes in a blog post.
In this episode of the Music Business Podcast, we talk with Casey Rae, who is the CEO of the Future of Music Coalition, a non-profit research, education, and advocacy organization for musicians. We talk to Rae about the need for transparency amongst streaming companies and why it’s important to artists.
There are a number of reasons for the inaccessibility of this information, one of which is the frequent sale of individual works and entire catalogs and the infrequent recordation of these sales. Further, in recent years there has been a proliferation, particularly in pop music, of songs with many writers, each of whom generally owns a share of the work, making it difficult for potential licensees without great knowledge of music licensing to determine whose permission they need for a certain use. The Future of Music Coalition illustrated this point using a hit song by Flo Rida that had 13 writers who were represented by a total of 17 publishers.
This month, on the eve of a headlining performance at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, the rock band Wilco released a surprise new LP entitled Star Wars, making it available for free download through the band’s official website, in exchange for an email address (it’s also available for free though leading digital retailers iTunes and Amazon).
After we’d all had a few days to listen, the band followed up with an emailed note to everyone who downloaded the album:
[…]Now a bit of background… We consider ourselves lucky to be in the position to give you this music free of charge, but we do so knowing not every band, label or studio can do the same. Much of the “music business” relies on physical sales to keep the lights on and the mics up. Without that support, well, it gets tougher and tougher to make it all work.