Digital Music News has an unfortunate story that we've heard too many times before: that of an independent musician successfully building a following... only to do a deal with a major label and see it all come crashing down. What's interesting is that the artist, Terra Naomi, was willing to lay out all of the details. It's worth a read, as it's a story that is pretty common. That is not to say that signing a major label deal is necessarily a bad thing. For some artists it may be the right decision. But the way that major labels work is that you'll only get enough attention for the label to determine if you're "the next big thing" where all its revenue will come from for the next few years... and if things don't seem to be going that way, you'll be pushed aside quickly. The standard stat given is that 90% of major label deals "fail." That does not mean they are not profitable for the label. The way RIAA accounting works, the labels can make out like a bandit on many of those record deals, while the artist gets hung out to dry. That appears to be the case with Naomi as well.
She points out that she was one of the first artists to build up a large fanbase solely based on her YouTube and MySpace accounts. Here was her most popular song, Say It's Possible:
In the article, she talks about how she was connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. She talks about using YouTube to directly communicate with her fans, answering their questions, sending them messages and the like. And then, Universal Music came calling. And she made the very reasonable decision to sign with them, noting that while she had just pressed her own EP and quickly sold 5,000 of them in the first month they were available, she was still in debt, and a $250,000 advance was hard to pass up. It's easy to mock this decision, but you're probably not the one sitting there in debt with $250,000 on the table. That's why it's so tempting and why so many artists jump at the opportunity. It's not a crazy decision to make -- but it may present long term challenges, which is exactly what Naomi discovered.
Despite attracting attention for her success on YouTube, the label basically (1) had no understanding of YouTube and (2) recommended that she stop connecting with her fans. In other words, the exact opposite of what artists need to be doing in this internet connected era:
Contributing further to their feelings of betrayal was the mandate that came from my team at the label. They needed me to be “less accessible” and more untouchable. All these kids on YouTube saw me as an equal, as “one of them” – did I want to be a YouTube star, or did I want to be a rock star? They threw down the gauntlet, and there was no question in my mind. I wanted to be a rock star.
I handed over my mailing list and social media logins to the record label. I trusted this team of professionals to grow it into something much bigger than I could ever hope to create on my own. I backed off, disappeared, focused on writing songs and hanging out with the “right” people rather than connecting with my fans and the community I’d grown to love and depend on, prior to signing my deals. I figured I’d play by their rules for a little while, build my career into something even bigger, and reunite with my community once the label was satisfied with my rock star status.
Not surprisingly, it didn't work out that way. The label also pushed her to make a more commercial album, which she hated:
The producer I worked with told me we only had one shot, and I needed to make the album he wanted to make – with its “radio-ready” production – and once I had a few hits, I could make any album I wanted. So I made the album he wanted to make, and things didn’t happen the way he said they would. Instead of the big commercial radio success that would give me the freedom to seamlessly transition into the music I truly wanted to make, I had a big commercial flop (I think we sold something like 25,000 albums), an album I didn’t like, and I’d wasted what could have been the biggest opportunity of my life. The exposure I built independently on YouTube was more than the record label ever did for me, and I couldn’t believe I’d been so willing to hand it over for a longshot gamble on mainstream stardom.
And, of course, once she finally got out of the major label system, the audience that she had originally connected with, but forsaken, had moved on. As she notes:
My biggest takeaway from this time was a lesson in authenticity. It’s tempting to listen to people who want to change us, even just a little bit, and steer us in a direction that isn’t authentic. It’s easy to doubt ourselves, especially when we’re just starting out. We think people with more experience know better than we do about what’s best for us, and it’s simply not the case. We fall for the hard sell, the glitz and glamour, but for every massive major label success, there are dozens of disappointments and disastrous failures.
This isn't a huge surprise. For well over a decade we've been pointing out stories of successful artists who have built up huge fan bases online -- and the one factor that shows up again and again and again is authenticity. That's a huge part of the whole idea of connecting with fans. Actually being authentic is a great way to connect with like-minded fans, but it has traditionally gone against the cookie-cutter model of the major labels (though, to be fair, some are finally starting to figure this out, if only way too late).
Either way, Naomi's story is a good read, and should be worth thinking about for others who are tempted by the deals presented to them when they're first building a following. Put it in the group with the stories about RIAA accounting that further explain how a big advance may not actually be so big once you understand all the details.
Earlier today Techdirt writer Tim Geigner pointed me to a YouTube video that used Twitter user names to create a punnish version of the 80s hit "Tainted Love" retitled Tweeted Love. It's pretty amusing:
In checking out the YouTube account of the guy who created it, Jim Mortleman, a more recent video posted just a few days ago popped up, entitled Nerdpunna - Smells Like Tweet Spirit. This was the same style video, using Twitter usernames to create an absolutely hilarious version of the famous Nirvana song. It was so well done (perhaps because Kurt Cobain's lyrics are so unintelligible) that I couldn't believe it had only around 2,000 views. So I tweeted it, joking that people should check it out before it got taken down.
A bunch of people started retweeting and linking to it, with many of them commenting on how great the video was or how funny it was. Even people who aren't Nirvana fans were talking about it. A few examples:
And there were many more like that. In short: the damn thing is really funny and super well done. After realizing that his video was suddenly getting an influx of traffic, the creator of it, Jim Mortleman (who says that the videos are actually a group project in finding the profiles, which he then puts together in the video) tweeted me that he was pretty sure he was safe because he'd been alerted that UMG was "monetizing" his video -- which is one of the options in YouTube for copyright holders if they want to make money on someone using their work, rather than taking it down.
From his YouTube screen, it actually showed that Universal Music had blocked the video in one country while monetizing it elsewhere:
However, just a few hours later, as the video started getting more and more attention, views and tweets... apparently Universal changed its mind -- and if you now visit the page, this is what you see:
Mortleman says that within YouTube it's now officially blocked in all countries. This is a ContentID match, rather than a direct takedown, though the company clearly made the decision to switch it from monetizing it to taking it down -- so someone made a decision.
And it's a hellishly stupid decision. The video was fantastic and didn't take anything away from the song. It certainly wasn't a replacement for the song and, if anything, was likely to draw a lot more interest to the song and remind people of its existence. I'm not a huge fan of the song, but have been humming it to myself all afternoon because of that video (which I ended up watching a few times).
Also, this seems like a pretty clear case of fair use -- though I imagine some will disagree. The hilarious use of twitter user names to create alternative lyrics to the song is quite transformative. No one was watching this video as a replacement for the original song, but because the video itself sort of celebrated the song with alternative lyrics made up entirely of Twitter profile names where "Here we are now, entertain us" because "Huey Long Gnarl Emma Talus" (if you haven't seen the actual video... it's much funnier in the way it was presented). And now it's all gone and you can't see it.
All because of copyright law and UMG's total lack of a sense of humor.
Even if you think the fair use case is bunk and that the video is infringing and UMG is totally, 100% in the right to do what it did, I'm curious how this helps UMG in any way, shape or form. It doesn't help them get any more money, and it just makes people pissed off. How is that a smart business decision?
Update: Jim has now posted a silent version of the video so you can see what it looks like, though it's really not the same effect (though you can try to line up the audio with it to try to replicate the effect):
I understand, instinctively, why so many people freaked out about this -- but it's a pure overreaction for a variety of reasons, which we'll dig into here. There are problems with this whole scenario, but it has a lot more to do with (1) the stupid reliance on "privacy policies" rather than "user controls" for privacy and (2) Spotify's apparently asleep-at-the-wheel PR team.
Privacy is a Trade-off Not a Thing
As we've said before, if you ever want perfect privacy, you'd never leave your house. The second you leave your home, you're giving up some level of privacy. But it's a trade-off most people think is perfectly reasonable. Privacy is always like that. It's a trade-off between the benefit you get from giving up a little privacy in order to get the thing that you want. The idea that privacy is some absolute "thing" is a weird way of looking at privacy and makes it difficult to do things in a reasonable manner. The real issue, then, is making sure that people understand the trade-offs involved (and we'll get to that below).
Much of the reaction is because people immediately assumed that there was some nefarious reason why Spotify was going to collect all this information on people. Yet, as a few people pointed out when everyone started freaking out -- and which Spotify eventually clarified in a blog post "apologizing" for the poor roll out, there are legitimate service reasons for each of these requests. Also, the company made it clear that before it actually accesses any of this content, it would first ask your permission. In short, it's like when various services ask if you'd like to "find friends" using a service, you have to first approve it. Same would be true here. And, note, that each of the uses would be for services that some people might actually like (personalizing cover art, voice control, etc.):
Photos: We will never access your photos without explicit permission and we will never scan or import your photo library or camera roll. If you give us permission to access photos, we will only use or access images that you specifically choose to share. Those photos would only be used in ways you choose and control – to create personalized cover art for a playlist or to change your profile image, for example.
Location: We will never gather or use the location of your mobile device without your explicit permission. We would use it to help personalize recommendations or to keep you up to date about music trending in your area. And if you choose to share location information but later change your mind, you will always have the ability to stop sharing.
Voice: We will never access your microphone without your permission. Many people like to use Spotify in a hands-free way, and we may build voice controls into future versions of the product that will allow you to skip tracks, or pause, or otherwise navigate the app. You will always have the ability to disable voice controls.
Contacts: We will never scan or import your contacts without your permission. Spotify is a social platform and many people like to share playlists and music they discover with their friends. In the future, we may want to give you the ability to find your friends on Spotify by searching for Spotify users in your contacts if you choose to do that.
The Real Problem is that We Use Privacy Policies at All
For many years, we've been pointing out that this whole system of privacy policies is broken. It's one of those ideas that people came up with years ago that sounds good, but isn't. And yet, we're not only stuck with it, we have politicians who keep pushing more requirements for more privacy policies. But that's stupid.
Let's face it: privacy policies are a stupid way to deal with privacy. They don't work. They fuck up incentives. No one reads them. And yet, because politicians are clueless, they're often "required." You end up with grandstanding politicians who play gotcha games on privacy policies, without caring about actual privacy practices.
The Way to Deal With Privacy is MORE TRANSPARENCY and MORE USER CONTROL
Rather than using privacy policies, the real way to deal with privacy is to give the end user more transparency into what's happening and more control. I don't have an iPhone, but I believe it already offers the ability at an individualized level to allow users to block apps from accessing certain features/data on a phone. And I know that the next version of Android is moving to a similar model, including only asking you to approve privacy permissions at the moment the app is requesting it. In other words, when Spotify wants to access your photos, the app will directly ask you for permission at that moment -- and, assuming it's for something you want to do (like customizing your cover art), you're more likely to grant permission without thinking it's creepy at all.
The Real Problem Here Was The Perception Problem
It's been quite clear over the past two years or so that the alcohol industry, and specifically the craft beer industry, has a massive trademark problem. The simultaneous and wholly related explosions of both the sheer number of craft brewers in existence and the unprecedented interest in craft brews has resulted in more threatened legal action than anyone could have anticipated. At the heart of the issue is the cultural practice of giving specific brews funky, funny, derivative and pop-culture-based names. Because of the number of brews being developed, these names often are met with concern by a secondary party who holds a trademark on something similar. Most often, these disputes come from other breweries.
But not always. Sometimes, indeed, they come from the strangest of places. Take the case of Pigeon Hill Brewing Co.'s latest offering, the LMFAO Stout. You already know where this is headed, don't you?
The latest case in a string of trademark disputes involving West Michigan craft beverage producers didn't come from a company in the industry, but rather from a pop music group.
The band, which bills itself as an “entertainment phenomenon,” alleges that Muskegon-based Pigeon Hill Brewing Co.’s LMFAO Stout infringes on its trademarked name, according to a cease-and-desist letter sent on Aug. 11. The letter caught executives at Pigeon Hill off guard as the brewery had researched potential trademark violations in the craft beverage space prior to labeling its beer, said Michael Brower, a co-founder at the brewery.
Yes, LMFAO, the band, sent a cease and desist to the brewery over LMFAO, the beer, claiming that consumers might somehow think that the band was now in the brewing business. You see, in today's permission culture, that the brewery actually took the step of searching to see if anyone had a trademark on LMFAO for alcoholic drinks doesn't really matter. Because LMFAO, the band, saw an opportunity for relevancy and jumped on it.
“We have a very famous mark,” Thilo Agthe, the attorney representing LMFAO, told MiBiz. “We have to be very careful in policing how that trademark is used and by whom. It’s possible that customers that purchase (LMFAO Stout) might associate that with the band.”
Agthe declined to comment on whether the group had specific evidence of customer confusion related to Pigeon Hill’s beer, citing the attorney-client privilege.
I can't honestly say that I've ever heard of attorney-client privilege being used as a shield for providing evidence of a trademark dispute in this way. Probably because it makes about as much sense as me putting my dog in front of a computer and shouting at her to make me a pizza. The whole point of a trademark dispute of this kind rests on customer confusion, real or possible. The proper answer to the question of "Why the hell are you bothering with this?" isn't "Haha I can't tell you because I'm a lawyer."
And we've seen more than enough of this "We must protect our trademark" excuse used in these types of disputes. A mark owner is bound to police the use of their mark within the industry and within the bounds of trademark law. It is most certainly not bound to police every instance of the words or phrases being used by anyone in any commerce forever and ever amen. Especially when it's been demonstrated clearly that the use by the brewery, in this case, has literally nothing to do with the band.
Pigeon Hill settled on the name for its LMFAO Stout, which stands for “Let Me Fetch An Oatmeal Stout,” after soliciting input from social media to crowdsource the beer’s name, Brower said.
Yeah, that isn't what LMFAO stands for and they know it. That said, what LMFAO does stand for has been around long before the pop band decided to utilize it for their name. I would expect any action brought by the band to be dismissed with haste.
Michael Corleone would understand. Just when music companies and their performance-rights organization (PROs) thought they were getting out from under supervision by the U.S. Department of Justice, the DOJ may be about to pull them back in.
For some time now, the DOJ's Antitrust Division has been investigating whether to modify the special antitrust consent decrees that govern the two leading PROs: the American Society of Composers And Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). These broad settlements, originally reached in 1941, were designed to prevent anti-competitive behavior by the music publishers and set the rules for how the PROs can operate. This includes licensing on non-discriminatory terms (preventing the PROs from blocking a radio station or music service from playing their songs).
The consent decrees have been modified before; BMI's was amended in 1994 and ASCAP's in 2001. But some music publishers argue these agreements are showing their age. The publishers and the PROs are hoping (and expressly asking) the DOJ to agree with their view that, here in the Internet Era, digital music doesn't need so much government intervention. Some suggest the DOJ's antitrust lawyers have shown sympathy to arguments for a "partial withdrawal" of digital copyrights from the consent-decree framework.
But new arrangements to replace that framework ultimately may pull the labels and PROs back in. Billboard reported recently that the DOJ may be considering revisions that impose an even tighter regulatory scheme. According to the report, the Justice Department circulated a letter letting ASCAP and BMI know it is considering allowing any single co-owner of a "split work" — also known as a "fractional, "co-authored" or "co-pub" composition — to issue a license for 100 percent of the work. This is in contrast to the current practice in the music industry, whereby everyone who has a piece of the copyright needs to agree to license the work. The music companies have let their resulting unhappiness be known, albeit only off-the-record.
Not everyone has been so unhappy with the DOJ trial balloon on split works. Billboard quoted streaming service Pandora as saying: "We appreciate that the Department of Justice is taking steps to prevent further anti-competitive behavior in music licensing." Matt Schruers of the Disruptive Competition Project has framed the reported DOJ inquiry as actively pro-competition. Per Schruers, the music industry has created "artificial gridlock" among its rights-holders by allowing each co-author the power to unilaterally veto, but not unilaterally authorize, the license to use a copyrighted song. This means that a single rights-holder with only a small percentage of ownership in the work may pull the work when a licensing agreement ends, or deny a license to begin with.
These sorts of unilateral decisions by fractional rights-holders have been costly to services like Pandora Radio. Two years ago, Universal Music Publishing Group, owners of at least fractional rights in 20 percent of the music in the BMI catalog, withdrew its digital rights from BMI, a move that was followed by doubling the rates it sought to charge Pandora. And in another example, a different publisher, BMG, also withdrew its rights, but in this instance the result was Pandora took down all of BMGs wholly owned works and Pandora's customers were cut off from a substantial trove of the BMG catalog.
Is this what Congress intended with its last major revision of the Copyright Act, back in 1976? It doesn't appear so. Contemporary reports from the U.S. House summarizing the changes conclude:
"Under the bill, as under the present [pre-1976] law, coowners of a copyright would be treated generally as tenants in common, with each coowner having an independent right to use or license the use of a work, subject to a duty of accounting to the other coowners for any profits."
That's not always how split works licensing model operates today, as the UMG example demonstrates. To license use of a song, Internet companies may end up having to cut separate deals with each fractional rights-holder. More deals mean more transaction costs, as well as more potential dissenters with the power to scuttle those deals. The process is particularly onerous for new potential entrants to the digital market, and the leverage enjoyed by the major labels and publishers only grows as they continue to consolidate. Today, Sony alone controls nearly half of all royalties collected.
The purpose of copyright is not merely to provide monopoly revenue streams to content companies, but to ensure that creative works actually reach the public. Thus, for the DOJ to clarify obligations under the decades-old consent decrees could make sense. Allowing fractional rights-holders to authorize use of a work unilaterally is one potential avenue to untangle the complex web of rights in music and bring the licensing system more in-line with those of other copyrighted works with multiple authors.
To be clear, no one is asking to eliminate the consent decrees, even though all sides officially say they favor competition and the free market. Ironically, those who laud the competition they say would follow from allowing rights-holders to "partially withdraw" digital music rights tend to fear simplification of the system as a whole, precisely because would make competition among rights-holders more likely.
For instance, they oppose allowing fractional rights-holders to license joint-authored songs on grounds that this would create a "race to the bottom" in digital copyright licensing, lowering prices that could be commanded on the open market. Publishers and PROs thus must find a way to thread the needle in arguing both that the free market commands we let them partially withdraw digital rights and that the free market is lousy when co-authors compete with one another on price.
Any recommended modifications by the DOJ would have to be agreed to by the PROs and then approved by a court. In the meantime, we need a more robust public conversation around how to handle thorny issues like split works. Of course there's an irreducible tension between (a) the "exclusive rights" held by rights-holders in their "writings and discoveries" ("exclusive rights" just means the power to "exclude" non-rights-holders' use) and (b) the goal of the U.S. Constitution's Progress Clause, which gives Congress the power to grant such rights to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts" for rights-holders and non-rights-holders alike.
There are a few things about which almost everyone in this conversation already agrees: markets should be competitive; the public has an interest in copyright; and public policy should meet its Constitutional aim to encourage both creative and technological innovation. We can't help but wish, in navigating this thicket of thorny issues, we were discovering simpler arguments and simpler solutions.
Mike Godwin is General Counsel and Director of Innovation Policy at R Street Institute. Sasha Moss is a Google Policy Fellow at R Street Institute.
from the will-swift's-statement-look-so-silly-years-later? dept
The music business tends to repeat itself. Conversations that seem completely intertwined with new technologies mirror those over earlier developments. Read Adrian John's Piracy, for example, and see how closely the file-sharing debate followed the one about sheet music a century earlier.
Even with that background, the parallels between Taylor Swift's widely discussedcomments about Apple Music earlier this year and Garth Brooks' outspoken stance on used CD sales are striking. It's hard to argue with Swift—she is, after all, a shrewd businesswoman, and who knows what the future holds -- but the fact that Brooks' fears proved so unfounded takes some of the winds out of her sails. We may be at the end of history, and today's problems might be totally unlike the ones we faced before, but probably not.
I'm sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I'm not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.
This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year's worth of plays on his or her songs.
Brooks said that because no royalties are paid on the sale of used CDs, writers, labels, publishers and artists were being cheated. He said he would only supply chains that sell used CDs with his cassettes, and hinted that he might be working on another "format" to thwart such sales.
Brooks said he does not need any money, but lesser-known artists could suffer if secondhand CD sales take off. If used CD sales were to go into massive retail, he said, it would severely affect people in the recording industry, creating a sales loop that would profit only stores but not the creators, publishers and artists.
CD retailers, meanwhile, have argued that the cost of new CDs is too high for young buyers, and that selling used CDs exposes an artist's music to different audiences.
For both Swift and Brooks -- each among the best-selling acts of their generation -- an emerging marketplace that makes music more accessible -- but less well-compensated -- was worth speaking out about. They both note that it's not about them, but about the principle, and that the unpaid exposure would hurt new musicians. Both point to the middleman's profits as an obvious evil.
Taylor Swift was, at least narrowly, right. Apple Music should've been paying royalties for its free trials all along. But elsewhere, her skepticism about streaming and business models that include "free" might not be well placed. Unfortunately, because music licensing in this space is fundamentally more of a permissions culture than selling plastic discs was, we may never find out.
One of the most hilarious claims that we hear from internet trolls and the like concerning copyright and infringement is something along the lines of "but, without strong copyright, there would be no music!" It's a silly argument that has been debunked so frequently that we'd thought that it had been relegated to living on only among uninformed internet commenters, rather than actual industry execs. Enter Neil Turkewitz, one of the RIAA's top execs, who has been with the organization since 1987, and apparently still has the "Home Taping is Killing Music" phrase permanently imprinted on his brain, no matter how laughably false it is.
Turkewitz submitted a paper to the UN last year when it was investigating cultural rights, and that piece has now been republished by IP-Watch. It's a fairly astounding piece of ridiculousness that argues that there's no more cultural output in Africa or the Middle East... because they just don't have strong enough copyright laws.
It starts off with one of those classic lines about how, without copyright, no one makes music any more:
This has been the unfortunate reality in many developing countries where the lack of effective protection has eroded the willingness of private capital to fund production of original cultural works, contributing to economic stagnation and a dearth of cultural diversity. Simply put, when a society fails to reward its own creators, such creators will cease to exist, and “access” will be limited to foreign cultural materials.
Hmm. Except that's not what we've actually seen around the globe. In fact, with the rise of the internet and computers and the easy creation of works, people are finding that it's much easier (and cheaper) to create works and to get distribution. Pull up YouTube or log into Spotify and go searching for music from basically any country and see what you find. And compare that to what those of us who grew up in the era of the "record store" had to do to find world music (which was always all lumped together in a single tiny section in the back).
And, from there, he argues that the Middle East and Africa in particular are now silent. Because they just don't have strong enough copyright laws.
In many developing countries, the marketplace has been so dominated by piracy that there is no viable mechanism for private capital to be employed in facilitating the creation and distribution of creative works. In such instances-i.e. where copyright protection is not effectively introduced and maintained in law and in practice, the creative community is silenced. Communities throughout the globe-particularly in parts of the Middle East and Africa, bear silent witness to the devastating impact that lack of effective copyright protection has on the ability to create. Where there is no financial incentive for the creation and distribution of cultural materials, the distribution of local cultural materials ceases, much to the detriment of society, as well as to the putative creators who are foreclosed from adding their voices to the cultural mix.
Apparently, it does not occur to Turkewitz that there might be other factors that are impacting the markets for music in parts of those areas -- such as civil war, civil unrest, religious beliefs, turmoil, astounding levels of poverty and much, much more. But the idea that people in those regions are just sitting around not making music because of too weak copyright laws is simply laughable.
Besides, it's also not true. It wasn't that long ago that the NY Times was writing about the so-called "African Invasion" of African music coming to the US. Hell, it was just a few days ago that Ebony magazine noted that African music is the "new pop gold rush" which includes this paragraph:
But now that’s all transforming. Africa is now! The Internet has democratized music and threatened the major label’s cash cows. Radio and TV are no longer the only barriers to entry, and the borders are wide open. Our blinders are off, and we are exposed to music from all parts of the globe via the interwebs.
One thinks that, perhaps, Turkewitz's concern may be a lot more about the "threatened the major label's cash cows" line, than the supposed and mythical lack of music in Africa.
Oh, if you're interested in some Middle Eastern Pop or African pop music, click on those links. Or do a basic Google search, which will turn up a lot more. Apparently, Turkewitz couldn't be bothered (perhaps it's that whole "entertainment industry hates Google" thing).
So, uh, Turkewitz's argument is already just wrong.
Even more bizarre, he argues that this lack of copyright means that since no one in these countries is making music any more (totally false), it means that those markets are, instead, flooded with American music. You see, it's the lack of copyright protection that's leading to American cultural hegemony in those regions, and the good hearted Neil Turkewitz -- whose job is literally to advance the interests of the copyright holders behind American cultural hegemony -- now insists that he wants stronger copyright laws around the world not to advance the interests of the big labels (oh no!), but rather because he wants to protect local African and Middle Eastern music. Because he thinks whoever's reading this is an idiot.
Make no mistake — cultural hegemony flows not from the protection of intellectual property, but from its absence. We owe the world’s creators and societies a better deal, and effective copyright protection has well served the societies which have maintained such systems. We therefore urge policy makers around the globe to reject simplistic formulations of the public interest that are grounded only in considerations of access to creative works without considering the incentives for the production of creative works. We must ensure that policy makers ask themselves “access to what?” before adopting policies that endanger their own ability to foster creativity and innovation.
Now, we absolutely agree with the central claim that Turkewitz tries to pin his article on: that those who create culture need incentives to do so. But, as we've seen, there are all sorts of ways of doing that that don't require crazy extreme copyright that hinders freedom of expression and innovation at the same time. We see it all the time where new tools like crowdfunding and micropayments are making things possible. We see how the cost of production and distribution has made it so it's just easier for people to create and distribute music no matter what.
And, Turkewitz's claim that developing countries need stronger copyright for their local music just has no support in any historical context. Take, for example, the story we had a few years ago about the rise of a new genre of music in Brazil called "technobrega," which embraced sharing the music either on the internet or via passing around CDs -- often instigated by the artists themselves. That helped technobrega become a cultural phenomenon -- and the artists make money doing live shows. And there are tremendous parallels to the rise of Jamaican music, where an entire industry was created and built off of weak copyright laws and widespread sharing of music and reusing of riddims.
The argument that without copyright, regional and cultural music doesn't get created is simply laughable. The idea that we're somehow now in an era where American music is a "cultural hegemony" as opposed to a decade or two ago is similarly laughable. Turkewitz's basic premise doesn't even pass the most basic laugh test.
From there, we get the other silly old debunked RIAA talking point that "without strong copyright, there is no way to make money." I'd really thought that the RIAA had retired this one, but apparently not:
An effective and functional copyright environment is not a panacea; it does not on its own create global parity in the marketplace of ideas. But it does give individual creators a fighting chance, and an opportunity to compete. The ability to generate revenue from one’s creativity — to earn a living as a creator — is central to a society’s ability to foster cultural production. In its absence, dreams and creative lives perish. The moral and economic aspects of this equation are inseparable. We simply must ensure that all creators, regardless of their location, are able to enjoy the fundamental human right to choose the manner in which their creations are used as reflected in international law.
First of all, this is bullshit. Most creators do not earn a living as a creator. This has always been the case. Unless the RIAA is suddenly promising a basic income guarantee to anyone who can sing a few notes, it's never going to be true either. But, some artists do earn a living -- and it's rarely because of copyright. Sure, sometimes it is, and it may frequently be one important component, but arguing that it is the only lever to pull and that without strong copyright laws creativity goes away is laughable. Lots of artists make more from other ways: live performances, merchandise, crowdfunding and more.
And then Turkewitz gets even more ridiculous:
It does not serve the aspirations of developing societies to return to a system in which the voices of the people serve the whims of the private elite, or worse, to allow governments to be the sole determining body in the matter of cultural works.
A "private elite"? Really? Such as letting a tiny group of top execs at the three major labels choose what songs will be the hit records of the year, and then pay(ola) their way through millions to make sure that those are the songs that everyone listens to? Those kinds of "whims of the private elite"? Because, you know, that's kinda been a big part of the problem with music for a while.
Yet, in the last few years, we've gotten way past that thanks to the internet -- and, for many -- thanks to file sharing.
By permitting creative genius to be fueled by market forces, we unleash the cultural power and potential of the diversity of individuals, freeing creative impulses from the tyranny of centralized controls and making creative works accessible to the public at large. While copyright may be inadequate on its own in creating fair market conditions, it remains by far the most powerful tool for fostering creativity and democratizing culture itself.
Based on what? First of all, copyright is the opposite of "market forces." It's a government granted monopoly to stop market forces from working. Copyright is what has allowed "centralized control" over the recording industry from the likes of the RIAA itself. It's hilarious that a guy who has worked at the RIAA for almost three decades is actually trying to argue that there needs to be stronger global copyright to stop "the tyranny of centralized control."
Yes, it appears the king would like to raise taxes to better help the peasants avoid the tyranny of government coercion.
Besides, we're actually seeing exactly what happens without the "tyranny" of control under the old copyright system, and the true "marketplace" thanks to the various innovations that the RIAA has fought hard to kill, from YouTube to MP3 players to streaming music and more. And it's allowing artists without major label connections to outperform the biggest names from the major labels at times. Perhaps we need less focus on the old system, and more of these new innovations that appear to be giving power back to the public to determine what they really like, rather than the power of Universal Music's payola budget.
Copyright protection, while it may sometimes serve the interests of multinational corporations, is the mechanism that permits individuals to devote their lives to the creation of original materials;
It may be one mechanism, but it is hardly the only such mechanism, and what we're finding more and more is that it is a rather poor mechanism for that -- though it has been a fantastic mechanism for helping the RIAA labels screw over artists. But I digress...
If we want to foster cultural diversity (and I assume we all do), and want to ensure that diverse content is available to be accessed (and I assume we all do), then we must be more vigilant in ensuring the effective global protection of copyright.
Again, copyright may be a tool that works for some in some cases, but this ridiculous insistence that it is the only such tool and that it is the core thing that must be protected -- at a time when it's so obvious that it also creates tremendous problems elsewhere and when many other solutions to funding artists are coming on the scene -- just makes Turkewitz look incredibly out of touch.
Ms. Shaver writes that “copyright protection inflates the price of cultural works.” But again, that is completely wrong. Copyright protection gives economic value to cultural works, and sustains creators. It doesn’t inflate price – it recognizes a property interest so that the creator can determine the conditions of subsequent use.
Of course copyright inflates the price of cultural works. That's its sole purpose. That's what monopolies do. To argue against that is ridiculous. An intellectually honest argument Turkewitz could make would admit that, yes, copyright inflates the price, but in doing so creates new incentives for the original creation of the work. Then we can debate whether or not that's true. Instead, he makes the completely ridiculous assertion that copyright doesn't inflate the price at all. Of course it does.
And, no, copyright does not "give economic value to cultural works." Turkewitz, like so many others, is confusing price and value. Something may have tremendous economic value, even if it's free. This blog is free. Yet it has economic value in generating other kinds of revenue. Turkewitz's article is free. Yet I'd imagine he thinks it has economic value in (he hopes) convincing policy makers to bow down to the RIAA's distorted view of copyright law.
While I'm sure that some will argue that this is just the RIAA spouting nonsense as usual, it's important to note that Turkewitz isn't just sending a random note to the UN with this nonsense. He's also the Vice Chairman of ITAC-15, which is the USTR's "advisory committee" for intellectual property in trade agreements. All that crap we've seen in the TPP and TTIP about intellectual property -- that's partly Turkewitz's doing. And he is either totally ignorant of what's happening in the market (unlikely) or he's willing to make completely outlandishly bogus statements in order to push the RIAA's preferred course of action, at the expense of all of the innovation and cultural development we've seen in recent years.
This is apparently going to keep happening. A while back, we discussed the situation in which Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President (while making comments that torpedoed a bunch of his vaunted business interests) and used the music of Neil Young without the artist's permission. As I noted at the time, Trump was legally allowed to use the music, since the venue had paid the required ASCAP license, but failing to go the extra step and clearing it with Young allowed the musician to generate headlines all to do with his support of Democrat Bernie Sanders. Since candidacy announcements are generally not done to generate name recognition for one's opponents, I suggested that, hey, just go get the whiny artist's permission first, mmkay?
Bobby Jindal didn't take my advice. Jindal used the music of Buckwheat Zydeco during his presidential announcement and, well, ol' Buckwheat was not pleased.
Buckwheat's music was among several songs that played at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner before Jindal and his supporters took the stage, Gambit Weekly reported while live tweeting the event. The zydeco musician replied to Gambit on his own Twitter page and said that Bobby Jindal using the music of Buckwheat and his band is "not cool at all."
Again, we'll go ahead and assume that the music was properly licensed because that always ends up being the case, but what's the point of letting the discussion of your presidential bid get side-railed because you chose to use the music of some guy who doesn't support you? All the campaign would have to do would be to clear the use with the artist and then all this doesn't happen. Is that really so hard? I mean, sure the musicians are being childish and petty (and have no legal claim), but that's the reality. If you don't want to give extra promotion to opponents, maybe find musicians who actually supports you.
And it's also the reality that all angry-musician-roads lead to Bernie Sanders, apparently.
He had much kinder words for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who strutted on stage to launch his presidential bid with Buckwheat's "Make A Change" playing in the background.
He said Sanders' use of the song was "tres bien."
And so we now have two separate GOP candidate announcements generating publicity for Bernie Sanders. To avoid a third, candidates need only take my advice on clearing the music they use with the artists.
YouTube and the music collection society GEMA have been at war for many years. Five years ago, I was at Berlin Music Week and it was one of the major points of discussion. YouTube was blocking all music videos, since GEMA insisted that YouTube should pay rates on par with digital sales (iTunes) rates for each play. Musicians I met with in Germany were furious at GEMA's obsessive control over their own music -- with one musician even showing me how he had an official website that GEMA was aware of, and an "unofficial" website his band showed to fans, which offered up free music (something GEMA refused to allow). The various court rulings in the case have been a mixed bag with some finding YouTube liable for user uploads, and even saying that YouTube needs to put in place a keyword filter.
German Courts also haven't been too happy with YouTube's custom message for (accurately) explaining why so much music is blocked in Germany. While YouTube and GEMA have tried negotiating a deal (as collection societies in basically every other country have done), in Germany it never seems to happen.
The latest ruling, in one of the key court cases is an appeals court ruling that upholds the lower court ruling saying that YouTube is not liable for infringing uploads by users and doesn't have to proactively search for infringing content. This is good. But, the court also appears to suggest that YouTube's ContentID is not enough -- and suggests it supports a sort of "notice and staydown" kind of system:
“However, if a service provider is notified of a clear violation of the law, it must not only remove the content immediately, but also take precautions which ensure that no further infringements will be possible.”
While that may appear reasonable at first glance, in practice it's a mess. The only way to even try to do that is to over-aggressively block any and all uses of that particular work -- which will undoubtedly lead to overblocking. Song playing in the background? Blocked. Parody video? Blocked. Algorithm not sure? Blocked.
A more detailed ruling is expected in a few weeks, but this seems like a mixed bag.
The recording is old news. Last century. Dead. The Access versus Ownership debate should have finished 10 years ago, but we're still bickering. Access models (eg. streaming) are not supposed to replace Ownership models. They're supposed to power a new reality, a new age for the Music business, in which the record industry possibly has no place.
"The Music industry" has become synonymous for the recording industry, just as it was synonymous for sheet music publishers prior to the rise of the recording companies. With new technology, come new companies, and the old companies move into the background. The new Music industry will likely not consist of those that depend on the recording (eg. major labels, or even Spotify), but those that apply technology to change what it means to listen to or interact with Music, just as the recording did in the 20th century.
Even the creative process will have to change.
Prior to the invention of the record, Music was far more participative than it has become throughout the age of mass media and mass consumption. Back then, if you wanted to hear your favourite song, you better know how to play an instrument, or have a member of the household who sings well, or you're simply not going to hear it. That sounds extremely restrictive given our current reality, but it also gave Music certain characteristics that made it richer:
Music was participative
Music was mostly a social experience
Music was more intimate
Music sounded a little bit different every time
Music belonged to everyone
I believe these are natural characteristics of Music, that got temporarily pushed into the background in the age of Mass Media and Western individualism. Entertainment and Culture became passive, and the ownership of Culture became less ambiguous, economically. A Creating Class arose, and a Consuming Class. The companies selling the output of the Creating Class benefited from the passiveness of the Consuming Class, because you couldn't consume high margin products while you create.
The KLF's Bill Drummond about Recorded Music
The KLF's Bill Drummond about what the recording took away from Music. From 1:23. Quote below.
"As the technology to record music evolved through the twentieth century, it sucked in and seduced every form of music around the world. They all wanted to become recorded music. They all wanted to become this thing that could be bought and sold. And that narrowed the parameters of what music could do and be. And it took away from music a big part of what can make music powerful, which is about music being about time, place, and occasion."
"Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again. […] I think it's possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?""
The recording is not the end of the line for Music. Every medium is a transition to the next medium.
Most people call performed music "live music" —
some people call recorded music "dead music"
The Media evolved and spawned Computers, the Internet, Video Games. The latter a highly Interactive example of Culture that went on to give birth to MMORPGs, where large Communities of players Interact and define their own Meaning, participatively. A particularly good example of the aforementioned elements coming together is Minecraft, a world-creating game where players work together to build whatever they can dream of. Deadmau5 uses this to enter a digital world of fan art and interact with his fanbase. Imagine what that's going to look like with the unstoppable momentum Virtual Reality currently seems to have. The Consuming Class has become the Creating Class: Consumption and Creation are becoming, in part, synonymous.
Why is Music still static by default?
Why am I not being offered more ways to interact with Music?
Look at the gaming industry. It's a 1,000 times easier to get someone to pay to unlock a 'special ability' than it is to sell them a piece of content.
Intimacy and Immediacy
The old Music industry is not interested in creating Intimacy. It's hard to scale. The dominance of the recording industry's model depends on hundreds of thousands of well-timed sales, and a long-tail that provides income until 70 years after the death of the Creator.
Yet the fact that we carry computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the PCs on our desks a few years ago, and always connected to the Internet, offers amazing opportunities for Intimacy and Immediacy, ones that fans are happy to pay for. It means that Kevin Kelly's theory of a 1,000 True Fans will become increasingly easy to apply for a growing number of Creators.
The rise of Intimacy and Immediacy will benefit those Creators who work with small teams, who are open about their creative process, and involve their fanbase early on in this process. This enables them to secure funds through crowdfunding, as opposed to trying to secure investment from large corporations, whether recording companies or brands.
One can create dynamics of social competition within a fanbase. Who can recruit the most new fans, or active members? Who are the most valuable contributors to the Creator's wiki? Who spend the most money on merch and who have the most complete collection? The ones that rank highest, get access to perks. A weekly 1 hour video chat with the top 10, weekly 10 minute preview of what you're working on for the top 50, 20% discount on merchandise for the top 200, etc.
An app that has a great idea for how to get people to actively discover new Music, engage with it, and feel part of the artist's success is Tradiio. It gamifies Music discovery and lets users invest virtual coins in songs they believe in. This helps artists rise to prominence on the platform and earn rewards. If this platform evolves from a reward-based game, to a real economy where users can purchase coins and artists can cash out, it would be a good example of the type of company the new Music industry will be made up of. Just to mention some other exemplary companies for music's future: look at Smule and Sonic Emotion.
More on Games
The Gaming industry got into the same mess, at the same time, that the Music industry got into, brought about by the fact that what they thought was their product could suddenly be communicated through networks at zero cost. A whole new Gaming industry emerged with the arrival of connected devices: smartphones. Instead of charging money for the game, they made the game free to play and highly social, and instead charged for a limited set of actions.
Treat money-poor, time-rich fans as well as the money-rich, time-poor, because it's the former that provide value for the latter.
Music needs a new format that's feature-oriented, rather than content-focused. The content remains central to the experience, but the interaction around the content is what brings in the money. Likewise, playback of recorded music will remain important in the future, but perhaps not as the part of the industry that rakes in the most important part of Creators' incomes.
There are countless examples of companies pioneering the future of Music. From aforementioned Tradiio, to ones started by game developers, Music business serial entrepreneurs, and artists themselves. First let's start with an example from another part of the entertainment industry.
"The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense."
Imagine applying that to music… Some companies are already closing in on that.
Example: Inception, by Hans Zimmer and RjDj
Music producer and film composer Hans Zimmer collaborated on an app for the Inception movie, with RjDj, a company that specializes in Context Aware Music and Augmented music, founded by one of the co-founders of last.fm, Michael Breidenbruecker. Hans Zimmer on the project:
"There's a thing I've been searching for and I've been working on forever now, is a way to get beyond recorded music. To get beyond 'you just download a piece of music and it's just always the same'."
The application they made draws information from the world around the user, and transforms it into fantastic music. It seems as if you're being immersed in dreamlike worlds, as happens in the movie.
They continued their collaboration and made another app for The Dark Knight Rises. RjDj also created a Reactive Music game called Dimensions, which owes its name to the trippy effects of the Augmented Music that make it feel like you've just crossed into another dimension. The game is free-to-play, and offers in-app purchases to unlock new experiences or further augment existing ones.
I asked two of the people behind RjDj whether people are ready for adaptive music. This is what they had to say.
"I think many of them are ready. Apps like Inception or Dark Night Rises show that people are really into this sonic experience. The problem is how this is presented packaged. I can tell you from experience that not many people hear the difference between 5 hours of generative music and 5 hours recorded music. So really... no one cares if your music changes all the time through an algorithm and never sounds the same or if [it] is a preproduced track. Music has to have a reason why it is dynamic and not linear... that's why we sync it to real life."
"I think Inception especially proved that if the experience is delivered in a way that makes sense, perhaps within a bigger conceptual framework, then millions of people can understand it and really like it.
As for people understanding the depths and details of how reactive music changes. It is very very easy to lose a huge part of the audience here. I think its fair to say that only musicologists and very serious music listeners could pick out the ways in which detailed generative music is changing for instance. Making a reactive music experience meaningful requires that the listener can tangibly feel that the change in the music is linked to his / her activity or life in some direct and hopefully emotionally powerful way.
Often making linear music is about manipulating the emotional state of the listener into particular states of mind over time for dramatic effect. Reactive music poses a different set of possibilities - what if the music is manipulated by them / their emotional state? As a composer this is totally different - its like using a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun - you can make your music hit exactly the right spot for the moment."
Adaptive soundtracks are actually quite common in games, where the Music transforms depending on the player's absolute and relative position (it's called Dynamic Music). Some developers are chucking all the other game elements aside to focus fully on that.
Proteus has been described as a non-game. The game (or 'game') was developed by one developer and one sound designer, and places you on a mystical island. There's nothing there to kill, no need to score points, and you can't die. All you have to do is to wander around the island to discover new areas and to enjoy the way objects around you influence the soundtrack. This is the literal embodiment of the phrase 'soundscape'. The changing seasons, different weather conditions, time of day, and varying ecosystems all have an impact on the Music.
I asked David Kanaga, the game's sound designer, whether this is something anyone could do, in order to understand whether this could become a more mainstream medium for Music:
"Yes, anyone could do it. It's maybe even more natural than writing static music in a way. That said, very few people are doing it, and maybe it takes years of UNLEARNING, which maybe means everything needs to be played again, to stop fixating on what's successful and beautiful in recorded music, in Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds, to find the play aspect of those and to move on, to stop admiring recordings.. improvise only, this is the tactic that i've been practicing myself to try this unlearning.. no serious learning is needed, really, but the UNLEARNING is totally necessary."
Example: Biophilia, by Björk
In recent years many artists have taken to releasing albums as apps. Björk had a particularly interesting take on it, releasing her album as a 3 dimensional galaxy that can be navigated and interacted with. The app even became part of MoMa’s collection.
Through the use of in-app purchases, the user can unlock new parts of the galaxy, which provide new Music to Interact with.
Example: Don't Be Scared LP, by DJ Vadim
Ninja Tune veteran DJ Vadim released an 'immersive album', which allows users to interact with different elements of the song, recomposing it according to their own wishes. What better way to create a sense of Intimacy between your fans and your Music.
Example: Central Park (Listen to the Light), by BLUEBRAIN
Then there's Bluebrain, a musical duo that produced their own apps, location-aware albums, one of which can only be used in New York's Central Park. In a way it's similar to Proteus, except in this case, the soundscape is mapped to physical locations rather than virtual.
Recently a new music startup by one of the creators of Google Maps started making waves: Weav. Weav's aim is to simply make music elastic. Unlike Spotify's new feature which picks songs that match your tempo while running, songs on Weav's platform will actually adjust to your pace. The team created tools for musicians to create dynamic music: you don't just write the song, you also program rules for it to recompose itself and adjust to different tempos. Co-founder Lars Rasmussen:
"We believe that as our lives become increasingly digital, and as our increasingly powerful mobile devices play greater and greater roles in our lives, having a song that can change and adapt -- in real time -- to what you are doing will become increasingly important. And delightful. This is why we built Weav."
If you're waiting for disruption in the music industry, don't look at the big platforms like iTunes or Spotify. They belong in the Age of the Recording.
Look at platforms that offer actual Interactivity, Immediacy, Intimacy, and Involvement. Now more than ever can Creators help give shape to future formats of Music, and to new ways to connect the listener to the Music.
Imagine Music in the Age of the Internet of Things.
Music may be static, but it doesn't have to be. And the relation between Creator and Fan certainly shouldn't be.