Another One Bites the Dust: Bandcamp acquired by Tencent’s Epic Games and still no fairness for session musicians

Bandcamp has been a safe haven for independent artists for years and throughout the pandemic. When asked by fans where fans can go to engage in fair commerce with artists outside of the downward centrifugal force of the big pool maelstrom, many said go to Bandcamp.

Now that Bandcamp is acquired by Epic Games, the cats paw of its 40% owner (that we know of) the Chinese surveillance company Tencent, the bloom may be off the rose. Tencent, like its affiliate Spotify, uses music for data scraping in the music-driven streaming data honeypot.

An example: Spotify has integrated “neuromarketing” into its advertising sales efforts.  “Neuromarketing” is an ethically controversial area of research; the literature tells us, for example, that “…recent opinions on ‘neuromarketing’ within the neuroscience literature have strongly questioned the ethics of applying imaging techniques to the purpose of “finding the ‘buy button in the brain’ and …creating advertising campaigns that we will be unable to resist.”).  In other words, “neuromarketing” marries quite well with the addictive qualities of social media and the endless playlist of the celestial jukebox designed to keep “users” connected to Spotify, or what I call the “streaming data honeypot.”

The Bandcamp sale raises a number of competition questions, however, and also some business ethics questions if nothing else. First and foremost is the ability of platforms like Bandcamp to follow in the steps of Google, Facebook, Tunecore and Spotify and skim the cream off of the artist’s efforts to drive traffic to their platforms for years that adds tremendous value to the firms’ valuation, yet does not share in that value with the artists when they cash in on all the years of work. This is particularly insulting when it comes to session musicians, or the “nonfeatured artists,” who get zero from streaming and less than zero on platform payday, be it an acquisition like Bandcamp or a public offering like Spotify–or Tencent.

Doing the acquisition through Epic Games allows Tencent to hide its hand and the other activities it engages in like surveillance of international users for the Chinese government through its WeChat messaging app.

How does this all jibe with the Bandcamp ethos? Well, it certainly wasn’t mentioned in the Bandcamp founder’s groovy message about “joining” the Tencent ecosystem. A target describing getting acquired as “joining” the buyer is Orwellian Silicon Valley-speak for “cashing out on your hard work and giving you nothing” as opposed to “I took twenty pieces of silver.”

Was there any discussion of what happens to fan data going forward now that it’s partly owned by someone who has real problems with surveillance? Or any protections from what happens when Tencent buys a majority stake in Epic?

Nope.

What it does tell you is that streaming is now becoming a game of market share, largely driven in my view by the tension at the heart of the market-centric royalty model. That algebra boils down to this: Your Streams ÷ Total Streams = Your Royalty. When the number of recordings on streaming platforms like Spotify increases at a rate of tens of thousands a day, there will be an impact, even at the margins, on the number of Total Streams. If Your Streams does not increase at a rate that is greater than the increase in the rate of Total Streams, what happens?

Your royalty declines over time. It is math. It will happen–unless–unless you find a way to slow that decline by increasing Your Streams (which was the plan). The fastest way to do that is to acquire catalogs. Note that even if you have hits and build careers, it may not do that much long term to increase your streaming revenues quarter after quarter, which translates into month after month, week after week, day after day. And as streaming is becoming the dominant distribution configuration…that only left platforms like Bandcamp as a place that artists could get a fair return and sell in configurations of their choice. We’ll see how long that lasts.

What it does mean is that the industry got a little more concentrated and choices got a little narrower and achieving escape velocity of the streaming tractor beam of death got a little harder. And another one bites the dust.

@MartinChilton: ‘He made sure that she got nothing’: The sad story of Astrud Gilberto, the face of bossa nova

[Editor Charlie sez: When you read this cautionary tale for artists, remember that like so many other artists we look up to, Astrud never got a penny from radio performances of her records in the US which would have given her a direct payment outside of her recording agreement.]

“The Girl from Ipanema” was one of the seminal songs of the 1960s. It sold more than five million copies worldwide, popularised bossa nova music around the world and made a superstar of the Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, who was only 22 when she recorded the track on 18 March 1963.

Yet what should be an uplifting story – celebrating a singer making an extraordinary mark in her first professional engagement – became a sorry tale of how a shy young woman was exploited, manipulated and left broken by a male-dominated music industry full, as she put it, of “wolves posing as sheep”.

Read the post on The Independent

@SoundExchange CEO @mikehuppe Nails NAB Hypocrisy on Artist Pay for Radio Play–#IRespectMusic

The hearing on Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) for the American Music Fairness Act (or “AMFA”) was a fantastic opportunity for artists to be heard on the 100 year free ride the government has given broadcast radio. We know it went well because the National Association of Broadcasters sputtered like they do when they’ve got nothing to say.

But what’s really hysterical was how they talked out of both sides of their mouths in two different hearings–which makes you think that NAB president Curtis LeGeyt was doing his impression of Punxsutawney Phil. Yes, when it came to broadcasters getting paid by Big Tech, the broadcasters wanted their rights respected and to be paid fairly. But when the shoe was on the other foot, not so much. In the Senate, the NAB asked for more money for broadcasters in a hearing for the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act–to protect the mega radio broadcasters from the mega tech oligarchs. And if broadcasters don’t get more money, they want to be exempt from the antitrust laws so they can pull their content. Just like artists do to them…NOT.

Then the NAB comes over to the House Judiciary Committee–on the same day being Groundhog Day–and asks the government to continue their 100 year free ride. We call bullshit.

SoundExchange CEO Mike Huppe nailed this in his Billboard post:

The AMFA witnesses didn’t ask for an antitrust exemption, like the broadcasters did. They simply asked that recording artists be granted similar copyrights as others.

They didn’t ask for more money, like the broadcasters did. They simply asked for at least some payment, since they now receive none when broadcast radio stations air their music.

They didn’t ask for special treatment, like the broadcasters did. Rather they asked that they be treated the same as all other artists around the world, and even the same as artists on virtually all other media platforms in the U.S.

And they didn’t ask for rigts to negotiate and withhold content, like the broadcasters did. Under AMFA, radio stations would still be allowed to play music as they please. Artist advocates simply asked that the biggest-of-the-big stations pay a modest royalty set according to market rates. Stations making less than $1.5 million per year would pay a flat, annual royalty of $500 (less than $1.40 per day) for as much music as they choose to air. And the smallest stations’ payments would drop all the way down to $10.

No station is going to go bankrupt over these royalties.

Huppe has a very strong point here. This legislation has been picked over for years. AMFA bends over backwards to protect community radio and small broadcasters and repects everyone’s contribution to radio’s success.

But that’s the point–it respects everyone‘s contribution.

You can watch the hearing here:

Catchup and Watch the Free Webinar on Radio Royalties and the American Music Fairness Act #irespectmusic

We had a great panel in Austin to discuss the history of the U.S. broadcast terrestrial loophole and strategies to stop the century-long Big Radio free ride on the backs of the world’s recording artists. Strategy number one is to support the bi-partisan American Music Fairness Act (or “AMFA”) introduced in Congress as HR4130 and sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch and Rep. Darrell Issa.

The panel of Texas artist Terrany Johnson pka Tee Double, Texas music lawyer Gwendolyn Seale, Sean Glover of SoundExchange and me discussed the importance of the bill to Texas artists. As Tee Double said, the issue and the AMFA bill are “genreless” because the issue is critical to all Texas artists regardless of genre or locale, and in fact to all American artists.

The panel’s main purpose was to educate viewers about the radio loophole–American is one of a handful of countries including China, Iran and North Korea that does not pay artists when their recordings are played on the radio. We emphasized that artists have the power to close that loophole through asking their Member of Congress to support the AMFA legislation through candidate forums and petitions to Congress like the Copyright Alliance petition or the petition at IRespectMusic.org.

One key topic was that artists should not be gaslighted by Big Radio’s argument that they should be able to force artists to work for free because “exposure”. This is one of the great dodges.

No Exposure Bucks!

Hosting the panel alone helps to raise awareness of the opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe and we want to thank all the great organizations that reached out to inform their members and supporters by hosting the educational panel. Hosting the event were the Austin area musician support organizations @ATXMusicians, @AustinMusic Foundation, @IRMAustin (I Respect Music Austin) and @TALATexas with help from @SoundExchange, the Copyright Alliance (@Unite4Copyright) and the Texas Music Office (@TXMusicOffice).

If you missed it you can watch it below and get the background materials here. Be sure to say hello to the panelists @sealeinthedeal, @terranyjohnson, Sean Glover and @musictechpolicy.

Takeaways are: Make sure you support artist pay for radio play and AMFA by filling out the Copyright Alliance petition or the petition at www.irespectmusic.org! Also consider calling or emailing your Congressperson and asking them to support AMFA. You can get that information by checking WhoAreMyRepresentatives.

In any event, artists, producers or labels should register for SoundExchange at www.soundexchange.com. Find out if SoundExchange is holding money for you already and whether your recordings are correctly registered with SoundExchange. Do this even if you are registered as a songwriter with a PRO like ASCAP or BMI–the PROs work for songwriters, SoundExchange works for artists, producers and record companies.

And while you’re at it, register to vote and get your band registered, too! We plan to have candidate forums in 2022 and you want to be ready to vote for artist rights! If you want to work on these efforts, please leave your contact with me.

Watch this space for updates on the American Music Fairness Act and artist pay for radio play or sign up for the MusicFirst Coaltion newsletter to stay in the loop. And finally if you have any questions, write to me or leave a comment.

Thanks!

@theblakemorgan: American middle-class musicians are worth fighting for #IRespectMusic

[Editor Charlie sez: Our friend and supporter Blake Morgan has an important opinion post on the bi-partisan American Music Fairness Act (AMFA) in The Hill, a long-time and influential DC insider journal. Blake tells the human story of why artists need the AMFA legislation and the #IRespectMusic campaign.]

Rep. Ted Deutch and Blake Morgan

We musicians are used to fighting. For our livelihoods, our families, our dreams. In recent years we’ve fought battles we’ve neither sought nor provoked, against powerful corporate forces devaluing music’s worth. Streaming companies, music pirates, and AM/FM radio broadcasters who, in the United States, pay nothing––zero––to artists for radio airplay.

It’s shocking, but true: The United States is the only democratic country in the world where artists don’t get paid for radio airplay. Only Iran, North Korea, and China stand with the United States in this regard. ADVERTISEMENT

Broadcasters make billions of dollars each year off our music, and artists don’t earn a penny. This impacts not only the artist, but session musicians, recording engineers, songwriters. Virtually everyone in music’s economy. 

Isn’t being paid fairly for one’s work a bedrock American value?

Read Blake’s post on The Hill and sign the #IRespectMusic campaign and tell Congress you want fairness for artists!