I was fortunate to moderate an excellent panel at the SXSW Continuing Legal Education seminar this week. Our topic was “The Future of Mechanical Licensing in the U.S.” Little did we know when the panel was booked in September that this would be such a hot topic following the introduction of the deeply controversial Music Modernization Act on December 21.
One of the legal process questions the panel discussed was the MMA’s “reachback” safe harbor that retroactively limits infringement claims filed after January 1, 2018 without regard to when the MMA’s blanket license is actually available.
[Sara Hickman is one of Austin’s most beloved songwriters. She has allowed us to republish her viral Facebook post on how streaming is hollowing out the “middle class musician”. (If you want data on this phenomenon, see the Austin Music Census, the most comprehensive work of its kind that actually connects with working musicians as opposed to the usual hoorah Chamber of Commerce bunk.) Trust me–it’s not just Austin. As Maria Schneider has written, low streaming royalty rates and increased consumption are essentially destroying the music infrastructure from the ground up. And the recurring theme from the World Trade Center offices of Spotify is that royalties are too high. We’re honored to republish Sara’s important post. And a 44% increase in streaming rates is still $0.00144.]
There were many reasons why I retired from music last year. I’ve never explained them or felt the need to, so I’m not going to start today.
But I do want to point out something that made a chilling difference in my decision. And that is streaming and downloading music versus selling physical cds/vinyl/cassettes, what have you. You’ve all heard how it affects us: the songwriters, the musicians, the bands. I want to share a living example of what streaming does. Because streaming is killing the opportunities of musicians to make a living off of their creations.
My song “I Couldn’t Help Myself” was my biggest success, in consideration of what the industry expects, it wasn’t much. But when it came out in 1990, there was a lovely video, lots of airplay, touring, promotion teams and I was flown to radio stations all over the country to perform live and chat with the DJs. All this to say hard work helped move the song to #3. I was blessed to appear on “The Tonight Show” while it was the single.
All this to lead up to the fact that it is 2018 (28 years later)
and I just received my quarterly royalty statement from Warner Music Group for all the songs from “Shortstop”. Believe it or not, my songs still get airplay around the globe, which blows my mind and, of course, makes my heart smile.
I hope you’ve read this far.
Because the pay off is you’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.
I recognize the numbers I’m about to share don’t amount to beans when compared with musicians who have made it to the big, BIG time. But I’ve always considered myself a working middle class musician; I worked my ass off to make a decent living and I was cool with that. I had a niche. I learned how to diversify my talents, read contracts, distribute, create and publish content (music) to support my dream. I enjoyed understanding what I was making and releasing into the world, knowing there would be end results of, hopefully, satisfied listeners and a financial reward parallel to the work, time, effort and costs associated on my end.
Having said that, I’ve watched how income numbers on royalties have dropped since streaming/downloads started.
This new earnings notice (Oct-Dec 2017) shows “I Couldn’t Help Myself” played 14,789 times (U.S., Italy, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, United Arab Em., Belgium, etc) and here’s what that provided:
FIFTEEN DOLLARS AND NINETY EIGHT CENTS for 14,789 captured results of people listening to my song.
That equals .0010 per download or stream. It’s not even
a PENNY per play. And it’s not because it’s me. That’s the level playing field of payment for all of us in music on Spotify, YouTube, Amazon download, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Tidal, Rhapsody, Slacker…even something called Neurotic Media.
Let me hip you to how many of those were downloads (as in paid for content):
Here’s how much streaming this one song of mine received:
As today is the International Day of Women, I thought it was important to remind you of not only how women musicians are treated, but how ALL musicians are compensated and WHY it is IMPORTANT to remember to pay for music.
Video may have killed the radio star, but streaming is ending wages and opportunities for your creators.
[Editor Charlie sez: The Music Modernization Act really is the Spotify IPO Preservation Act, as we suspected!]
David Israelite of the NMPA and Mitch Glazier of the RIAA have penned an op-ed for Variety Magazine, in which they extoll the virtues of various copyright reform proposals before congress. While I agree with them about the Classics Act (fixes pre-1972 loophole) AMP act (helps producers/engineers receive royalties from digital royalty streams) every day […]
[Editor Charlie sez: No, that’s not a headline from the National Enquirer. Straight outta George Orwell’s 1984! Laura Koby puts it in perspective at MTP in her post Making Fake Art: “1984”, The New Rembrandt, and The “Fake Artist”]
Pop music made by actual robots is here… and it sounds considerably better than you might think.
Hello World, released earlier this month via Flow Records, is being touted as ‘the first multi-artist commercial album created using Artificial Intelligence’.
The LP has been recorded by French collective SKYGGE, in collaboration with the likes of Canadian chart-topper Kiesza and Belgian pop star Stromae… and, of course, those all important computers.
SKYGGE is led by composer, author and producer Benoit Carré, alongside a gentlemen who is becoming increasingly well-known (and slightly fretted about?) in music business circles: François Pachet.
Pachet (pictured) is the world’s foremost scientist in the field of AI-assisted music creation. Aka: Music composed by machine minds.
Last summer (in news that got a few tongues wagging amid the service’s ‘fake artist’ controversy) Pachet joined Spotify as Director of the platform’s‘Creator Technology Research Lab’.
His recruitment by Daniel Ek’s company followed 20 years of service at Sony, where Pachet – a semi-professional musician in his own right – pioneered projects which resulted in the first known pop songs composed with AI.
[Editor Charlie sez: After this post started to take off on Huffington Post, Blake Morgan was told that HuffPo was killing the link on a flimsy excuse. The Trichordist has reposted the piece along with correspondence from the HuffPo editor.]
I love streaming.
I love making playlists, I love being able to download streamed music so I can listen when I’m offline, and I love being able to bring that music with me. In short, I think it’s a great distribution method.
What I don’t love is how little musicians get paid for all that streaming. It’s not fair––not even close. What’s more, middle-class music makers are the ones who are hit hardest, whose businesses are threatened, and whose families are put at risk. So how can I be against the way streaming companies treat musicians but not be against streaming itself?
The same way I’m against the electric chair, but not against electricity.
During a hearing on Friday (Dec. 1) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York before Judge Alison J. Nathan, lawyers for Spotify and the putative class argued for final approval of the settlement, while two other rightsholders filed objections that the damages for each composition streamed were insufficient. Under the terms of the settlement, the writers of compositions that have been streamed between zero and 100 times would receive a minimum payment, while the rest of the money would be divided on a pro rata basis.
The basic issue is fairly straightforward: Spotify didn’t license mechanical rights for the compositions it streamed, even when it had rights to recordings of them. Although the company says that poor record keeping makes it very difficult to identify and find rightsholders, it also failed to issue the appropriate NOIs — Notices Of Intent — with the U.S. Copyright Office. In March 2016, Spotify agreed to a $30 million settlement with the National Music Publishers Association. Rightsholders can choose to opt out of the settlement and sue on their own, as several have already done.
Dealing with the issue is proving more complicated, especially since Spotify hasn’t said — and no one else knows — exactly how many compositions the company has infringed. That means lawyers for the putative class couldn’t say how much each class member would receive. “It’s hard to give a precise range,” said a lawyer for the putative class.
“How about an imprecise range?” Judge Nathan asked.
This, too, was difficult, apparently, although a lawyer for Spotify, Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown, suggested a “ballpark” estimate that the company had infringed 300,000 songs. That would mean each rightsholder would get an average of about $100, although the actual numbers would vary widely. Statutory damages for willful copyright infringement range from $750 to $150,000.
Late last month, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a brief post on Facebook at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, asking his friends for forgiveness not just for his personal failures but also for his professional ones, especially “the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together.” He was heeding the call of the Jewish Day of Atonement to take stock of the year just passed as he pledged that he would “work to do better.”
Such a somber, self-critical statement hasn’t been typical for the usually sunny Mr. Zuckerberg, who once exhorted his employees at Facebook to “move fast and break things.” In the past, why would Mr. Zuckerberg, or any of his peers, have felt the need to atone for what they did at the office? For making incredibly cool sites that seamlessly connect billions of people to their friends as well as to a global storehouse of knowledge?
Lately, however, the sins of Silicon Valley-led disruption have become impossible to ignore.
Facebook has endured a drip, drip of revelations concerning Russian operatives who used its platform to influence the 2016 presidential election by stirring up racist anger. Google had a similar role in carrying targeted, inflammatory messages during the election, and this summer, it appeared to play the heavy when an important liberal think tank, New America, cut ties with a prominent scholar who is critical of the power of digital monopolies. Some within the organization questioned whether he was dismissed to appease Google and its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, both longstanding donors, though New America’s executive president and a Google representative denied a connection.
Meanwhile, Amazon, with its purchase of the Whole Foods supermarket chain and the construction of brick-and-mortar stores, pursues the breathtakingly lucrative strategy of parlaying a monopoly position online into an offline one, too.
Now that Google, Facebook, Amazon have become world dominators, the question of the hour is, can the public be convinced to see Silicon Valley as the wrecking ball that it is?
These menacing turns of events have been quite bewildering to the public, running counter to everything Silicon Valley had preached about itself.