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Listen carefully to the wise words of Ursula Le Guin as she accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards.  What Ms. Le Guin says here is a rallying cry for all artists… Bravo Ms. Le Guin, bravo!

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The Brutal 35-Year War Between Sony, Stephen Popovich & Meat Loaf Excerpt From Fredric Dannen’s New Edition of ‘Hit Men’ | Billboard.

Last week Los Angelenos woke up to find the octogenarian owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling, is a racist.  No surprise from a dinosaur born 30 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed into law.  And it doesn’t appear like his 33 years tenure of the team has softened his stance on “the culture we live in“; then again Los Angeles isn’t known for holding it’s elite citizenry accountable for much so please do not expect anything drastic to come from the City of Angels anytime soon…  The only way to get thru to a crusty old fart like Sterling is to hit him where it counts and that’s in the pocket book.  If the LA Clippers and their fans really want to get thru to Sterling, then I’d advise them to stop putting money in his pocket starting today.  As players and coaches, stop and play no more.  As fans stop going to games, stop buying tickets, stop buying merchandise, cancel your season tickets, disengage and sever any ties you might have to Sterling.  I hate to ask this of the players and coaches who deserve their playoff run, unfortunately every time they win they add value to the franchise and that’s all Sterling cares about.

The power of a collective boycott would have massive repercussions on Sterling and he would have no choice but to sell the team.

What can musicians learn from this collective bargaining power?  Look no further than the new edition of Fredric Dannen’s classic music industry book HIT MEN for the best ever written account of how major record labels are run and the insatiable greed of the men who helm them.  The Popovich/Meat Loaf story is but one of so many and while Popovich didn’t live to be properly vindicated, his fight demonstrates you must hit the labels and publishers where it counts – in the pocket book!

The issue of how the money flows out to recording artists & songwriters has long been a sore point and will never be resolved unless the artists and songwriters take a collective position against the lack of transparency and dodgy accounting practices employed by the labels & publishers they’re in business with.  Next time a group of recording artists and songwriters are sitting around the campfire wondering why they’re still living in tents instead of owning their homes, I’d recommend a collective audit session of their business partners.  If the request is met in a particularly hostile manner, then I’d venture to say that their partners are likely cooking the books.  Doubt it…just ask Meat!

 

Knock knock.  Who’s there?  Spotify.  Spotify who? Right, did you spot who’s got my royalty check!

If you’re a recording artist looking for a payout from music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Grooveshark, Last.fm, MOG, Rdio, iTunes Radio (in the works) and the list goes on — have you heard of Soundhalo, that’s the UK start-up Thom York & Nigel Godrich ditched Spotify for? — and you’ve only now begun to complain about the lack of dollars on your royalties checks, then I’ve got one simple question for you: Where the fuck have you been?

Bye bye Thom and Nigel… What’s that Mr. Lowery (of Camper Van Beethoven & Cracker fame), you don’t like the internet “exploitation economy”?  Come again Pink Floyd, Pandora’s founder TIm Westergren is deceitful because he wants to cut Pandora’s royalty rates!!!

Dave, Roger, Nick WTF you’re Pink Floyd, what’s wrong with you guys? I realize you’re just a tad removed from your progressive heyday but that’s no reason to shit on Westergren because the poor bastard is trying to run a business against entrenched radio titans like Clear Channel and Cumulus, who by-the-way (in case you didn’t know) still do not pay a dime of royalty to the artists performing the songs on their airwaves, let alone to the labels.  Did you know the US is the only industrialized nation that does not have a terrestrial broadcast performance right for sound recordings?  This puts us in the same league as Cuba, Iran and North Korea.  I know you think nothing of charging $1,000+ for a concert ticket today and that it’s because of your demi-god status that Pandora should have split its IPO raise 50/50 with you to justify Pink Floyd’s presence on their service, but c’mon!!!

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) recently took out newspaper advertisements claiming having to pay performers when playing their music is “bad for radio, bad for artists and bad for listeners.”  Pandora’s operating at a loss of $36MM for last year and Spotify has shelled out over $500MM since launch.  So where is all this money from streaming services going if not in your artist pockets?

It’s paying to maintain this broken, antiquated, lardish, myopic industry starting with the labels, who this time said we’re getting paid no matter what, and the artists, well, fuck the artists… we (the labels) working in cahoots with our PRO (Performance Rights Organization) partner, SoundExchange, are going to make sure this piggy gets fed right and first… and the artists, well fuck them!  But the industry failing doesn’t stop with the labels.  If a home purchased by Pandora’s CTO is news, then when are the gluttonous salaries of label, music publisher, and PRO Presidents & CEOs going to be news?  The entire edifice is crumbling because no one wants to change.  ASCAP, BMI & SESAC are supposed to be not-for-profit PROs for crying out loud, at the service of their songwriters & publishers membership, yet their collective enforcement power is clearly in NAB’s pocket and they too like radio programmers must be bought.

Artists, when are you going to start talking about boycotting radio and pulling music from the terrestrial airwaves so you’re finally and fairly compensated by an industry that has been milking you dry, sucking at your teet for decades?  Don’t you see the problem isn’t solely Spotify, or Pandora or any of these other streaming services?  When are you going to ask the labels to provide you with transparent accounting so you can see how much they’re skimming from the top?  When are you going to have the guts to say “Fuck this” and find ways to connect with your fans directly and once-in-for-all disintermediate this flailing music industry instead of sending off lame-ass tweets like “It’s up to streaming providers to come back with a better way of supporting new music producers..” (Nigel Godrich)?  In fairness to Godrich this tweet is part of a series in which he points to the salacious behind the scenes deal making major labels did with Spotify to both own a piece of the company and get more favorable royalty rates, but still.

Until that time, do not complain until you’re actively doing something to personally shake up the status quo, and enjoy the simple fact that your music can now be heard by millions more people because Spotify, Pandora and others are actually carrying it.

In the Battles of SOPA and PIPA, Who Should Control the Internet?

Every now and again a great article, like this one in this month’s Vanity Fair, springs forth from the cabals of cultural journalism to adroitly and accurately summarize what’s in play when it comes to the Internet.  More importantly this is the first time I hear of the forces of Organized Chaos being up against the forces of Order & Disorder.

While some may find this way of framing the battle for the Internet as overly simplistic, I have long argued artists have the best chances for success when they collaborate and cooperate to embrace the chaotic forces of the Internet.  This is how a Chaordic Organization functions as defined by the CEO Emeritus of Visa, Dee Hock:

By chaord, I mean any self-organizing, adaptive, nonlinear complex system, whether physical, biological, or social, the behavior of which exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos or loosely translated to business terminology, cooperation and competition.

* Dee W. Hock “The Chaordic Organization – Out of control and Into Order – 1998

In his amazing book, Birth of the Chaordic Age, Hock provides a blueprint for all artists to follow, one that requires artists to get away from music being sold solely as a product to one that emphasizes the importance of music being consumed as a 24/7/365 global service: A service that does away with sovereignty, drowns out piracy, respects privacy and provides security.  How?

Just like Hock convinced Bank of America to give up ownership and control of their BankAmericard credit card program and turn it into a non-stock membership corporation equally owned by all of its member banks eventually called VISA, I am suggesting all artists worldwide give up on sovereign copyright protectionism and embrace a global copyright exchange, called ToBeDigital, equally owned by all of its copyright bearing members be they artists, labels, songwriters or publishers.

Just like VISA facilitates EFTs (electronic funds transfers) throughout the world, ToBeDigital would facilitate ERTs (electronic rights transfers) granting immediate, redeemable access to music to fans on any playback device once they’ve paid a nominal interchange fee + the value of the music purchased set by the merchant.

For a fraction of what artists pay out today to Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) around the world, not only would artists get paid much faster on what they sell, they’d get paid on everything they sell and do away with weightings which are employed by PROs to assign a greater or lesser monetary value to music performances in broadcast media.

And for music fans there would be nothing but complete clarity, total ubiquity and pure enjoyment.

After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses – NYTimes.com.

…to figure out that at a cost of $1,500.00 for 32 leather bound volumes they could no longer afford to compete with the free, user generated, 11 years old, encyclopedic website Wikipedia.  It took a decade for a digital phenom to disintermediate a nearly two and half century old business.  Why hasn’t there been a similar, swift change of the guard when it comes to music?

If we credit Edison’s 1886 patent for the wax coated recording cylinder as the start of the recorded music industry, then the business of music today is in its 124th year.  That said mp3 files have been on the internet since 1994, so applying the same disintermediation arithmetic to music means it should have taken about 5 years for the physical consumption of music to go the way of the Dodo bird.  Ironically, 1999 was the music industry’s zenith with global sales topping out at nearly $27B.  Many well known factors (from the failed draconian enforcements of the Copyright Cartels, to the steady adoption of broadband, to the falling costs of technology, to the rebirth of Apple, and the P2P revolution launched by Napster) have since reversed that trend with sales of music dropping steadily every year.

So, again, why is it taking so long for things to change?  Some say CDs are here to stay, that they serve a qualitative and nostalgic purpose.  One good friend, who sells physical CDs online, argues that millions of CD buyers are still out there looking for what he has to offer, and with less competition from brick and mortar stores he’s poised to make a seven figure a year income.  OK, but for how long?  The CD is well on its way to becoming a collectors item and, like the Encyclopaedia Britannica, physically obsolete.

Music fans have spoken, they want 24 hours access to their music wherever they might be, in an easy and cost effective manner.  The way forward is mobile streaming because when fans leave the house it’s their keys, wallet, and cellphone that they take with them.

The Spotify music streaming service is the closest thing they have to that desired ubiquity, but cost for the service and its condescension for indie artists & labels has made for a spotty service.  Spotify is not the future, it’s the staid present under the watchful eye (and ownership) of major labels.  If major labels and their cronies (publishers, PROs, trade organizations) aren’t the agents of change, then why do artists still appear dumbfounded by the fact that change is being spearheaded by TechCos?

What is it going to take for artists to embrace change on their own terms and scale their musical offerings to a global marketplace instead of falling prey to copyright politics defined country by country?

Today your customer is global from the moment you make your music available.  Isn’t it time you started competing and cooperating with each other on a global scale to meet the needs of your fans?  That’s the genius of the Visa credit card: No single owner, no centralized power, no country by country politics, instead a global marketplace defined by a financial exchange between all merchants for the customer and all customers for the merchant.

So why not all artists for the fan and all fans for the artist?

If you’re serious about the business of music, then do yourself a favor and read Don Passman’s book, All You Need To Know About The Music Business.  It is THE music business playbook, the best book out there for artists bar none.  Passman’s book is all about the details, definitions, nuances and everything in between.  He’s on his 7th Edition © 2009 and he’s got tons of info on the digital state of things in this Information Age we now live in.

Note, the only thing missing from Passman’s book are the “tasty bits”, that is real world examples of the actual contracts & financial statements – be it Recording Agreement, Publishing Agreement, royalty statement, PRO statement, etc. – all the things Don gets paid handsomely to negotiate for you.

SoP plans to remedy this by offering for download and review as many contracts and statements as we can get our hands on so we’re talking not just in the abstract but also looking at concrete examples of what’s really going on.

In the meantime, READ THIS BOOK, and familiarize yourself with the jargon because you’re going to see plenty of it here.