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Songwriters

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!

 

Senators Grovel, Embarrass Themselves at Dimon Hearing | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.

Politics and music don’t mix… with what’s happening on Wall Street and with our financial institutions today being such a charade, every time I read a Matt Taibbi piece in RS that reminds me of the f***ed relationship between our politicians and bankers I am inevitably reminded of the equally f***ed relationship between artists and labels and the shenanigans the labels continue to dish out.

The (New) New Music Seminar was in full swing at Webster Hall in NYC last month.  They held a panel aptly entitled – Music Labels The Businesses Formerly Known as “Record Companies” – with 8 label execs (from both indie & major labels) there to discuss the decline of the record business and rise of the music business.  I’m encouraged, 18 years after the first MP3 files made their way onto the Internet, to see such a distinguished group of label execs finally trumpet the demise of the record business.  Well done guys!  The best statement belongs to Benjy Grinberg, Rostrum Music President, who astutely said “The power is with the artist…” followed by “but the infrastructure and guidance [of a label] is still important.”  Nicely done Benjy, you get it dude!

A label is there to help you do two things – make your music and sell your music.  Most artists today can make music for a fraction of the price, so they’re really only beholden to their label for their marketing & promotional efforts, which comes down to what today:

– album recording budget (100% recouped from artist royalties);

– radio promotion (also 100% recouped from artist royalties);

– video production & promotion (check! 100% recouped from artist royalties too);

– tour support (100% recouped from artist royalties & usually capped with a ceiling);

– licensing (split 50/50, but any money you make here will be used to recoup the above costs so you won’t see any of it unless you actually wrote your own music)!

If you the artist end up paying for most everything, then why do you the artist still continue to give away more than 80% of your ℗erforming Rights to labels with zero guarantees from your labels that they’ll even honor their Recording Agreement with you, let alone actually do any fuckin’ work to market & promote your music?

Why is it that your label keeps the ℗-house after you’ve paid the loan back on it?  No bank in the land treats you this way once your home loan is paid off…  Think artists THINK!  And don’t be scared to go it alone, especially today when there are so many easy and powerful ways to connect with your fans!

Puttnam’s Law and the threat to the American imagination – latimes.com.

“Puttnam’s Law: It is more acceptable to fail in conventional ways than in unconventional ways. And its corollary: The reward for succeeding in unconventional ways is less than the risk of failing in unconventional ways. In short, you can screw up with impunity so long as you screw up like everybody else.” – Neal Gabler, Senior Fellow at the Norman Lear Center at USC

I know you’re out there talented geniuses and music demi-gods, purveyors of sound and taste.  I know how hard it’s gotten for you to be heard, to rise above the morass, the banal, the dull, the lame, the putrid, but I have faith in you…and your fans are waiting.  Then along comes Zya Music to remind us that Matt Serletic and his brother Dean with their Wall Street partners Bo & Terry are going to set the music world aflame with their venture backed start-up Zya Music.  You might remember Matt as the producer of Matchbox Twenty who set the music world on fire, but I remember him as the clueless executive who buried my Virgin Records America company into the ground with the help of his brother.  Not content to stop there, him, baby brother & the Wall Street boyz are now giving us Zya Music and I quote:

I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried!  As a producer friend of mine said when I showed him this stillborn of a website: “This is exactly what the problem is with this generation…no real skills just nonsense.”  Ironically like Puttnam’s Law states, when vultures have nothing left to pull from the carcass of this company, the Serletic brothers will continue to ride their taste makers coattails of yore into the sunset only to meet with another pair of Wall Street dummies to fleece.

And all of this they will be able to do thanks to you foolhardy artists, musicians, songwriters who continue to wreak havoc on our cultural landscape because you unwittingly play into the hand of Puttnam’s Law.  You’ve been warned!

Pebble: E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android by Pebble Technology — Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding while not yet part of the investment vernacular, has gotten a major boost from the recent success of the E-Paper Watch by Pebble Technology and its Kickstarter campaign.  What started for Pebble Technology as a funds raising project looking for an initial jolt of capital to the tune of $100,000 over 6 weeks has ballooned to over $6M coming from over 42,000 backers, with nearly a month still left to go before the funding is closed.  I wouldn’t be surprised, when it’s all said and done, if this project closes with over $10M and a 100,000+ backers proving the point that when a product is hot, it’s hot, period.

There’s nothing harder for any start-up than to find seed capital.  It usually comes from family & friends, brave and slightly foolish angel investors.  What distinguishes crowdfunding from buying an equity position into a company and parlaying that position for stock, is how the crowdfunder instead buys into the promise of receiving a tangible reward (be it music, a film, a watch) once funding for a project in question has met its financial objectives.  Should it not, then no funding takes place and the crowdfunder gets his money back to keep or invest elsewhere.  Most crowdfunders invest $20.00 – $60.00 into Kickstarter projects, but this E-Paper Watch has clearly exceeded everyone’s expectations and created a huge buzz for this watch and a windfall for Pebble Technology.  It’ll be interesting to see how Kickstarter doles out such a large amount of cash to a company that’s still very much in its infancy, and with no regulations on how the money should and will be spent.

Naturally if crowdfunding works for the production of a watch, then it will also work for the production of music.  And actually it already has, many many times!!!  Except now here comes the JOBS Act signed into law by President Obama earlier this month and with it comes the heavily reworked CROWDFUND Act (Bill S. 2190), which should allow for small, even micro investors to hold equity (stock) in the crowdfunded companies they support.  The SEC has this under review for the next 9 months before it’s law, so for all of you indie artists who’ve always wanted to have your own label, here’s a perfect opportunity to rally all your musical peers and all your fans to motivate them to own a piece of the label dream with you.  And that my friends are chaordic principles in action!

Copyright Royalty Board To Set Mechanical Royalty Rates For Digital Music Services | Billboard.biz.

I love the hyperbole of this story.  Leave it to music industry trade organizations to call this a major settlement.  What a crock of sh*t!  After years of acrimonious wranglings, posturing and petulance, all these industry dinosaurs could come up with to bring some semblance of sanity to the digital music licensing process was to rely, again, on the legislative intervention of the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB)…… sigh!

I prefer the frankness of Digital Music News when referring to this ‘historic’ accord:

That said, something did happen here – even if it was in a licensing corner.  In a nutshell, pre-existing mechanical licensing structures related to paid downloads, subscription services like Spotify, and ringtones will largely remain the same, with newer rates established for emerging platforms like mixed-format bundles, locker services, and concepts like Muve Music.  Most involved ‘greater than calculations’ and a rash of complicated percentages and formulas.

Thanks Paul.  In short, if you’re a music publisher, you’re doing better.  Everyone else, get in line, maybe you’ll see some ducats.

How many of you have heard of Muve Music by Cricket Wireless?  Launched in January 2011, this phone bundled with an all-you-can-eat music service topped 500,000 subscribers one year later and they’re adding over 10,000 subscribers a week.  Granted the music is stuck to your phone, but you get millions of song, all readily and easily accessible to play back via the phone.  At $65/month for unlimited talk, text and music playback that’s a good frickin’ deal.  I pay twice as much with AT&T and have no music service in my plan.  The beauty of the Muve Music service is how Cricket Wireless knows exactly what you’re downloading, listening to and how often.  The customer details they have are a gold mine and I hope they’re leveraging that information to keep their costs down when negotiating with labels directly.

It would be so much easier if Cricket Wireless had access to the ToBeDigital exchange I proposed in my previous post.  It’s going to take some time before artists and songwriters trust themselves enough to collaborate on gaining fans and dollars chaordically, however, now that they’ve finally recognized there’s gold in tending directly to them copyright fields they’re much likelier to exploit their copywares by themselves.  A similar idea comes from Ian Rogers, the CEO of Topspin Media, who proposed the construction of a machine-readable, rules based content registry into which content owners can easily opt-in or out after having set up the rules and the prices for the different use of their content.  As Rogers says very eloquently:

The upside to the industry as a whole is massive, developers willing to play by the rules can integrate media into their apps (and pay for the rights to do so) simply, and a true digital marketplace for content governed by market forces, not gatekeepers of large catalogs of content. I strongly believe the net of this will be more money to content owners more quickly than the current course we’re on today. We keep hearing “digital music needs to get to scale quickly for the music industry to succeed”; why wait for one player to scale when you could scale an industry of players?

By “players” he means you artists, you songwriters, you who actually create AND own something.  So what are you waiting for???

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.