A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Billions Artists Don’t Get But Should

This is the world that the artists have created when they signed away their masters and Copyrights to a record label. And for this tragedy to be fixed, the artists need to understand that it starts with them.

The labels have been the recording music gatekeepers for decades and they had full control to sign artists to contracts with less favourable terms.

In the process, the labels amassed a catalogue of music which gave them negotiating power at the table and when it came to take overs or selling off parts of the label, these profitable back catalogues bring in a lot of money.

French entertainment giant Vivendi owns Universal Music Group (UMG). Now Chinese tech company Tencent is looking at a 10% stake in UMG worth up to $3.6 billion dollars. The worth of that stake is because of the artists and the works UMG holds on behalf of the artists; works which they more or less paid a pittance for and works which have probably really recouped 100 times over.

How much of those billions would go back to the artists?

But hey, artists instead are forming a lobby group to fight against the tech lobby groups in the U.S. Because the distributor is now a problem. This is the same as the artists forming a lobby group in the past to fight against the truck drivers and the record stores.

I’m all for more power to the artist. It’s the artist that creates the song which connects with audiences and makes dollars. But for the artist to also have a fair say, they need to lobby hard against their employers (if they have a label deal) and the publishers, because these organisations make billions from the deals they organise with streaming companies and by selling off their small stake in the company.

And going back to the Music Artists Coalition (MAC), which also includes high profile managers, I don’t see how they will advocate for the 98% of artists doing it tough, when they represent the 2%.

But it’s a start.

Will MAC get back the masters from the labels. Oh, wait, most of those masters got destroyed in a Universal Warehouse fire.

We’ll lucky for the Public, that there is a copy of the music online. Otherwise, the tunes would be lost forever, in peoples records collections, which either end up in the trash or in a second hand book shop.

Because the labels don’t really care about this history. If they did, they would have stored the masters better, in a climate controlled room instead of a basic warehouse and they would have stored the back-ups at a different location instead of the same building.

All the labels care about is the free Spotify and YouTube users and those users who “stream rip”.

The labels (with their lobby groups) have court granted blocking on their side in most countries, so visits to sites like The Pirate Bay have reduced. However, fans of music just use YouTube and the free tier of Spotify to access music (which are both legal) and the labels don’t like it, because they are unable to find a way to convert the users of the free tiers to paying subscribers, especially in Italy.

So in this case, the labels cant increase the price to access music because people are not paying the current price as it is. So the price needs to come down. But the labels don’t want that. The option they want is to cut off the free-tiers, however this will just drive people back to the pirate sites.

And if the price to stream in Italy comes down, the record labels need to be reasonable here and still pay the artists their fair share, but we know that the words fair and reasonable are not associated with the labels.

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Copyright For Nothing And The Chicks For Free

Reading copyright stories elicits two responses from me. The “Are you freaking kidding me?” response and the “This is stupid” response.

The mighty Meatloaf along with writer , Jim Steinman (who is credited as the songwriter) had a copyright spat on their hands for “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”.

An artist called Jon Dunmore Sinclair claimed he wrote the song and Meat Loaf along with Steinman, stole it. Mmm, I am sure Mr Sinclair, still had possession of the song he wrote and it wasn’t stolen, but hey, let’s associate stealing with copyright infringement as well. Oh, wait, it already is associated, because the record labels have done a great PR job convincing people that accessing music illegally is stealing.

The story goes that Jim Steinman and Jon Sinclair had the same attorney, and via this attorney, is how Steinman heard Sinclair’s song called “(I’d Do) Anything For You”. Meatloaf argued that having a similar lyrical phrase is not copyright infringement, however without having access to hear Sinclair’s song, it’s hard to tell.

Meatloaf settled out of court, while Kate Perry and her team went to court and lost.

Now this one is a complete, “what the!, how stupid is that?” verdict.

You see, in this case, an artist called Marcus Gray (who uses the name Flame) claims that Perry ripped off his beat, and a small musical pattern.

These kind of claims trouble me, because the person claiming to be ripped off is stating that their work is so original and free from influence and not inspired by anything else that came before it. But people should check out this Vox article which shows how similar Flame’s Christian rap song is to another song back in 1983.

But hey, while Perry and her team relied on telling the story of how the song was created, Flame (original name as well) relied on pseudo gurus in musicologists to prove that they are similar. And the court agreed with the musicologists.

Which brings me to the next troubling issue, judges and juries changing the intent for what Copyright is meant to be. Then again, the labels have created this litigious monster themselves when they lobbied hard to get Copyright terms extended to life of the artists plus 70 years.

These kind of cases really started when the heirs of artists started suing.

And for the record, this never should have been an issue. If Kate Perry ripped off Flame then Van Halen can claim to be ripped off as well for “Why Can’t This Be Love”, because they have a C to B note transition. Throw in every other artist who has a song with a musical bar passage which goes from C to B in a staccato way. As Dr Luke (one of the writers) said on the stands), its basic building blocks. It’s like saying a writer can’t use the words “the”, “a” or “and”.

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Music, My Stories, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Master Of Scalpers

The Forbes article.

It’s a fucked up world when Metallica scalps it’s own tickets. 88,000 Metallica tickets went to a reseller before they were even offered to the fans/public.

And for one simple reason.

More profits.

They believe that the market value of a Metallica ticket is considerably higher than the selling value. Well if they believe the tickets are worth more, put up the price. People will either pay it or they won’t pay it. The Rolling Stones did that 5 or so years ago and guess what, a week before the shows, the tickets got dramatically reduced so the venue fills up.

Metallica is an organization today, however before it became one, its fan base was built on their fan centric connections, like tape trading and allowing fans to film their shows.

Would Metallica (the band) have known about the shady practice of scalping their own tickets?

Maybe.

The truth is, the act is always in control.

I’m sure the band will do a press release blaming Ticketmaster, but the truth is Ticketmaster does what Metallica wants.

From a band point of view, it’s a good thing that concert tickets are selling, but is it worth ripping your fans off when thousands of tickets are sold in the first minute to StubHub, which then put the tickets up at a higher price.

Wouldn’t you want your fans to have first dig at these tickets?

The again, once upon a time people liked to buy tickets 6 to 8 months in advance, but these days people also like to buy tickets a few weeks before the gig because life is unpredictable. It’s a big reason why StubHub has grown into a huge business.

The demand for tickets is insane. Just look at the numbers Metallica is doing in Europe.

And if Metallica is doing it, they are all doing it. The Gunners, Jovi, AC/DC and any touring act who has a rabid fan base.

Why should someone else get the profits when the band can?

And are the people who are buying the StubHub tickets real fans, the ones who will support the band through the hard times?

Other articles portray these people who pay top dollar at StubHub as people who have dollars to burn and they want to say they went to the show, take a selfie of being there and move on to the next band because it’s the cool thing to do. And they normally buy very close to the show.

For me, I haven’t been to a Metallica show since the St Anger tour. The prices then were excessive, and at that point in time I put it down to our Australian dollar being very weak compared to the US dollar.

And I watched a great energetic show but I still remember Lars not playing any of the double kick bits from the St Anger songs and Kirk being sloppy and very improv in his leads, which didn’t work for me.

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Spotify

It always happens, when the saviour, the good one, the one with actual good intentions, the one who is trying to bring balance ends up being like the ones that came before it.  

How much more privacy can people give up, when every time we deal with a corporate entity online, we end up sacrificing our personal details to gain access?

Deal with Facebook, you give them access to everything. Deal with Apple and their store, same thing happens. Same with Amazon, Google, Snapchat and so on. Basically any organisation you deal with online will take some personal detail. Which is okay if you want to transact with them but then those personal details will then be sold and given to third parties for years on end making those organizations billions from our data and habits.

The Verge has a story about pre-saving albums on Spotify and when this happens the labels get access to our emails and any other permission which they request. Sony wants a lot, while Universal and Warner Music Group want less, but all of them involve getting permissions to users private playlists, date of births and what not.

It’s not illegal what Spotify and the labels are doing, however it doesn’t mean it’s right. If anyone should be given data on Spotify users, it’s the artists themselves. They are the ones creating the songs, forming the connections with the audience and bringing money in to Spotify and the labels. Then again, the city the listeners are from and how many listens have come from each city should be enough data for any artist to plan what comes next.

If you are an independent artist with a core audience, there is a high chance you would be all over this kind of data because you know its key to your career to satisfy and grow this audience. Obviously a larger artist would care about this data but wouldn’t have the time to deal with it because their enablers will be keeping them busy. If the artist is making money, they are also making money.

And the issue isn’t because private data is being shared. The issue here is that the labels want to control it and make changes to it as they see fit.

But the firing line just doesn’t stop for Spotify. Pitchfork has a story about how Spotify settled a few infringement cases privately and nothing will be disclosed about those settlements. It’s the same subterfuge employed by the labels, but hey, when you give the labels a stake in your business, what do you expect would happen.

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Gaming The Charts and Losing The Masters

Any person involved within the recording industry and the music industry overall, is looking to make money from the hard work of an artist. Especially an artist who has tunes which make some coin.

And the record labels, well they are even looking at making money in any way they can for doing even less then what they did before.

I’m not sure if people have realised, but depending on the artist, there is a high chance that you might have purchased a concert ticket which included a free download of the most recent album of the artist. You see, artists and the labels alike, still think the charts matter and that a platinum record hanging up on someone’s wall is super important.

Bon Jovi and Metallica are two artists that come to mind quickly who have done ticket/album bundles.

And concert promoters don’t like these bundles. The fan is unable to say no, and since the price of the concert ticket looks to be the same, they are thinking free album.

But ticket pricing is a tough gig. If the price is too low, the show sells out and the scalpers along with the reselling market make the money because of the demand.

If the price is too high, then the show is at risk of not selling out and the money lost is carried by the promoter who is taking the risk. And when it comes to bundles, the labels just want the promoters to add extra dollars to the tickets. But, if the promoters thought the tickets would sell for $5 more, the tickets would be sold at that price.

So the $5 album charge comes out as a tax against the show takings. If you are like Bon Jovi and you get 20,000 people to your show, the show’s takings will need to pay $100K to the record label. Do 30 shows in the tour with the same numbers and that’s $3 million, the record labels get and as a byproduct the artist gets a platinum record on their wall.

And the label didn’t spend a cent on marketing but still made a cool $3 million in album sales, because of the hard work done by others on the road.

So if the money comes out of the concert takings, who is actually paying for the albums. Basically, the cost is absorbed by the artists , who are actually buying their own albums.

There is a great blog post over at Bob Lefsetz about it.

Then you have the pop artists who have all agreed to have T-Shirt and Album bundles, beanie and album bundles and so forth. If you don’t, believe me, check out the story over at the NY Times.

Gaming the system, are they….

The article states that from the 39 album releases that went to number 1 with a bullet last year, half of them had a concert ticket or clothing bundle attached to the sale. One artist, sold album bundles with key chains, hats and tickets. Another artist had the album bundled with energy drinks.

Bon Jovi is also mentioned in the story, about how their 12 month old album returned to the top of the charts in 2018 because of a concert ticket/album bundle and how the following week it more or less disappeared from the charts.

And maybe if the record labels cared about keeping the masters of some of the best music safe instead of gaming the system, the masters of some of the most popular recordings wouldn’t be lost.

Universal Music didn’t care enough to keep the masters of the recordings safe, and they got destroyed in a fire. I suppose the New York Times article, “The Day The Music Burned” sums it all up.

And talk about a cover up.

The fire happened in 2008 and finally, we are getting to hear about the lost Vault recordings. Even the acts weren’t aware. Acts like Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Hole, Beck, Sheryl Crow and Eminem.

From reading the articles, it looks like any artist who released on Geffen Records, has no original masters, unless the artist had never handed the master tapes over to the label or took the masters back at a particular point in time. When you look at hard rock and heavy metal, we are talking about big artists like Guns N Roses, Whitesnake and Aerosmith who had released career defining albums on Geffen. Add to that list acts like Y&T, Pride and Glory, Blue Murder, Black N Blue, Galactic Cowboys, Asia, Coverdale/Page, Nelson, Salty Dog, Tesla, Sammy Hagar, Tyketto and Junkyard.

So are all the remastered editions coming out recently, really remastered from the original source tapes. Because Universal hasn’t come clean on what has been lost. And when artists were questioned on Twitter by their fans, if their masters were safe, they either answered “no” or “I don’t know”.

But hey, piracy is still the issue.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Labels Say Infringement Is The Issue. Maybe Not.

The labels still focus on infringement and see that as a big issue. Stream ripping sites are getting a lot of attention right now, especially in Australia.

But the shitty way the labels treat the artists who created valuable art “which is worth something” is not an issue to the labels.

Years ago, the labels went to court against artists like Eminem, David Coverdale and Don Henley concerning digital royalties. The labels always paid low royalties on sales of music CDs and vinyl. However, “licensing” music (once upon a time licensing was for movies or commercials only), offered a higher payout to the artist.

The question the artists wanted to know was how is iTunes treated?

The labels said iTunes is a “sale” like a CD sale and the artist is paid the lower royalty rate.

The artists countered that iTunes is a “license,” like for a commercial, as the labels need to license their music to the tech service for the tech service to sell it. This in turn means the artists are meant to be paid the higher royalty rate of up to to 50%.

In the U.S the labels won at the district court level, while the artists won at the appeals court level.

Now this “sales vs license” scenario was relevant up to about 2011 as newer contracts the labels drew up afterwards avoided this problem. Basically, everything is a sale to the labels even the streams from streaming service all so the labels could rip off artists a little bit more.

Not sure if anyone noticed, but Def Leppard was also caught up in this dispute for years with their label, hence the reason why their music wasn’t on any streaming or digital service for a long time. Def Leppard even refuses to let their label license their music until they sorted out the payment issue.

And the big issue here is that the record labels really owe a lot of money to artists but they still put out lies that infringement is the biggest challenge they face while they go to court against the artists. But they still put out the propaganda that when they ask for longer copyright terms, it’s for the artists, when they ask for stream ripping sites to be taken down, it’s also for the artists. Basically everything the labels do is for the artists, except payments.

Furthermore, all the labels know that their power in the market is based on the content they hold. In this case, it’s the songs they hold on behalf of artists.

So the Copyright Act in the U.S gives creators the right to terminate a copyright grant they have given to a corporation after a 35-year period.

And of course there are a lot of artists who created works which ended up becoming very valuable, who want to reclaim their copyrights.

Basically artists who released music up to 1984 have put in claims to get their works back.

Then it will be 1985 releases and before you know it, the 1990s artists will want to their rights back. And if you grew up in this period, you know that there are a lot of great songs that make a lot of money, which the labels don’t want to lose control of and the artists who want to get those songs back under their control.

But the labels will not let it happen without a fight in the courts.

Universal Music Group (UMG) are going to court to dismiss the termination notices served against it. Sony is also trying the same tactic.

And they are using their own interpretation of the law which could bog down the proceedings for years while lawyers argue words in the Act and how they can be interpreted.

And the big thing the labels are sticking with is the “works for hire” principle which worked a treat for the movie studios.

Basically if an employee creates something as a work for hire, it means the employer is the owner of the work and the work can not be terminated. So the labels are basically saying that the artists are employees, which we all know is bullshit, because I am sure the artists didn’t get monies added to a pension fund or holiday pay and what not.

Also when the artist wrote that hit song, it wasn’t because they were an employee of the label, it was because they had an idea, either at band practice, or at soundcheck, or in their hotel room or bedroom.

But hey, I guess power corrupts and always wins. It’s time all of the artists started terminating their rights with the corporations.

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Copyright, Derivative Works, Music, My Stories, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

In Copyright We Invest

Music makes money because people form their own unique connection to a melody, a riff, a beat or a lyric. It’s personal and each connection is different. As a by product of this connection, we spend money on music. And when the ‘we’ in the equation is over 200 million people worldwide, you sort of understand the volume of dollars in play.

And the organizations who hold the rights to popular songs benefit a lot from those songs. Next time you hear “Eye Of The Tiger” from Survivor, there is a pension fund around the world which benefits.

You see the Michigan Pension Funds have invested in a music publishing company called Concord Music which is advertised as “owning” a lot of copyrighted works (like close to 400,000 songs). And when those songs it “owns” are played, Concord gets paid the royalties and the state pension fund benefits. 

But, isn’t Copyright meant to benefit the creator and give them an incentive to create more art. As the article states;

The state initially invested $25 million in Concord Music, and as the investment team got more comfortable, put a total of $1.1 billion into the company. The market value of their investment today is $1.8 billion, representing $700 million in profit.  

If the pension fund made $700 million in profit, how much profit would Concord Music make as the holders/keepers of the Copyright and then how much would go to the creators. Hell the creators can’t even get their rights back under their own control, even though the law states they can after 30 years.

And while all of these dollars from music are going to organizations who contribute nothing to music, CD Baby (another organization) is teaming up with Audible Magic (another organization) to scan the audio artists put up, against its library of 30 million tracks. If the uploaded song matches another track or it has “potentially” copyright-infringing content based on a computer algorithm, then CD Baby can decline to upload the file.

I wonder if CD Baby and Audible Magic are aware that music fans like songs that sound similar to other songs. I can’t even start describing how many songs have an Em, C, G, D chord progression, with melodies which sound similar, so I’m not sure why CD Baby is wasting money they earn from artists to pay an IT company which is looking to be purchased by these kinds of organizations.

And you know that Copyright is out of control when the law suppresses online music teachers, who in most cases teach people for free.

Queue up Warner Music Group, who seem hellbent to takedown everything online and then like all of the other labels, when they are served with termination notices from the artists, they go to court to fight these notices.

But, I am sure the labels would still be pushing the same lines of needing stronger copyright.

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