Music, My Stories, Copyright, 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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Music, My Stories, Copyright, A to Z of Making It, Stupidity

More File Sharing Equals More Music…

One of the main points of organisations or people who support stronger copyright laws and enforcement is the lies that stronger copyright laws act as an incentive for people to be creative or to make art. About 10 years ago, these lies appeared everywhere. What the public didn’t know, was that these organisations had a seat in the Government Policy room, to negotiate a range of bills in secret.

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) got introduced in 2011 in the US Senate for discussion. In January, 2012, people held protests in the streets and online about these bills which would put too much control of the internet into the hands of corporations and governments. Eventually, these bills didn’t pass. TPP was written in secret with the corporations, and it got passed without discussion, only for Trump to squash it and come out with another act, even better for the Corporations.

One thing throughout it all that hasn’t dropped off, is the creative output of people. There is so much more content being produced and created right now than ever before. And the consumers have choice, and a lot of it.

Multiple studies have shown that even though there was a massive increase in infringement once upon a time, at the same time there was also a large increase in creative output as well.

And of course, people will associate output versus money made. Like the way Gene Simmons did when he said “Rock is dead”. Some people create art purely for money. Others create art because they want to create or have a need to create. Money will come, merely as a by-product of creating art.

When the record labels acted as gatekeepers, they could put money behind artists and develop them. It used to happen and some labels did it better than others. But that boom in the 80’s, is not because the labels developed artists, it’s because those artists developed themselves outside the sphere of the record labels.

No one can say that a record label developed Twisted Sister, Motley Crue or even Quiet Riot. Even Metallica did their first album independently and had a cult live following before Elektra came in to sign them for “Ride The Lightning”.

For artists that had break out success in 1986, like Bon Jovi and Europe, I would say, yes, they got developed by the label and got the green light for a make or break third album.

Economist Joel Waldfogelm, did some research a while back.

He wanted to see if the rise in sharing had any drop off on the new music being produced. And the research said, no, as new music was being created continuously. However, the record labels claimed otherwise, a claim not based on evidence.

in my opinion, the study also debunked what Gene Simmons said, about “rock being dead”. Gene’s comments circled around how file sharing and streaming meant that no new acts are being developed and able to grow and release quality albums. In fact, the study finds no support for that claim.

The study looked at the best of lists on popular websites for each decade from the 80’s and found on average, about half of the best-of albums since Napster are from artists whose recording debut occurred since Napster.

The study even went further to check how many albums in the 80’s are from artists from the 70’s and how many are from artists who had their debut in the 80’s. And guess, what, the numbers match the post Napster numbers.

How can that be if no artist is being developed?

Basically, there is no evidence that new artists are no longer being developed or are not creating high quality, successful music. Then again, the great artists didn’t need an A&R rep to develop them. They had their own drive and their own motivations.

But the labels have great PR writers and they sure know how to spin a story, along with the publishers and the movie studios. But their theories are not backed by independent research evidence.

The big difference between pre and post Napster is that most of the new musicians are coming from independent DIY artists, rather than the majors. And the labels don’t like this. And they are taking money away from the legacy artists when it comes to recorded music but the legacy artists still make coin on the live circuit.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories

Fight The Copyright Powers That Be

I know this is a site about metal and rock but sometimes I need to go outside these styles.

Case in point.

Taylor Swift and her new record deal.

She left Big Machine Record’s and signed with Republic Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.

In her new deal, Swift owns her Copyright. In other words, those master recordings are hers.

Remember I’ve been saying those who own their own copyright will win in the end. Swift isn’t stupid, she has seen how much streaming services pay the “copyright holders” of recordings. So instead of selling her rights to the corporation for a large advance right now, she’s keeping her future songs in her bank.

But that’s assuming that her future songs will have the same impact and success as her Big Machine Records catalogue, which in this case all stays with Big Machine Records.

The big one for me is how the sale of Universal Music Group Spotify shares are distributed (provided the sale happens).

Basically the label was in a powerful negotiating position against the streaming service because it had amassed a shit load of copyrights over the years. It held the rights of songs other people had written even when those songs should have been in the public domain.

So if Universal sells its Spotify stake, the label must pay all of its artists a cut of the sale as non-recoupable. Universal’s stake in Spotify is estimated to be above $850 million.

Sony already sold its stake for $768 million and Warner Brothers sold some of their stake for $504 million. Both labels, cashed up, distributed monies to their artists differently. Sony artists got monies paid as non-recoupable and Warner Brothers artists got the monies applied to their recoupable balances.

The VOX article gives a great example of why this happens:

When an artist signs with a music label, the label advances the artist some of the money it thinks the artist will bring in. Essentially, if an artist signs a $3 million contract, the label is saying, “We’re pretty sure you’ll earn $3 million in royalties in your first year of sales, so here’s that money early.” But that means the artist doesn’t get any more royalty payments until they’ve earned back that $3 million.

Whenever an artist hasn’t yet earned back an advance, they have what’s called “an unrecouped balance” with their label. As far as the label’s accounting books are concerned, the artist owes the label money.

So when a label sells Spotify shares — which means a big payday — it’s got two possible ways of sharing that payday with its artists. It can either count the money toward any unrecouped balances, or it can choose not to.

Sony decided that when it shared its Spotify money with its artists, it was going to ignore any unrecouped balances and send them the money directly, without applying it to their advances. Warner Brothers did the opposite, and applied the Spotify money to artists’ unrecouped balances before passing any of it along. In practice, that meant Sony artists got a big paycheck out of the Spotify deal, but the only thing that a lot of Warner Brothers artists got was the promise that they were a little bit closer to seeing an actual royalty statement someday.

For Universal, Taylor Swift is forcing their hand to distribute the monies to all artists regardless if they owe the label money or not.

Swift’s spirit here is the rock and roll spirit.

So how did a country artists who crossed over into pop become a rock star in ethos by standing up to the powers that be?

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” was the war anthem for a whole new metal/rock generation. But what are the rockers and metal heads doing right now.

Metallica with their label went to court against their fans, while Swift is seen as an artist standing up for other artists against the Copyright monopolies and greed of the record labels.

Like her or not, she had issues with Spotify and Apple over payments, and then probably realized it’s her label that was the issue.

Regardless, in true rock and roll spirit she asked for her music to be removed and it was. Until she decided it was time to put it back on, at the price she believed it was worth.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity

Missed Opportunities

The record labels and music news sites that benefit from reporting positive articles about the labels, talk about the billions of dollars the music industry made in the financial year just before Napster hit. So from a simple viewpoint, when Napster hit, sales of music started to decline. For the RIAA and the record labels, these two events correlate, so it implies that one is causing the other to move. But actually the sales of music have been falling for some time.

What happened during the 90’s just before Napster went worldwide was a lot of re-purchasing. This is people who had music on vinyl or cassette and they started to re-purchase the music they already owned on CD’s. These re-purchased items, in most cases re-mastered or super deluxe editions with bonus content at higher prices would skew the record label figures to make it look like new music was bringing in billions of dollars when in fact it was people purchasing old catalogue items of their favourites. And once you had those albums on CD, you didn’t really need to re-purchase them again.

Lars and Kirk from Metallica maintain that it was the right action to go after Napster. No it wasn’t. The right action was to build a business model to replace the gap in the market that Napster was servicing. That gap was basically to allow people to share their music collections (bootlegs and original recordings) in a very simple and convenient way. Napster got popular because of it, and the record labels should have created something to match it.

But the labels did nothing, and then a small company called YouTube did fill the gap that Napster was really servicing. And YouTube today, generates billions of dollars. These billions could have been in the profit and loss statements of the record labels but they messed up. Remember, we are 20 years post Napster, and Napster still gets talked about, while the record labels did absolutely nothing to counter it, except scream for legislation and gestapo like police powers.

So going back to Lars and Kirk, creating a service that allowed people to share their music was the best course of action and as YouTube proves a very profitable one at that.

The arrival of YouTube and eventually streaming services put a dent into the traditional sales model, however with the increase in people attending concerts and festivals, one needs to ask the question, did piracy assist in these increased crowds?

Iron Maiden came back with Bruce Dickinson, bigger than ever and played to sold out crowds in countries they’ve hardly sold any recorded product in. Twisted Sister and Motley Crue also came back bigger than ever post Napster and played to their biggest ever crowds until they retired. Did piracy assist in these concert attendances as well?

And what about Metallica?

Having their music illegally available on Napster basically made sure that their music was available in every place in the world that had an internet connection (it was the same deal for Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister and Motley Crue).

In other words, their music was worldwide, which of course led to more fans having access to their music and a correlation of super large concert attendances and highly ridiculous ticket prices to capitalise on their world-wide reach. Even Metallica sold out concerts in countries without really selling any recorded discs in those countries. In some countries their music wasn’t even available legally, only illegally.

And here we are in 2018, with the record labels still trying to kill the market gap that Napster serviced. In this case, YouTube is the one in the firing line. YouTube and Spotify should just become labels themselves and start financing the production of music themselves, the same way Netflix and Amazon create their own content and also license content from others. Then the argument will be different.

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Stupidity

Copyright For The Corporation

The standards of the recording industry and culture were set a long time ago. It was so long ago, people forget why it was brought in and as time goes on, we fail to preserve its original intent.

Copyright was designed to protect the artist and to enhance culture. The artist had a monopoly on their works, so they could make money and have an incentive to create further works. This was for a period of short period with the option to renew. Once the expiry date passed, the works became part of the public domain for future generations to build on and use.

But corporations started to rise because of these monopolies and what we have now is a copyright standard so far removed from what copyright was meant to be.

Hell, if a monkey uses a camera put in his enclosure and snaps a selfie, does he own the copyright?

This even went to trial and then to appeals and finally a judge ordered that the monkey has no right to the photos he took as the Copyright Office will not register a copyright claim if a human being didn’t create the work. This also means machine created art is not covered.

The actual text is works “produced by a machine or mere mechanical process that operates randomly or automatically without any creative input or intervention from a human author.” But a poem written by an AI was accepted by editors for publishing in a literary journal because they believed it was written by a human.

As the WSJ article states;

The question isn’t whether computers can own copyrights, but whether humans (or corporations) should be able to claim ownership of works created by computers. Copyright laws already provide that in the case of “works for hire,” the employer owns the copyright, even if an employee actually created the work. Shouldn’t similar reasoning allow copyright protection for humans who employ computers to create valuable works?

But corporations do claim ownership of works created by humans, so claiming ownership of works created by AI is just a matter of time and a few million to their Senate buddies on lobbying dollars.

And for over a century the record label has built up a history of owning songs it shouldn’t be owning. It’s ridiculous. An artist signs a deal, pays off all the costs associated with the album and somehow, the label still owns the copyright. The battle is happening. Check out the article over at Billboard.

“Why would a label be insisting on keeping a property that has stopped selling, that they don’t have any plans to re-promote except when the artist dies?”
Todd Rundgren

For those that don’t know, the 1976 Copyright Revision Act in the US allows the artists after 35 years to take back their copyrights after so many years, by serving the company that holds their copyrights with a termination notice. And even though artists are filing termination notices, so few are succeeding. For example, Duran Duran failed while Tom Scholz of Boston didn’t.

“Of all the creative work produced by humans anywhere, a tiny fraction has continuing commercial value. For that tiny fraction, the copyright is a crucially important legal device”
Lawrence Lessig

And it’s funny how the 1976 Act on purposely ignored all the different state laws for the pre72 recording, because those copyrights didn’t need any extra enforcement at that point in time. But for some reason, the pre-72 copyrights needs some extra beefing up in the digital era.

The Music Modernization Act will come into law in the US. And don’t kid yourself here. The songwriters and the actual artists will still not get what they are due. The Publishing Corporations will take their slice and the Label Corporations who still hold the copyrights will take their slice and the greatest generation of songwriters will still NOT be paid what they deserve.

There is poor record keeping from the record labels and the publishing organisations, but the blame is on the technology companies for not doing enough to seek out the songwriters.

Are they fucking serious?

I guess they are, because with this new bill, a new database will be created, paid for by the technology companies that will store all the information for the songwriters. But with every piece of government legislation, a monopoly is waiting to happen and in this instance, the publishing corporations will have a lot more influence.

And of course, the real purpose of this bill was to delay the copyright expiration of the pre-72 recordings, which based on the law in force at the time, should have been out of copyright a long time ago.

One thing the Act preaches is fair payment for songwriters from streaming services based on the database the streaming services create. And if artists and songwriters get what they are due, it’s good news, but if the past tells us one thing, the corporations standing in between like the labels and publishing houses, will not allow their billions to disappear.

Streaming services in every country are injecting hundreds of millions into the recording industry. Innovation is the key and getting more people to use these services will increase the pool of monies on offer.

But the publishing companies still preach the same rubbish. Something along the lines of “without strong copyright law which enables songwriters, performers and recording artists to control how their music is used and how they make a living from their creativity, the local industry will suffer and go backwards.”

Yeah right.

And at the moment the monthly price to use Spotify has remained the same for a few years. But we all know the recording industry is pushing for higher monthly prices as they demand more in their licensing arrangements with the service. So while streaming is injecting a lot of money to the recording industry, the recording industry is also doing its best to kill it.

All because a profit driven corporation owns the copyrights. In other words, corporations own culture. Maybe George Orwell was right all along.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Stupidity

Labels

Every industry has rules and the recording industry has a lot of them. And there was a saying once that if you followed enough of the rules, you would get a recording contact, millions of dollars and the red carpet. Perhaps one in a 1,000,000 pull this off. Actually you have a higher probability of being hit by a comet than making a lot of money in music.

So, the record labels wanted to maintain the sales model but they  got dragged kicking and screaming to downloads. Credit Apple for pushing it and credit Warner Music for being the first major to sign. Suddenly their revenues went up. But they still complained. They screamed to their friends in politics for laws to be passed. Then streaming came out and they got dragged kicking and screaming to streaming. They even got a percentage of the company and surprise, surprise, the revenues went up again.

Times are changing. Nothing will look the same in relation to labels and streaming companies in the next ten years.

Spotify is connecting tours to the Super Fans to sell tickets. The data tells Spotify who the super fans are, they share that information with the artists and they all come after us. Meanwhile, the labels owned and controlled the recording industry for a hundred years and they had no idea who the super fans were for their artists.

Seriously, the good times are just starting. There is a lot of people to reach with music and Spotify is connecting people to artists and along the way, they are paying artists every month providing an organisation (who might hold the copyrights for the artist) doesn’t get in the way and take the monies first.

For a fan, how good is it. Instead of playing the same album, over and over again, because we had so little product, we can now play the whole history of music. The only thing stopping us is time and distractions. On some days, I’m even confused to what I should listen to, as there is so much to select from.

As for the labels, they are not going away. Morphing more into marketing companies, who could help with your world domination ideals, but do you need them.

Remember that one of the biggest hurdles for any artist pre-internet was getting your music into a record store. It’s a much different today as every artist can get their music on streaming services for a small yearly fee and they can get paid direct from the streaming services and on a monthly regular basis. This is much different to the record label machine who used to do their accounting twice a year and be very creative with it at the same time.

And for over a century the record label has built up a history of owning songs it shouldn’t be owning. It’s ridiculous. An artist signs a deal, pays off all the costs associated with the album and somehow, the label still owns the copyright. The battle is happening. Check out the article over at Billboard.

Todd Rundgren wants his masters back.

“Why would a label be insisting on keeping a property that has stopped selling, that they don’t have any plans to re-promote except when the artist dies?”
Todd Rundgren

According to Nielsen Music, almost 70% of the monies received by the labels is because of older catalogue items. So giving back the artist their copyrights as dictated by law is bad business for the labels. As the article states, around 20 artists have reclaimed their rights from the thousands who are entitled to.

And the labels pull out all the tricks, like telling the artist they will pay them a higher royalty rate (which is useless if the label does nothing to re-promote the tunes) or paying the artist a large advance to hold on to profitable masters.

And as soon as Spotify goes public expect the majors to check out their ownership of the service.

Why.

All of their employees are focussed on the now, not for the long haul. And that is the label business.

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