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

The Power Of The Record Labels

It’s 1992.

Hard rock bands are becoming too generic and soulless, especially the newer breed from 1989 and onwards. The fans are looking for something new, but they still have their taste buds all over the hard rock/metal distorted cream.

Meanwhile, the labels are signing Seattle bands, left, right and centre, while they start dropping hard rock bands left, right and centre. Not only could the labels make an artist famous, they could also make an artist destitute. And back then, without the money and power of the label behind an artist, an artist would go unnoticed.

The power the record labels had to kill careers or to destroy styles of music.

So the artist would sign a deal and get a small royalty payment from the label. Today the artists would still sign a deal because they see the label as their ticket to riches, but instead the artists are now complaining of the low royalty payment of streaming services, but it is still the label keeping the lion share.

In other words, you give to get.

You give your rights to the label in order to get a chance at fame and riches. And there’s no use yelling at streaming services. They are not record labels, they are technology companies, using music to influence culture and grow their brand. Once their brand is big enough, they will do away with music.

Because seriously, which company wants to pay billions in licensing and be constantly in the courts?  

HBO paid billions in licensing, until it got to a stage where it was unfeasible and they had to start creating their own content. Netflix at first had only licensed content. And like HBO they saw that it was unfeasible, so they started investing in creating their own, and slowly doing away with the licensing.

Now, more than any time in modern recording history, an artist can do it themselves. They can record cheaply, distribute and get paid. So artists should build their own leverage and then they can decide what is next.

But we have lived in a world where the labels have controlled the narrative for way too long and MTV made everyone think that if they learnt how to play an instrument they will be rich and famous. The majority still hold this view and the minority that don’t, are the ones making it.

People talk up Record Day sales like they matter, when only the label is winning, while digital distribution can offer an artist new audiences in places where brick-and-mortar stores would be impossible or unsustainable, like foreign countries or rural areas. The end result is growth across the board. Nowadays it’s about reaching as many people as possible and eventually the money will flow in if you do it right. That should have been the role of the labels but instead it’s up to the techies.

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

The More Things Stay The Same

Back in 1999, the record labels argued that they lost billions of dollars due to file sharing via Napster. They came up with this figure by saying that one file shared is the same as one lost sale. 20 years later, they are still exaggerating the same BS. And politicians get lobbied hard and suddenly there is legislation to support the record labels business models.

As internet speeds got faster, file sharing then started on movies and TV shows. Suddenly, politicians had even more money thrown at them to pass legislation from the movie studios. In democratic lands, ISP’s are forced to censor the internet, courtesy of the movie studios and music labels, which is no different to what dictatorship governments carry out on a daily basis. And when ISP’s don’t censor the internet, the movie studios and music labels take them to court for facilitating piracy. And while this is happening at the hands of the entertainment industry, the government themselves are stifling free speech by raiding the homes of reporters or by keeping eyes on the public through surveillance. ISP’s are also meant to store text messages, phone calls, web searches and tower pings on its customers.

So much for trusting the good guys.

Meanwhile, the music labels today are raking in billions courtesy of streaming (which started off as a legal alternative to peer to peer file sharing, which brought in $0). This shows, that if people are offered a legal alternative at a price which is right, they will take the legal option.

And those streaming billions were not there in the past. It took a tech company to create this revenue stream, while the record labels (the ones who should have been doing this) decided that the only way they could make money again is to get laws passed to protect old business sales model instead of innovating.

And an artist wants to have a label deal.

Why?

The labels don’t care about you and all they want is to lock up your copyright forever, because without the rights of songs, the labels have no power and if they have no power they cannot negotiate these huge licensing deals with streaming platforms.

Even the movie studios like Disney lobbied hard for laws to get passed to protect their old business models. Then Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Amazon came out with streaming services and brought in billions of dollars that were not there before. And now Disney is entering the streaming market. Enforcement doesn’t work but better legal alternatives do.

And the record labels still complain at the price of streaming. They reckon Spotify should charge more and also do away with the free tier, but are too gutless to bring out their own streaming platform and charge the money that they believe customers should pay. So they bash on Spotify or YouTube or Pandora.

And when politicians leave office, they get a nice cushy job for the very firms that lobbied them hard to introduce legislation in their favour. And this happens in democracy, which brings to mind the “One” video clip from Metallica and the scenes from the movie, “Johnny Got His Gun”.

Little Kid – When it comes my turn, will you want me to go?

Father – For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son.

We might want to re-think what the hell we are fighting for.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Charts

I’m sure you have read or heard or skimmed the reporting of how Tool beat Taylor Swift for the Number 1 spot. High fives all round for the perfect execution of the album release.

Tool is in Week 1 and Taylor is in Week 2 of their respective release cycles.

My thoughts on the charts, is an industry holding on to the past. Combining physical sales with a certain number of streams which count like a sale. Come on, that by no means indicates what is hot or not.

Still selling CD’s and mp3’s, even though CD players don’t even come in computers or cars anymore. And mp3 players are obsolete. The iPod is dead. And the way my kids don’t even know what a Blackberry is, there will be kids in 10 years time who won’t even know what an iPod is.

Seen the article about how vinyl will outsell CDs for the first time since the 80s.

Does the majority care?

Of course not. The amount of people streaming is greater than the amount of people buying.

Streams are facts, harder to scam, but people still try. Streams give an indication of what people are listening to as there is no way for an artist to know how many times a CD or vinyl sale has been listened to.

And streaming pays forever, whereas a sale pays you once. You might feel rich now but you will be complaining in the future.

And the record labels have manipulated the charts from the start, because they know the media reports on it, like it means something. Maybe it showed how many records got sold once Soundscan came into force in the early 90’s, but before that it was based on how many albums got ordered by record stores.

And the last 15 years have shown us how the first week of sales are high and the stories are reported everywhere, but by the fourth week, it’s down to a trickle and by week eight, its underwater. And people move on. Music in general is more important than any particular album. It’s a sign of the times, the era we live in.

Sure, bands in the metal and rock genre create albums which sustain and reach some status, but it’s all because of a mathematical formula combining streams with physical.

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Music, My Stories

I Want My Spot-I-Fy

Streaming is here to stay. YouTube was the first unofficial and unlicensed streaming service and it got traction to billion plus users.

All because the record labels negotiated forever to get a stake of Spotify. And while YouTube gives users access, it also allows them to upload the music they have.

MTV had this kind of power once and the artists featured on the service went from nobodies to platinum stars especially during MTV’s critical mass period of 1985 to 1993.

Or if you built some momentum, MTV took your career from a small act with a core following, to platinum darlings. If you don’t believe me, Bon Jovi went from a 500,000 album band and a million debt to the label, to a 10 million album band.

But with any service which has critical mass, how can these services get artists heard as the labels and the publishers take in all the income.

Artists should be doing their bit to get users to Spotify or any other streaming service in the same way they did commercials for MTV, saying “I Want My MTV”. And they should control their own copyrights. They will get more of the share.

Netflix understood that they cannot run a business just by licensing content from TV stations and the Movie Studios. The same way HBO realized it back in the early 90s. So they started spending to create their own content. And they made a lot of money from subscribers doing it.

And of course as expected, Disney, one of the critics of streaming early on but also one of the main content creators right now, decided they need to get into the streaming action. Add HBO to that list and people need to pick between three streaming providers.

But the biggest users of the services are between the ages of 19 and 28. Technology has been part of their life since birth. A connected audience with everything being just a click away. And if music wants to put up paywalls and take away free tiers, they are putting up resistance to a generation who follows the path of least resistance.

Music is accessed everywhere. In a persons house, their car, the train trip home from work, at work and so forth.

Now it’s all about the song. The connected music consumer doesn’t care about the catalog of songs or albums.

As for Spotify, remember that here is no Spotify without the major labels giving access to their catalogs. It’s how the major labels got a stake in the company.

So if an artist is upset about Spotify’s payments, they should tell their label to pull out their catalogs from the streaming service.

But they won’t.

As for labels, they have been creative in their accounting to artists since day dot.

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

Take A Walk On The Stream Side

You can buy an album and never listen to it, however if you do listen to the purchased album, the artist has no idea how many times you played it.

Streams means you listened, and it tells the artist which song/s you listened to, even if it was in the background. It tells the artists from which area you are from. It arms the artist with tools to plan their tours.

And it’s rare that you will stream the whole album. You probably will only stream the songs which are your “hits” or if the album crosses over, maybe the actual hits.

And in the same way you cherry-picked your favourites and made that awesome mix tape, or CD once upon a time, you do the same in the digital era with a playlist.

And if artists want fans to buy albums, where do they expect the majority to play them?

Most computers don’t even come with a CD drive and most new cars also don’t have a CD drive either. As for those super expensive stereo systems from the 80’s, are now marketed to audiophiles.

And for iTunes files, its an overpriced offering compared to what is available. I stream and still buy some albums on CD throughout the year. It’s because I can’t stop buying. But the new generation is all about on demand and streaming. It’s a different market and artists need to adjust.

And if artists are waiting on just sales to get traction, they are operating in the old world. Without big streaming numbers, acts get no traction in the mainstream, but acts can have a career on the outer edges, satisfying their core, niche market.

Every artist should be getting their fans to stream. But we still get the voices against streaming services and how these services pay poorly. If that’s the case, you need to renegotiate your terms with the corporations which hold your Copyright.

But streaming shows your fans. If anybody is streaming your music a lot, they’re a fan, and they’ll pay to see you live and they will buy VIP tickets and merchandise and any special edition of an album you put out. Don’t you want to know that information?

And the chart that matters is one of listens. But artists still want sales and that number 1 Billboard spot (for bragging rights) and they package their album with tickets. Metallica did it with “Hardwired” and Jovi did it with their last two albums.

But seriously, is selling an album with tickets reflective of the albums success?

Of course not, it’s typical record label creative accounting. It might matter to the artist, but fans don’t give a shit. And remember, for an artist to have a career, it’s a relationship between fan and artist.

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

The Copyright Empire

I have a Google Alert set up for Copyright and everyday there are ten or more stories on Copyright issues, ranging from Ed Sheeran settling with artists over a copyright suit to a song of his which has become super popular, to Led Zep asking a judge to throw away the Stairway appeal, to local restaurants playing music and asked to pay for a Copyright licence, to parents breaking the Copyright law when they film their kids dance to music, to ISPs being asked to block websites, to Google being told to remove search links to certain sites, to people being charged with piracy and to whatever else the Copyright Industry wants.

If the above doesn’t tell you who copyright benefits, then reread it again.

You see when Governments get involved and pass laws around copyright, there will always be an entity or corporation that contributes no music to the public that will benefit from this monopoly.

The new emperor in town is the Music Modernization Act (MMA). If it will deliver more streaming revenue to music publishers and songwriters as stated, remains to be seen, however for it to happen their has to be a price contraction somewhere else in the recording business market or a price increase passed on to the customer.

As the Billboard article states;

Apple Music has already negotiated to pay a smaller share of its revenue to labels in order to offset undetermined increases to publishers, targeting a rate of 55 percent to labels.

So in this case, Apple will pay less to the labels and more to the publishers.

As the article further states;

Publishers, which have been getting 12 percent of Apple Music’s revenue, could therefore see their slice of Apple’s streaming revenue grow to 15 percent.

But …..

Those three big publishers are owned by the three largest record labels. So for those publishers to get more in their profit and loss means their owners will get less. It’s all the fucking same, isn’t it. The money is still within the creative accounting teams.

So how much more will songwriters really get?

It’s still a great mystery.

And these amounts the publishers get could be greater in the future because hey, judges are allowed to decide the rate regardless of the economic market. So lobby hard and get the rates you need.

Remember folks, Spotify is yet to make a profit and somehow they have higher rates to contend with. So Spotify has two options, keep their monthly prices the same and negotiate with the labels for a reduction in their rate (like Apple) or increase their monthly prices to cover these extra costs but risk losing customers.

But art is a relationship between artist and fan. And somehow these two parties cease to exist when corporations control the copyright monopoly. If the artist has no fans, there is no money to be made.

Another thing the Billboard article states is;

The MMA also mandates that unmatched royalties be divvied up after three years to publishers according to their market share, which could produce close to $100 million in new annual revenue.

Are you fucking serious?

This is revenue earned by the corporate copyright holder because they cannot find the original writers due to death, bad book keeping on behalf of the label and publisher and what not.

So instead of these songs being in the public domain as they should be, corporations are forming new income streams. All in the name of Copyright. All in the name of intellectual property.

What a fucking joke.

If you want to read about why we should stop using the term “intellectual property” around Copyright, then give this story from Aeon a read.

Because the recording and movie industries have tricked everyone into believing that artistic expression of an idea is like real property.

Remember how these industries linked downloading a song or a movie to stealing a car. It never was the same thing, but people fell for it. Even artists fell for the “stealing” part.

The article further states about how the limited copyright terms have sort of become forever terms;

Copyrights, intended to be temporally limited, have grown nearly without limit. Congress drastically increased copyright terms in 1976, and again in 1998. The latter piece of legislation was the infamous Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, passed thanks in no small measure to the Disney Corporation lobbying to retain exclusive hold over its ‘property’, Mickey Mouse, and not to allow it to pass into the public domain. Elsewhere, users of ‘intellectual property’ suggest that protections be passed on to a so-called heir: so that the notion of inheritance has been carried over from real estate and now, ‘copyright trusts’ battle for the intellectual property rights of the long-dead original holder, placing onerous restrictions on those who would seek to make derivative works based on material that should long ago have passed into the public domain. But if that rights-holder is not present, then the original motivation for that legal protection – the encouragement of the further production of artistic works by the artist – is clearly not met.

Damn right.

If the artist is not around then their creations should be in the public domain like the way it was up until 1976.

Basically there should be no Copyright transfer to the heirs as Copyright was created to encourage an artist to produce more works for a limited time monopoly. Not for heirs to sue other artists and use it as a pension fund.

I guess their building, empire, empire.

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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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