“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair
It’s the latest fad: rock stars hating digital music. Well, not really — it started with Napster. Back then, a lot of artists held their tongues, realizing that it would be mega-uncool to call their fans thieves just for being fans. Plus, the major labels had screwed them repeatedly, and it was schadenfreude to see them suffer because of their own greed and ineptitude.
Flash forward over a decade, and the labels have figured out how to continue to profit from gatekeeping access to the world’s music. Sure, they’ve seen their market share slip versus the indies, and now only own the rights to around 70% of recorded music. But they’ve once again managed to control the means of mass distribution, this time by dictating the terms of digital music streaming services so that they could not exist without the majors, legal or financially. (I’s also the reason why streaming royalty payouts are so low for most artists — the major labels, as always, take the lion’s share.)
The rock stars realize they’re being screwed again by the majors (what did they expect?) David Byrne is the latest to pile on While many famous musicians point the finger at tech companies ad exploiters du jour, Byrne’s piece rightly acknowledges the majors are culpable for setting the terms of streaming music. Nonetheless, he speaks in concert with many other high profile artists when he blames digital distribution of music for destroying music, saying “The internet will suck all creative content out of the world”. I respect Byrne as a musician and a well-spoken, well-written, thoughtful musical provocateur, but this is too much.
Most of the complaining is just reactionary vitriol, the same way journalists deride blogging, or photographers bellyache about Instagram. There were probably some pretty pissed off monastic scribes when the printing press came out.
The problem with creative professionals complaining about changes brought about by technology is that they’re focusing only on their careers. I don’t blame ’em. Only those with a laser-like career focus can find any long-term success in the creative industries. As it relates specifically to the music industry, I never would have expected vaudeville performers to welcome recorded music, or for Tin Pan Alley to welcome radio, or for the record and radio busiensses to welcome digital.
When rock stars and professionals make the digital music debate all about their paychecks, they not only pass culpability from the major labels that deserve it to the technology companies that enable freer access to music. Tragically, when music professionals make grandiose statements about how digital is killing music, they measure the decline only in the dollar amount of their paycheck, and they denigrate music in the same way the major labels do. They reduce one of humankind’s greatest evolutionary and expressive triumphs to mere profit, and they fail to ignore the benefit of digital music to everyone else.
Put simply, more music is being made and listened to than ever before. Digital music combines the best of recording (accessibility to high-quality music performances) with the best of radio (free access). It’s the best thing to ever happen for fans — and make no mistake, fans control the music industry, though more often than not they may not realize it.
There is no doubt the professional musician is on the decline, which is bittersweet. Most career musicians are working-class survivors, a group of ~50,000 musicians in the U.S. who have fought their way tooth-and-nail to profitability. Only a fraction enjoy profitable careers lasting more than a few years. A generally non-vocal majority of professional musicians are busy adapting to the changing market, but a handful of very vocal complainers are raising an awful stink about their shrinking paychecks. Again, I don’t blame them for being protective of their livelihoods — but look what good paywalling did for newspapers/journalists. Successful pro photographers found out ways to embrace Instagram, not fight it.
My biggest gripe with the anti-free access to music, professional musician mentality is that what little time it spends focusing on solutions, those solutions belie any understanding of the change that has already taken place, and ignore those who aren’t professional musicians — namely, the tens of millions of music fans that make their paychecks possible.
It’s absurd how many artists, Byrne included, just complain. At least crusaders like David Lowery are trying to articulate solutions, though they often reduce to useless catch phrases like “stop artist exploitation” or “piracy is stealing”. What is all this doing except making professional musicians look like entitled, out-of-touch geezers to their fans?
The other troubling development is that these activist musicians end up bolstering the exploitation-based business built by major labels, by virtue of the fact that major labels control the market. Every dollar musicians fight to earn back by more strictly enforcing copyright law is $99 that goes into the pockets of the labels. Even the labels are finally realizing after 125 years of fighting piracy, that the War on Piracy is like the War on Drugs or the War on Terrorism. To the extent that battles can be won, the cost of doing so — both financial and in the hearts and minds of fans — is unsustainable.
What these money-focused musicians miss is so obvious: it’s not about the money. As Henry Rollins said, “I’d rather be heard than paid.” This is not something that only professional musicians feel. Every musician feels this. Even fans feel this. And I think what every professional musician needs to realize is that their careers are transforming because digital technology awakens the musician in all of us. Music professionals no longer enjoy a monopoly on the title of “musician.”
Free access to music empowers the amateur and the aspiring musician to earn income on scales that were not possible before. It reverses the trend of music without context — instead of digital files floating around in the cloud, creators are now compelled to create imagery, video, and other media around the music, enriching the fan experience.
Free access to music is blurring the line between fan and musician, creating a new culture of creator-consumers, remixing and mashing up several generations of recordings to create a new art form. They curate playlists to become the new DJs. They sample at will to electronically create entirely original compositions with embedded links to music history.
Free access to music rebalances the world of music more toward performances, away from the hegemony of the recording. In a post-scarcity economy, copies of performances lose value, original performances gain value. This rewards the generation of new music without having to rely on messy copyright law. EDM is explosively huge, and so much of it exists outside the copyright exploitation paradigm.
Free access to music allows musicians to focus on what’s really important: their relationship with their fans. Gone are the days when fans were measured in dollar amounts. Success in music is now measured in attention, in engagement.
Free access to music de-emphasizes the ethically compromised business model of copyright exploitation in favor of direct fan patronage. It may not scale to gold records, but the only people that seem to care are the rock stars, and those that still believe in the rock star myth. And if you’re hell-bent on copyright exploitation as your main source of revenue, there are plenty of academic studies showing free access to music increases sales of access to music.
I get that it’s counterintuitive — especially for professional musicians — to see their disappearing careers as a good thing. But it is. You just have to consider that music is bigger than the ~50,000 professional musicians in the U.S. There are fifty times as many musicians creating music right now for no money, and waving it all away as crappy music is a defense mechanism. They are finding their audiences. They are supplementing their income and breaking even. They are being heard even if they aren’t being paid. And if they’re really good composers, performers, recording artists and entrepreneurs, they are getting more chances to be heard, more chances to build a career.
There is no doubt that free access to music is inevitable — if not here already — and will continue to be the major force in reshaping music. To the detractors and complainers, I’m afraid the question of whether that’s a net benefit to humanity has already been settled. The fans have spoken. They want the music back.
Here’s the dirty little secret you probably haven’t read much about: Look more closely and you’ll quickly realize that the music industry is 75% controlled by four labels. Musicians are not the majority rights holders of music — four labels are.
Does that make any sense in an age when the cost to produce, market and grant access to music is a fraction of what it was 15 years ago?
For the other 25% of rights holders, vinyl is huge. For indies, vinyl is a shining beacon of hope. For independent musicians, vinyl is becoming super-important to their bottom line. For these musicians, charging for access to one’s music no longer makes sense (it quite literally makes cents), particularly when attention is a form of payment in the Digital Age. A chance to be heard is a chance to be paid. A chance to be heard is too valuable to paywall for the 25% who don’t have huge stables of lawyers and lobbyists, or enormous marketing budgets and payola arrangements to manufacture popularity.
For those who don’t know of Feedbands, what they do is allow users to vote on a vinyl release for the month. They then pick a winner, press up their EP, and send it out to all their subscribers for the reasonable price of $14.95. For the bands that make the cut, it can be a huge windfall of new fans, not to mention Feedbands cuts them a nice check and does the pressing free.
What I love about Feedbands, and what will save the music industry (at least the 25% that matters), is not the vinyl records themselves, but the ethos:
We at Feedbands believe that music is essential and should be shared.
This simple sentiment has been completely lost on piracy-obsessed blogger-musicians at The Trichordist and I Am A Scientist, who believe sharing music is akin to stealing — a concept that came and went over a decade ago. And anyone who thinks RIAA and IFPI have musicians’ best interests in minds is dangerously out of touch.
There are two simple reasons why “killing piracy” will never save the 25%, or the 75% for that matter.
Instead of incentivizing fans to pay by offering something they can’t get free off the Internet (vinyl is just one example), they would rather kill the free access discovery process in order to get a tiny minority of those fans to pay 30% to the digital distributor and then let the money trickle through an exploitative label contract. They want to increase the deadweight loss and alienate the people in a position to support their careers by dictating the terms on which their art is appreciated. It’s not a winning strategy. Vinyl is.
I don’t need statistics and studies to tell me vinyl will help save musicians. My band raised over $4,300 on Kickstarter to fund vinyl production. Every musician I talk to now is excited by vinyl. It has reintroduced scarcity (vinyl is often released in limited collectible editions feature awesome art and crazy coloring), but more importantly, it’s a way for fans to express their love for a band financially and get something tangible in return.
Some people will tell you that modern digital files sound great and the sound quality of vinyl does not make the difference. I’m not sure what to say to those people. I’m no vinyl snob, not even a collector, but even I can’t argue that for many types of music, vinyl just sounds better. I was so blown away when I heard our band’s vinyl after we got it back from the plant, I went out and bought a record player. Say what you want about sample rate, but analog audio is natural and digital sampling ain’t. You can’t argue with a brain that evolved over millions of years to interpret a continuous sound signal vs. a purportedly indistinguishable succession of digital samples. Whether it’s the “warmth” of the intrinsic distortion of vinyl or any other trick of physics, the sound speaks for itself.
There’s something else the haters are missing, and that’s the ritual of vinyl. Even with cassettes and CDs, there was a ritual. We’d have to select the physical media from our collection, and place it in the physical player, and then we had to listen. Straight up, true fans want to listen to music.
People are having religious music experiences upon hearing vinyl. I first heard our vinyl album on cheap computer speakers via a USB turntable, and it still sounded better than my hi fi car stereo. The ritual helps establish the attention to listening, so I’m not sure how much of it is psychological, but our brains are all we’ve got so I’m going to listen to mine.
The cost of production, marketing and giving the public access to music has never been lower. There are more independent vinyl pressing plants today that before most of us were born, and you can get 250 records pressed up for about $1500, then turn around and sell those for $15 apiece minimum. Higher quantities yield higher profit margins. It just doesn’t even compare to the margins on streaming and downloads, which are only going to shrink as access to music is bundled with telecom service and mobile contracts. With enough litigation and legislation, the major labels might be able to get a bigger cut of streaming revenues, but good luck seeing that income trickle down into all but the most previously successful musicians’ pockets. Isn’t the purpose of copyright to create a healthy music culture, not enrich creators who are no longer relevant creatively?
There’s one more log I’d like to throw on the fire, and it’s last but not least. Fans know that when they buy vinyl, the money is generally going to the artist. Fans know that when they buy digital, a good chunk goes to a large corporation simply for serving up the file. They’re just about as happy with price-fixed digital files as they were with price-fixed CDs.
In this business of music, who are we trying to save exactly? The multi-billion dollar media conglomerates who write off their recorded music losses against military-industrial complex cash cows? Or are we trying to save the actual musicians responsible for creating the music we love?
Nobody wants to save the music industry, the 75% owned by the big four. Well, the pro musicians who profited from it do. The lawyers and lobbyists do. The executives who successfully manufactured the popularity of 1 out of 10 musicians they singed do. But I’m not sure how much clearer of a message fans could send to the music industry than a $3B loss.
To be clear, vinyl alone will not save musicians, inasmuch as they need saving. Last time I checked, there was more music being made and listened to than ever before in history, and so-called “piracy” was still rampant. There are other important revenue streams that copyright-obsessed musician-bloggers like to ignore. Crowdfunding and tipping are growing exponentially. Licensing has never been more in demand and accessible. It’s never been easier for a musician to cut out the middleman on all kinds of merch and physical product and make huge markups. Live music generates more significant revenue now than it has in years. Fans are still paying musicians, they’re just over paying for access. Musicians make music to be heard first, paid second, so where’s the conflict in digital technology finally making that dream a reality?
If you want to save musicians, buy a record, burn it to MP3, and share it with your friends.
Hang out for a few minutes and I’ll tell you why Grooveshark may be more ethical than Spotify.
Brief History Lesson
By suing Napster and its kin out of existence, the music industry elite created a “soft landing” for its multi-billion dollar business of selling access to recorded music. They couldn’t kill so-called music “piracy” (also known as song sharing), so they killed the nascent technology companies that tried to build a business around it.
To what extent have musicians benefitted from this business model? Until access to music became free, it was our primary revenue stream. But too often we got such a small piece of the overall pie. The record business was never particularly ethical, with its exploitative contracts, shady accounting and history of corruption.
Free access to music wiped these ethical dilemmas off the table with one click of a mouse, giving us a new debate over the question of whether music should be free to access and share.
Notice I didn’t say “free music”. Music isn’t free to produce or market, though costs have dropped considerably any way you spin it.
At the time of Napster, music suddenly was free to access with an Internet plan and a computer. It took the industry hundreds of millions of legal and lobbying dollars to finally stop the bleeding. In 2013, the slow death of physical media has been largely offset by the rapid growth of digital after a precipitous $3B drop.
The corporate music industry would be quick to tell you that suing innovative digital music companies and individual file sharers was all about protecting musicians’ revenue, that they saved our bottom lines. This is the same industry that coerced us to sign exploitative contracts, that price gouged and price fixed consumers, that bought off radio to play the same songs on repeat.
But musicians are starting to wise up as they see the bottom line on their streaming revenue reports. To be fair, Spotify (and iTunes) pay roughly 70% of its revenue to artists (more accurately, “rights holders”, which are primarily the labels who exploit the artists’ copyrights). A lot of the negative reaction can be chalked up to failures in long-term vision — as the decibel point moves right in our royalties, the multiplier grows exponentially. But the current streaming royalty system clearly favors the big four major labels over the short and long term, because it is harder for independent, unsigned and emerging musicians to compete with their massive back catalog of perennially popular music and marketing budget to match.
Some musicians are coming around to bridging the art/business divide and becoming entrepreneurs themselves. They’re sick of having to rely on someone else exploiting their rights for increasingly less money. The Internet allows direct fan patronage in the form of crowdfunding, tipping, or selling both virtual and physical products from one’s own website. Home studio production is getting cheaper and better. Licensees are hungrier than ever for the latest music. Marketing is as easy as creativity > strategy > click. These aren’t empty catch phrases like “downloading music for free is stealing” and “piracy is bad”, these are realities clear to any musician working in the field today.
Yes, there will always be artists who dare not sully their art with business concerns, but they are an increasingly lonely breed. The new musician adapts to the meager streaming royalty stream not by petitioning for higher royalty rates from Pandora, but by embracing business models with far more promise than selling access to recorded music. If only the record business elite would step off. But there’s billions at stake and they like their yachts. Who can blame them? They’re the last generation of the American Dream and they don’t want to wake up.
Really? What about “a digital world that rewards the gatekeepers between artists and creators”. That’s really what the IFPI is concerned about. It doesn’t represent the interests of musicians, it safeguards the commercial exploiters of musicians’ recorded music copyrights. Let’s tell it like it is — the money trickles down through the cracks in their multi-billion dollar pavement. The markup on music remains artificially high to justify the expense of major label production and marketing. They also need to even out the variance from gambling on bands like derivatives traders.
What’s concerning is to see musicians jumping on the IFPI’s bandwagon, supporting the suing of technology companies, demonizing their own fans for sharing music. I mean, what do these musicians think is going happen? Are we going to all of the sudden roll the music industry back to 1996 when a CD cost $14.95 and you were forced to buy 9 crappy songs for every hit single?
“Of course not,” these skeptics will tell you. They love new technology, it just has to be applied fairly to musicians. Technology companies, they say, are even worse than the exploitative record labels, because they want to use your music for their own gain and pay you nothing!
It’s not even remotely that simple. Of course, there are plenty of digital music companies exploiting musicians’ copyrights. But it’s precisely because we’re still working within the model of copyright exploitation established by the labels.
Grooveshark is an exploiter. Spotify is an exploiter. And on the face of it, Grooveshark would appear to be screwing artists far worse than Spotify. Google has decided to blacklist them from certain search functions under pressure from the IFPI and its minions to fight so-called “piracy”. But Grooveshark has only been convicted in the industry, not in the court. They’ve literally been blacklisted from the industry for daring to question the status quo of corporate-hijacked music law and technology.
Corporate Hijacking of Music Law and Technology
The majors and some indies have refused to license their music to Grooveshark. As a result, the majors are trying to sue Grooveshark to death just like Napster or all of the other -ster’s they shut down with copyright infringement lawsuits. We know how well that worked — unauthorized song sharing only grew more popular. The industry’s well-documented and cyclical fight on piracy is the same kind of endless war the US is engaged in overseas. The industry has been fighting it for 100+ years and the only true goal has been to co-opt the developments of independent innovators rather than truly eliminate piracy, which is quixotic. (See the book Pop Song Piracy.)
Spotify and its ilk only use officially licensed music. But what happens when the legal system is broken? Copyright is supposed to protect our right to profit from our labor and to express one’s personhood. It’s also supposed to promote social and cultural welfare, and benefit the greater good by making creative works accessible to the widest possible audience. The cost for access is supposed to be high enough to incentivize creators to keep creating, while low enough to prevent a large deadweight loss, depriving the least amount of citizens from access to the work. These are the moral and economic foundations of copyright, and they’ve been hijacked — just like the political process, the food supply and our media — by large corporations.
In 2011, the four major labels controlled 88% of the market share for recorded music. That’s enough to make the Monopoly Man jealous. These labels own the rights to the vast majority of the music we listen to, and use their enormous legal and lobbying resources to keep it that way. It’s not some sort of conspiracy, it’s standard American capitalism, and the American way of music business is increasingly the way of the world.
Don’t Bring Back the $14.95 CD, Bring Back Napster
People rallied around Napster for two reasons. One was that it made it possible to access all of society’s recorded music for free. The second was that many music consumers knew they themselves were being exploited by major labels almost as much as musicians were. They witnessed a history of major music industry settlements for price fixing, price gouging and payola. They heard the stories of great musicians suffering because a label coerced them into an onerous contract. They paid $14.95 for one good song.
The music industry was incapable of embracing a world where all of society’s recorded music was available for free, even if that’s clearly what consumers wanted. (Most people at this point will say, “of course that’s what people wanted, people want everything to be free” to which I reply, “Yes they do.”)
As a quick aside, I believe music is closer to a necessity than a want — closer to food, affection, sex, shelter, etc. than a new TV or a Snickers bar. As a society we should endeavor to provide free and fair access to music — a Right to Music — on a humanitarian level. (Follow the link for more.)
Free access to music is good for musicians for one simple reason: An opportunity to be heard is an opportunity to be paid. Anyway, the best musicians make music in order to be heard first, paid second. The motivating factor of copyright and the potential of being the 1 in 10,000 musicians that become a rock star have been greatly exaggerated. If copyright law evaporated tomorrow we’d still be making music. That the music industry lost half its value and we have more artists creating more music than ever before is testament to this fact.
Grooveshark vs. Spotify
This all relates to the Grooveshark vs. Spotify ethics question, because Grooveshark is pretty much the only company of its size that believes access to music should be free (or nearly so.)
Spotify, and the dozens of other streaming services (many of them restricted to certain geographical regions because of licensing rights restrictions) believe that the way to save musicians is to increase payments to the labels that exploit them.
Let’s contrast two opinions, the first from IFPI chairman Domingo:
“…policymakers better understand that the internet does not make music “free”.”
Here we have a straight-up threat by the IFPI to stop funding politicians’ re-election campaigns if they don’t pass legislation protecting major labels’ ability to exploit musicians’ rights for maximum profitability. Spotify et. al. would agree with this statement. As we’ve observed, just because the Internet provides free or near-free access to music, that doesn’t make the production and marketing costs of music zero (though costs have inarguably dropped significantly).
Storm the Gates
It seems we are left with two solutions. The one proposed by the IFPI is to protect the gatekeepers by charging a monthly subscription fee for access to music.
I have no problem with this business model, nor do I think should musicians.
I had no problem with it back in 2000 when Napster brought us the technology and proposed the exact same business model. But too many salaries built from exploiting musicians were on the line, and they were sued out of existence. It wasn’t done for the musicians. It was for the executives, the lawyers, the lobbyists and the other business associates at the multi-billion dollar multi-national corporations. Any musician who thinks these companies have their best interests in mind are deluded. It’s not entirely black and white — I’m sure there are plenty of employees who do good and mean well. But even the legends that deserve our respect, like David Geffen, eventually had their ethics compromised by commercial forces. A cursory glance at music industry history clearly demonstrates why gatekeepers between the artist and fan are a really, really bad idea from an ethics standpoint.
Musicians had no choice but to put up with it to get paid. This is no longer true.
Let’s contrast Domingo’s threat with Grooveshark SVP Paul Geller’s vision on where the music industry out to be headed:
“…I think that we have to be creative about how to get more money into this ecosystem, because I don’t think anyone sees those numbers [streaming payments] and is really inspired by them, I think people look at them and say ‘well this is a soft landing for the music industry,’ it’s ‘hopefully we don’t have to lay off too many people.’ And that’s why I think that Grooveshark is out there trying to be creative about how to infuse the industry with more money in ways that I don’t think are commonplace right now.” (from Digital Music News)
Grooveshark’s technology and innovation was neck and neck with all the other streaming music sites a few years ago, prior to having to dedicate an enormous chunk of their time and revenue to fighting legal battles with the majors. They recently rolled out some nice new features to compete with the Spotifies, but it’s clear they are living in a legal and fiscal nightmare. Their CEO Sam Tarantino admitted as much while doing an interview for Grooveshark’s new Broadcast feature. I can only surmise by statements like the one above that the people at Grooveshark truly believe they are fighting the good fight. And why shouldn’t they?
Grooveshark does pay artists, it’s just that they haven’t reached a licensing deal with the majors because as of yet they’re unwilling to bend over far enough. To Grooveshark, the majors are just trying to extort them and screw musicians anyway.
If you’re an independent artist or label, you can register your music with Grooveshark and they will pay you a share of their advertising and subscription revenue. These payments may be even smaller than what Spotify can offer, but Grooveshark is also much smaller, and draining their pockets just fighting to exist. Legally, they are in the right, because the DMCA allows for a safe harbor to exist for copyright-infringing, user-generated content, provided the company removes this content upon request and the platform has other significant uses beyond so-called “piracy” (really just unauthorized sharing of songs… does that sound so bad?)
Nobody knows right now if Grooveshark will give out and sign away their seemingly sinking ship to the majors, or if they’ll keep fighting the good fight until the courts deliver a predictably narrow, safe harbor-eroding decision. Law was never good at keeping pace with technology.
Toward a Two-Way Music Industry
The majors would like to continue collecting 88% of the market share for recorded music (and then pay a fraction of it to musicians because they signed exploitative contracts at low points in their career). How does consolidating wealth in media gatekeepers accomplish the IFPI’s mission of achieving “A digital world that rewards artists and creators”?
This fits into the larger context of corporations and governments trying to kill Internet freedom. Ask yourself, “Why wasn’t radio two-way? Why couldn’t the listeners also be the broadcasters? What about television?” At a glance this seems to be a technology and cost issue, but it’s not that simple. There are powerful commercial forces that ensure these technologies are developed in a way that maximizes profit for corporations, creators and consumers be damned. That’s why we have a long history of gatekeepers in all creative industries, not just in music.
The Internet changed all that with one simple feature — the consumer is now also the broadcaster. Large corporations have spent the last 15 years trying to litigate and legislate their way back to one-way media. Discouragingly, they continue to make gains every day.
This is why I believe Grooveshark may be the more ethical approach on balance. Spotify may talk a good game on paying artists. They may be expanding the pie we take our little piece of. And we can’t rush to conclusions that just because a single stream payment looks small today doesn’t mean it will add up in the long haul. Ultimately, any discussion of musician’s revenue share is taking place within the context of what their revenue share will be after the technology company takes their 30%, and then the label takes its majority share. Spotify and the IFPI are really only innovators in repressive legal maneuvers and artist exploitation. They’re profiting from a 15-year-old idea Napster first realized.
How can I say Spotify and the IFPI are exploiting artists when they’re trying to collect more money for them? Because it perpetuates the old model of exploitation on new technology. It’s repeating the same cycle of co-option that happened with the phonograph, with radio, with cassettes and with CDs. It’s a smokescreen to prevent you from thinking like an entrepreneur, from adapting to free access to music, from finding new opportunities to profit without the gatekeepers and stealing their market share. They desperately want to continue the same systematic exploitation and price-fixing that the record industry has been guilty of for the last 100+ years.
Grooveshark is more ethical because it rejects this corruption. They aren’t saints. They’re certainly pariahs. They haven’t figured out how to improve upon tiny streaming music payments, but they’re trying so hard they’re sacrificing their personal lives, their livelihoods, their reputations and quite possibly their sanity.
The vast majority of musicians will see no significant increase in revenue until the major labels lose their market monopoly, and their revenue share drops considerably. In this sense, Grooveshark is using loopholes in the DMCA to kick the IFPI in the nuts — pretty much its only defense against the obscene legal might of the industry elite.
As a musician, do you really think the IFPI or Spotify (if they can stay in business) are going to solve your revenue problem? Of course not. They’re looking out for #1: the record industry elite.
The solution for musicians is to start looking out for #1 too. That means building a culture of entrepreneurship. That means direct patronage from fans via crowdfunding and tipping. That means cutting out the gatekeeper and giving fans exclusive access to products that are still scarce. Selling access to music is no longer viable, and only by corrupting copyright do corporations make it so. The ethical foundation of copyright is sound, but it has been corrupted.
The greatest lie told by the IFPI is not that their mission is driven by musicians (they have musicians in mind, maybe, but certainly not a priority). The greatest lie told is that they are somehow going to bring musicians back to a world where they were fairly paid for their labor, where they are free to express their personhood without exploitation, where society can access and share music freely, and where more music of higher quality and greater diversity is listened to with greater frequency.
That world never existed. But it can today, with free access to music as the great equalizer.
The only way to fairly solve the musician revenue problem is for musicians to reject the century-old system of exploitation and fight to keep the Internet free so we can build a new culture and economy of direct fan patronage and musician entrepreneurship.
This comment was posted to a blog post by Tunecore CEO Jeff Price which launches both personal and professional attacks on Grooveshark. Grooveshark’s CEO Sam Tarantino quickly shot back with 6 reason by music should be free, all six of which I agree with. Tunecore makes its money charing a flat $50 fee to musicians in exchange for digital distribution (and 100% of royalties, minus the sizeable chunk the distributor removes). Grooveshark is an ad-supported global jukebox. Unfortunately, they have become a scapegoat for the low compensation musicians are receiving from digital music, when really this is a problem endemic in the industry.
I was so incensed by Price’s hollow and mean-spirited diatribe I had to respond — you might want to read the original post to put the following in context:
To say that Tunecore “does not earn its money off the sale of the music” is preposterous and misleading. Who is drinking whose own Kool-Aid here? You may charge a flat rate, but without digital music sales (ie if music were freely distributed as it should be), you would not be able to charge a fee.
This is a classic case of “the dinosaur’s tail doesn’t know its brain is dead yet.”
As a musician, I always appreciated the service Tunecore provided as a cost-effective way for musicians to “play the game”. But it’s alienating diatribes like yours that bring me closer to the conviction that a world of free music is the inevitable and far better solution.
How about you stop whining and use some of those profits to fight for a better deal from iTunes etc. for artists?
The current system does not compensate us fairly, from the top (Eminem) to the bottom (most musicians). You do nothing but make it easier for us to be compensated unfairly.
Yes, of course musicians want to be paid for use of their music. That’s called licensing. Listening to music via the global jukebox is a different and fair use.
You’re completely missing the point. Those of us who have already accepted that music will and must be free don’t care if Grooveshark is banking off our streams. They provide an incredible platform to distribute our music! What is the alternative, $0.005 per play? Musicians simply don’t feel the way you characterize them in your post, and I for one resent it.
I’m sorry you’re not in the 360 licensing or concert businesses. I don’t think Tunecore has much of a future with the rotten, condescending attitude you’re displaying. I don’t hear an ounce of fighting for musicians in your argument — how about using some profits to lobby the digital distribution cartel for a much-deserved greater royalty for artists? Or do you just spew ad hominem attacks and vitriol at your competition in hopes that mean words will make the problems with your business model go away? I certainly won’t be returning as a customer.
Anonymous announced today (in another silly voice-garbled video with the typical grammatical errors) the shady but righteous group has built a prototype of the “Anontune” digital music service. It’s based a simple idea: there is a ton of freely streaming music on the internet spread out across YouTube, Soundcloud, Grooveshark, Bandcamp, Last.fm and hundreds of other sites. Anontunes seeks to aggregate all of these sources into a single interface that can search and locate these streaming files with the ease and elegance of iTunes.
Tomahawk is an open-source hacker project, just like Anontunes. It pulls streaming music from multiple sources. And it manages to do all this in a slick iTunes-esque software client that features social integration. The code and API are well-documented and there are already apps being built on the platform.
The Anontune white paper brings up a number of important ethical points concerning why digital music should be freely accessible. I’m excited to see Anonymous join the fray — the are fighting the good fight as Davids against the Goliath-run corporate oligarchy. And to give them credit — Anontunes has a pretty cool research agenda in addition to its media consolidation goals. The idea of using a ‘global jukebox’ to data mine peoples listening and discovery habits could drive digital music consumption through the roof. But the streaming music aggregator — I’ve heard it before, through my speakers, running Tomahawk.
Tomahawk has the polish of Limewire in its prime — well put-together but still not child’s play. Anontunes is so rough around the edges I don’t think anyone but other hackers are gonna bother. There’s another expected and familiar Limewire-esque problem: the catalog is polarized between widely available popular music and obscure stuff you’ve never heard of. And there are bugs aplenty, particularly because the technologies they’re aggregating content from are always changing.
The RIAA may have their claws deep enough in digital music to control the global jukebox through Spotify and other officially licensed services, but give Tomahawk and Anontune a few years and you’ll once again be hearing about grandmas having to settle with the major label music cartel for $25,000 because their grandson listened to an American Idol single on her computer.