2011: A progressive agenda for the music industry

I was prompted by the initiatives of the current UK administration to draw up an agenda for growth and renewal in the music industry. So here is a five point plan.  I put it here for comment and discussion. It’s probably not comprehensive, but hopefully it does sketch out a blueprint for a new architecture for the music industry. It might also be of help to other content and media sectors who are migrating to a digital market online.

1) Where money is made an artist must get paid – where money is lost, artists should not bear the cost.

Encourage the pursuit of big rogue pirate web-sites, discourage expensive and ineffective pursuit of music consumers who file-share. Put an end to parochial skirmishes with ISPs, collaborate with them to build a fully digital media industry. Reform the Digital Economy Act.

2) Protect artists integrity but set usage switches to “on” not “off”.

Reform copyright legislation to make it recognise that copyright is primary in respect of the creators right to attribution, remuneration and integrity, but that the power to control the online reproduction right is now fundamentally eroded.

Establish a direct moral right that connects an artist and their work (termed recently by Sandie Shaw as a  “mother right” –  this is law in France).
Encourage extended collective licensing that would fundamentally allow people (consumers and b2b) to use music at pre-agreed prices on pre-agreed terms.
Give artists the right to opt works in or out of this scheme.
Establish base-line levels of control around the integrity of a work (eg: not for use in advertising tobacco).

3) Restore balance of power in artists contracts:

Outlaw “life of copyright” contractual terms (this is law in Germany).
Enforce an international audit right, outlaw NDA terms around audits.
Make “use it or loose it” a standard term in record contracts.
Allow artists to sell their own work off their own websites.
Enforce artists ownership of their own “key domain” websites.

4) Be in business not anti-business on licensing.

Make it easier for us to have our music licensed and for third parties to license it:

Encourage bundling of rights offered at the licensee end and better management of payment systems at the creator end.

It should not be a trade secret who created what or who owns what rights in a song or a recording – it should be a matter of public record:

Demand the making public of key commercial metadata on all recordings, artists and works.  Support the creation of a networked global repertoire database, and demand the use of small amounts of public money to create the infrastructure to compel the data to be made open to public access.

Demand legislation to reform collecting societies. Demand the rapid merger of their data-gathering activities. Demand competition between them for service to their members to motivate them to increase efficiency. Ban the monopolistic hoarding of data subsets.

5) Get real with consumers.

Consumers want to and do copy privately, they mash up video and music, they mix tracks, time shift consumption of streams, transfer stuff from one device to another.  Let them – by law.

And… make it easier for the creative among them to explore the commercial opportunities that their work produces by making it easy for them to connect with rights owners who are compelled to be cooperative in licensing. See above.



7 responses to “2011: A progressive agenda for the music industry

  1. fascinating Jeremy… point 4 – ohhhh, I could go on about that for weeks… the archaic, territory specific, digital rights adhered to (because ‘certain – if not most – companies’ believed the internet works on territorial basis) for catalogue is nothing other than a breeding ground for piracy… a blood-boiling attitude… we want, you can’t have = oh look, its all over RapidShare and MegaUpload… grrrrrrrrr!

    This may be of interest: http://www.neilstorey.blogspot.com

    Best wishes

  2. Thanks Neil, great to hear from you! I do think that attitudes are starting to change a bit. I live in the hopeful mist of the optimist that we can help to change them and some of the practices that go with them a bit faster.

  3. Dear Jeremy,
    I don’t work in the music industry but I have followed its travails with keen interest. I have seen videos of your speeches; you strike me as being arrogant, naïve and not half as clever as you think you are. When I read your progressive agenda, I recalled the words of Gerald Kaufman on the 1983 Labour Party Manifesto – “the longest suicide note in history”.
    According to Brian Message and Fergal Sharkey, there is an investment crisis in the industry with talented young artists struggling to get access to capital. The record labels have cut back and investment funds like Power Amp or Ingenious aren’t interested in new artists. So what do you suggest? A set of proposals that will make it less attractive for investors to fund new artists. You seem to believe in “free lunch” economics – that if you further shift the balance in favour of artists and tech start-ups, capital will keep flowing to new artists when all the current evidence suggests that it won’t. You point to Germany and the banning of “life of copyright” contractual terms. How many global music stars come from Germany? Maybe there is a connection. Futhermore, your proposals cast doubt on your optimism over DIY solutions and crowdfunding. After all, if these avenues were as fruitful as you suggest there would be no need for your “pro artist” proposals; if an artist didn’t like the terms offered by a label or a fund, they could just go independent. Competition from DIY solutions would force investors to offer better terms.
    Finally, I question the assumption that artists get a bad deal. I suggest you read The Curse of the Mogul by Knee, Greenwald and Seave. Apart from the period of the CD/vinyl replacement cycle, being a record label has never been a particularly good business. Whatever contract an artist signs in the beginning, if they are successful they can always renegotiate (eg U2), effectively go on strike (eg Joss Stone) or break the contract (eg Tom Petty).The money gravitates towards the talent.
    Unfortunately, your proposals merely reinforce the argument made by Lily Allen during the filesharing debacle : the FAC is the rich musicians’ club mainly concerned with the interests of artists who already have a national or global fanbase built with record label investment. May I suggest that you focus on new music monetization strategies (eg branded virtual goods, ads in Twitter feeds) rather than arguing over a shrinking pie with investors who are already heading for the door.

  4. Dear Dogan,

    Thanks so much for making the effort to comment. I am sure that if you were to meet me in person, you would probably find that I am even more objectionable than your personal remarks suggest. But rude comments aside (and you have obviously spent far too long listening to MPs during Parliamentary Questions), you make some interesting points which I’ll try to answer.

    The only progressive agenda for the music industry has to be pro-artist because without artists at the centre of what you call “new monetization strategies” there is no future industry.

    I agree with Brian and Feargal, there is a commercial investment problem in music and it’s in two key areas:

    1) Music Services – most (but not all) technology companies trying to enter the music industry do so wishing to create consumer facing music services that depend upon being able to offer the full repertoire of music to be successful. The difficulty and high cost of licensing that music is a major barrier that has been erected for more than ten years by the major labels, publishers and collecting societies who between them control access to the repertoire. They see new entrants as both revenue streams and potential threats. They are very slow to respond to new business models. That is why major private investors have warned against investing in music. That is why in my progressive agenda I recommend making changes to the ways in which licensing works in order to make for more friction-free business dealings. At present to launch a pan-European streaming music service you would have to sign 30 different licenses. Unsurprisingly, there is no such service currently in operation. So the recommendations I am making are with the goal of breaking the log-jam, enabling innovation and creating new revenue streams that will fuel future growth for the industry.

    2. Investment in Artists

    There is a perennial imbalance of power between artists and publishers/labels. There are lots of artists and only a few investors in talent. Historically this has led to contracts which are inequitable. There are so many examples of this that I don’t think I need to cite chapter and verse. Fortunately, that is slowly beginning to change as more enlightened, progressive minded labels start to understand that their relationship with an artist can be one of partnership not of exploiter and exploited. My recommendations in the area of artists contracts are designed to speed up the process and to allow those partnerships to flourish. They are not anti-business, they are about ensuring a better balance to better align the interests of the individuals.
    I very much hope that new entrants will start to invest in artists again. They are more likely to do so if they are able to participate fully in artists’ careers as partners in all aspects of their careers not just in their recordings. But perhaps you think that artists should be treated as canon fodder for the economic engine? The numbers of artists whose success allows them to renegotiate their contracts is very small compared to the numbers who are continually tied to unfavourable contracts. I don’t see why anyone would object to outlawing arcane practices such as contractually preventing artists from asking to see details of financial accounting at an international level when they sign to a label precisely because of its global clout. These sorts of clauses which still exist in standard recording contracts are designed to obfuscate business relations and prevent partners from seeing how each other is making money. In an era of transparency, I think we should have legislation to prevent exploitation of that kind. That’s not about “free lunch economics” that’s about best practice in business and plain decency and honesty.

    One final point: The FAC is an artists’ organisation that represents artists at all stages of their careers. Of course newspapers tend to pick up on the star names rather than unknowns, but the majority of FAC members are young artists at the beginning of their careers. FAC had a disagreement with Lilly Allen and some other artists over how best to remedy the problems surrounding file-sharing. The result of that disagreement was a meeting at Air Studios of over 80 artists on all sides of the argument to try to find a solution that everyone could agree on. The FAC organised that meeting, the result of which was a triumphant consensus upon which all agreed. You can see the detail here

    That was a very positive contribution by the FAC, do give it your support!

    The music industry has been through a lot of pain and shrinkage over the last decade, but it is beginning to emerge in new and forward looking ways. Unfortunately, many of its systems and structures are still configured for the old industry not the new. Changing these things is hard and painful, there are still a few vested interests that would prefer not to see change, that is why some state intervention would help accelerate the pace of change and increase economic growth for all involved.

  5. Dogan –

    How can you expect one to take your ideas seriously when you preface them with character assassination? Do you know Jeremy? Have you met him? I have and he is a great person. Not arrogant, certainly not naive and very much more clever than most. You are a fool to start a post with such incorrect and unwarranted words. You are a guest here and you should use better manners and have respect for others. This blog is for real discussion of real issues. If you want to embarrass yourself by speaking that way – do it on your own blog.

  6. Thanks for the support, John!
    Do keep it clean folks. Or if we are going to have a flaming match – at least let’s do it with style…!

  7. The truth hurts.

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