BBC Introducing Masterclass

BBC logoBBC Introducing Musicians’ Masterclass was held in London, Salford, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast on 21st March. Take a look at the sessions here.

Maida Vale

Glasgow

Cardiff

Salford

Belfast

 

Why streaming sucks

spotifyAs soon as digital copying became inevitable the record industry decided they could lock-up music delivery. Their first effort, the in-house SDMI consortium, failed. Subsequent attempts to use third party DRM also failed. CD copy-protection was a disaster and after a few years Amazon, then Apple, dropped DRM on downloads.

Streaming is the current plan for locking up music and breaking the retail power of Amazon and Apple, although it is not new. The customer never owns streamed music unless they pay again, and when their subscription ends no music has changed hands. This is called “access” rather “ownership”. The first comprehensive Major label streaming service, Listen, launched in 2002, it is now called Rhapsody and has about a million subscribers.

I have always been sceptical about streaming as a mass market substitute for music sales although many access evangelists would disagree. UMG expects streaming services to have 2 billion subscribers one day but after a decade there are just about 10 million, worldwide. Here are the main reasons why I think streaming has to change beyond recognition to succeed.

Premium pricing

Streaming subscriptions are priced as a premium product. That is, they are priced at twice what the average music buyer spends. And yet streaming doesn’t have a premium feature set: it is audio-only, it is not 100% reliable, its music repertoire and added-ons (e.g. band biographies, ticketing, lyric sheets, artwork, merchandise, etc.) are limited, new music is often delayed, and each service requires its own subscription. If you change services you lose everything, nothing is portable—you can’t share a subscription.

The record industry also hopes streaming will facilitate “music discovery”. A reliable music discovery service would be a premium product, if it worked.

The final drawback is that this premium product returns the smallest reward to its artists. This matters because music fans care about their favourite artists in a unique way. The most popular social media figures are not politicians, record company bosses, games designers or even media celebrities, they are music acts. Fans want to see artists rewarded fairly and artists want to get the market data they need from middlemen.

Either the price must drop—probably to $2.50 a month or less—or the product must change.

Audio v. YouTube and the rest

There are some audio-only situations: driving, jogging and background listening for example. Streaming—given suitable playlists—is a suitable product but it faces competition from radio, which does the same thing free.

Audio is only one aspect of today’s multi-media world. Artists play live, make records, make video, sell merch, blog and tweet. Any audio-only product is severely limited, especially when YouTube and other resources are just a click away. Why would any buyer blow their entire music budget on access to audio-only in 2013?

Streaming music repertoire

Daniel Ek likes to say Spotify has everything, everywhere but it doesn’t. There are still some big name holdouts but even without them there’s a lot of music missing. All the online music services offer about 25 million tracks out of the 100s of millions that have been recorded.

Streaming might be OK as a mass market product with just the chart music from the past 50 years, but it doesn’t even have that. And even if it did, chart music radio has that niche covered.

(Last year I tried the Apple Cloud music product. The repertoire record companies and digital aggregators make available to Apple, Amazon, Spotify and others is very similar. About 25% of my 11,000 track library was not matched by Apple.)

Streaming music reliability

Streaming music services depend on mobile carrier up-time and coverage, Internet availability, server up-time and device up-time.

I have seen many streaming evangelists claim they don’t keep any other music but we all experience Internet and mobile network down-time. Anyone who has a streaming subscription will have service interruptions. The evangelists can obviously live without their music because they will have to from time to time.

I have iPods, computers, CDs and mobile phones. I always have something that will play my music and I even have several copies of my digital library. It seems likely other music buyers in the premium market will have similar resources these days.

Music discovery

Many people have tried to crack music discovery: Peter Gabriel’s The Filter, Amazon’s collaborative filtering (“people who bought X also bought…”) and so on.

But music discovery is something we do, not something done for us. Here’s some of the places I discovered new music I like recently: cinema trailers, radio, YouTube, email from friends, Twitter, music media reviews, DVDs and TV. These sources help me discover music and lend context to it but they don’t do the discovery.

In short, anywhere music happens or gets discussed is a place where it might be discovered but streaming services are never going to offer this as a premium feature because nobody can.

Streaming sucks

OK, 10 million people pay for it and 20 million others like it enough to endure the adverts. Record companies get extra income and probably see it as a win but it’s not exactly taking off. Recently one of my favourite music biz economists, Will Page, moved from PRS to Spotify, and another, Ian Rogers, moved to Beats. They know what’s what and can point the way forward. But serious disruption is necessary if streaming is ever going to not suck.

What’s wrong with DMCA, ACTA and all that?

The name on the box doesn’t matter if the contents do something else

I’m no freeloader. I don’t have an iPod full of bootleg tracks. I don’t have much time for the shenanigans of either Big Content (“the web is eating my lunch”) or Big Technology (“copyright is breaking the web”). Or freeloaders. If I represent anything besides myself it’s artists and their rights, and consumers and their rights.

We’ve heard a lot of noise from both sides of the Big Web Content battle and seen a lot of legislation and legal activity too. Big Content has been suing everyone it can think of and Big Technology has been facilitating infringement in as many ways as it can. The impact on artists and consumers is what concerns me.

“I have confused things with their names, that is belief.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Yes, it’s my old favourite. I’m not saying Jean-Paul would come down on the same side as me but I think he had a point. Behind the rhetoric are vested interests—actions speak louder than words. I simply don’t trust the motives of the record industry or the Internet lobby. We have seen what they say and we have seen what they do. It doesn’t add up.

The DMCA provides a safe harbour for web sites that (ostensibly without knowledge) host infringing material, on the understanding they will remove it when they know. DRM (from SDMI through the Sony rootkit fiasco and beyond) was intended to safeguard digital copyrights. More recently we’ve seen SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and many other proposals kick up an almighty row leading to no solution at all. And I’m sure there will be more (some variant of 3-strikes under ISP police is popular at the moment).

I support the record industry taking copyright infringers to court, whether or not it made sense they were entitled to do it. On the other hand the damages they claimed (in one case more than the annual earnings of the USA) were ridiculous. And their preference for settling overblown amounts without testing them in court wasn’t right. They had a righteous cause but treated the accused as if they were guilty, without trial.

Likewise the Internet lobby had a reasonable case for DMCA, it sounds rational, then we saw how Google, Grooveshark and others used it. The man in the street can’t get material removed from YouTube, even a journalist on The Guardian can’t get infringing material removed from Grooveshark. Google keeps record labels sweet by taking down their material on demand—even when it turns out not to be theirs at all. But what good is the DMCA for you and me?

When Big Content brought ACTA forward I didn’t trust them because we see how they use DMCA. ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, sounds like a good thing but we already had an international IP treaty, WIPO. Shouldn’t IP trade sanctions refer to that?

Where has all this legal noise got us? Is copyright better protected? Does the Internet offer us a great music experience? No and no. And while old and new vested interests wrestle each other for control of web content their propaganda is echoed by media pundits who take one side or the other. The debate is a classic establishment puppet show—self-serving outrage and mumbo jumbo.

If that debate mattered much I’d get stuck in, but I don’t think it does. This whole mess is being resolved slowly by events, not the pipe-dreams of big business academics and bureaucrats. Both sides are quite mad and they are both losing the war. Increasingly what matters is a new music economy with no big business champions or media voice, one that grows while the others shrink.

Creative Commons isn’t magic

creative commons

This is a response to a Wired Opinion article by Ryan Singel Dear Facebook: Without the Commons, We Lose the Sharing Web.

Creative Commons isn’t the only way for a layman to license and it’s not particularly flexible. A longish and interesting Twitter conversation with Ryan was inconclusive so here, without the 140 character limit, is what I think and why, and some background.

First, I should say I’m not pro- or anti-Creative Commons, I just don’t see a use for it. For readers who don’t know, this is where I stand, broadly, on copyright. I speak informally for artists and fans (nobody else) and I favour enlightened copyright protection for music and so-called “file-sharing”. I grew up in an age of free music radio and liberal sharing of recordings. I oppose copyright maximalists, anti-copyright lobbyists, Big Content legislation, Big Technology legislation, the DMCA system, DRM and its lovechild subscription streaming, and many other things.

I exploit copyright in this blog and on my web site. I allow public educators, students and certain others to copy and reproduce my work freely—some (normally web businesses who don’t ask) are made to take it down, and that has happened. I do this without Creative Commons or legal professionals. Copyright as it stands is flexible enough. It gives creators a default set of rights but how they enforce them is their choice.

If we imagine copyright as a volume control which comes set at 10, the rights holder can choose their own level anywhere from 10 to zero. On the other hand a CC license comes set at, say, 5 or 3 and is less easy to change.

CC is not an alternative to copyright and it is not anti-copyright, although many people think it is. Creators (authors, writers, composers, performers, etc.) who oppose copyright should simply make their work public domain. Creative Commons is not for them. CC is a set of boilerplate copyright licenses (no different in principle to other blanket copyright licenses) and it does only one thing the rights holder in the street cannot do—it provides legal wording for certain fixed licensing circumstances.

For creators like me, the cottage industry if you like, legalese is something of a shrug. I can read licenses and contracts, and I have successfully advised artists against record labels, but I don’t use any technical wording myself. I have never needed it. Independent artists I know online exploit their copyrights the same way (including sharing) without legalese and without Creative Commons.

Plain English is easy and copyright law is not hard to understand. My “licenses” say: you can use it; you can’t put it on your web site; you must credit the source; and so on. We know nobody ever reads their iTunes terms and conditions, are they more likely to read a CC license? Musicians can and do say: buy one share one; pay what you like; share freely; you can remix it; please give me credit; etc. I can hear the blood draining from lawyers’ wallets as I say that, but hey, it works.

Ryan says:

By creating legal frameworks for licensing content in more flexible ways than traditional copyright laws, Creative Commons became a core part of the original Web 2.0 movement.

Sharing, re-mixing and permission to do it predates Creative Commons. I can see no aspect of CC that is equal to the flexibility and effectiveness of plain language and the imagination of creators.

Of course, from a user’s perspective, rights that curtail free exploitation might be inconvenient.

On Ryan’s broader point, I care less about Facebook and its dwindling relevance to music than about Creative Commons so I happily leave that question to others. But it seems to me anyone publishing content by submitting it to the permanent flux of social network site T&Cs could perhaps seek a simpler solution.

Another music biz links post

The mid-to-end August pick of my Twitter lists and general browsing is this. I read everything I retweet or post in these round-ups so if your music biz interests vaguely coincide with mine you should find them interesting and sometimes infuriating.

Interesting looking trailer from Musformation.com about a forthcoming video.

Wired UK French culture minister thinks Hadopi is a waste of money—France’s three-strikes ISP infringement policing under threat.

CMU Most stakeholders satisfied with Universal’s EMI concessions, but some push for more the UMG/EMI negotiations drag on.

Search Engine Land How YouTube Will Escape Google’s New Pirate Penalty Google said they would degrade search rankings for infringers… apart from YouTube of course.

CMU YouTube top music source for young Americans, though CDs still selling a big noise a week or two ago was a report revealing that young people use YouTube for music a lot.

Billboard.biz Updated: Jeff Price, Peter Wells Out of Tunecore astonishing news the public face of Tunecore has left the building. Users will be feeling unsettled, Jeff is a great champion of DIY and indie artists.

Buzzsonic A useful collection of music infographics, cartoons, etc. Adrian Fusiarski’s Pinterest page.

CMU Streaming revenues growing fastest, though overall music spending still declining—there was a report by Strategy Analytics about streaming and physical sales. Interesting but limited to the usual not-comprehensive sources.

Digital Music News A Breakdown of Every Single Dollar a Major Label Makes… in this case WMG, including publishing by the look of things (I thought Warner publishing was separate).

All Things D TuneIn Creeps Up on Pandora, With 40M Active Listeners a web radio aggregation app grows large.

Prescription PR Is social media really that helpful to bands? refers to a Guardian article asking the same about authors of books.

Paste Infographic: The Best Record Labels (2004-2011) good infographic showing record sales by year by label, not for the colour blind though.

NPD Group Teens Credit Word-Of-Mouth Most Reliable Shopping Source the No Shit Sherlock award this month goes to NPD for discovering word-of-mouth is how most teens pick up on the music they buy.

Daily Herald Spotify, Pandora spur U.S. digital music sales past CD purchases—another press release, about digital overtaking CDs, again. Nobody knows when or if this has happened. So many tracks and albums are not monitored.

Music Technology Policy Interview with Andrew Shaw of PRS for Music on Negotiating with Google a guest post by Jonathan David Neal revealing what happened behind the scenes with Google and PRS.

TorrentFreak The Copyright Industry – A Century Of Deceit Rick Flakvinge’s summary is useful and accurate but I don’t agree with his conclusion.

New York Times The New Rise of a Summer Hit: Tweet It Maybe how social media is pre-empting the old record label and radio hit-making process.

DGM News A Letter To Lucien Grainge by Sid Smith at DGM (Robert Fripp’s music company). UMG/EMI still confused about their non-ownership of the King Crimson catalogue after 19 years.

Soundboy Where free streaming music lives 2012 Ian Hogarth of Songkick analyses his online listening. I’m interested in this because a lot of music biz people claim to be Spotify-only (“I don’t have any CDs, just Spotify” what?). At least 25% of my record collection is not on any streaming catalogue, Spotty included.

Hollywood reporter Newt Gingrich Settling Lawsuit Over Use of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ good discussion of the legal grounds and case histories of liberal musicians suing Republican candidates.

Barry Sookman Fair use for Australia? informative look at Fair Use in Australia and elsewhere.

New York Times Pandora and Spotify Rake in the Money and Then Send It Off in Royalties

August links, articles and news

I’ll be distracted by Logic and music for a while longer, so no time for ‘proper’ blogs at the moment. In the mean time here’s a bunch of links from the first part of August. I have posted some of these—among many other things—on Twitter already. The big news of the month so far is the second part of Hooper’s copyright report with proposals for the Digital Copyright Exchange, now called the Copyright Hub (see below).

GigaOM Freemium has run its course another theme of the month has been the decline of Facebook and the growing flaws in the ad-supported web site economy.

Bandcamp Merch! Bandcamp adds merchandise functionality to its already excellent and rightly popular indie music store.

Ars Technica Apple’s case that Samsung copied the iPhone—in pictures

Wired UK French culture minister thinks HADOPI is a waste of money (that’s 3-strikes in English).

Wired UK How Apple and Amazon security flaws led to an epic hacking is a must read which reveals Apple IDs and Amazon credit card details are very easy to break into. The promised follow-up article did not appear yesterday but I will look out for it.

Hypebot Billy Van went from 2,000 to 100,000 fans (Case Study)—but the metrics exclude anything I would consider meaningful growth. It may be there but I can’t see it. Some of the comments also ask revealing questions.

All Things D TuneIn Creeps Up on Pandora, With 40M Active Listeners

The Atlantic How you turn music into money is another article about the truly spiffing DIY goddess Zoe Keating.

Dangerous Minds A statement by Nadya Tololokonnikova (Pussy Riot)—making our punks look rather tame, Pussy Riot will probably be jailed for calling out Putin as a faux democrat and the Russian Orthodox Church as political poodles.

The Telegraph Musicians getting ‘more than half of royalty income from online streaming’ was probably the hyperbolic story of the week—some musicians may be but the whole thing seems to have been cooked up for PR, there are few hard facts and no overall stats.

Music:)Ally Interview: DIY musician Alex Day talks fans, the irrelevance of radio and why YouTube changes everything

And finally the second part of the Hooper Report analysed by Out-Law.com New UK ‘Copyright Hub’ would help address problems with copyright licensing framework, report says with a link to the pdf of the IPO report itself.

All your © are belong to us, part 4

How ECL would affect composers, songwriters and recording artists

We don’t yet know if music will be included in extended collective licensing under the new law. PPL and PRS appear to be interested but I’d argue there’s no significant body of music without a collective license that’s not already available to the public.

If ECL does apply to music then any music user would be able to ask PPL and PRS (MCPS) for a license to any piece of music. Unless owners had opted out a license would be granted. Of course, this is pretty much how PPL and PRS think today. If you ask them about using music they generally say you need one of their licenses and most of the time they’d be right but there are works which are controlled by other owners.

Which raises the question of how such material, and its owners, would be identified, whether they were members or not. I looked at some of those questions in part 2. And you might ask where this material would be found—I mentioned some of the sources of music  not yet licensed to third parties in part 3.

The supposed principle of ECL is that “not yet licensed” material can’t easily be licensed, so we must assume these ECL works are unidentified in some way. It’s easy to see where there’s a mass of such material—it’s all over the Internet. Without any positive ID it’s hard to see how opted-out works could possibly be excluded.

So a music user will license this unidentified work from an ECL society, that seems inevitable, and the ECL society will record the money paid under that license against the sparse information it has about the work.

In part 2 I mentioned some ways the world of ECL might track this more complex system of owners and works but it seems hardly likely anyone will bother with that. The simplest and cheapest solution for the industry would be to operate an extended black box of unclaimed license fees. At the moment most black box fees come from unidentified work used by a blanket licensee but in future specific licenses for unidentified work would be included. (A new EU proposal says black box income should become the societies’ money after 5 years.) That would not be very different from the way things are now. PPL and PRS black boxes would be full of unidentified funds but the unknown owners would now be deemed to be members.

MCPS licenses would also be granted without proof of ownership, so the black box would be extended further (I might be wrong but I can’t see how MCPS has much black box at the moment apart from mass duplication like JOL or library sync returns, but maybe it does).

I don’t see any of this as much of an issue for existing members. Their works, whether identified or not, would accrue license fees although the ease of licensing might mean the black box and the job of sorting it out becomes somewhat bigger. They would also be at risk of losing the “first use” of material they created. As things stand the creator normally gets the first option on their own material and that would be tricky if unidentified leaks became licensed under ECL.

The problem would be worse for non-members, it seems to me. It’s their work ECL is being created to hoover up—they are the target of the new law. By their nature non-members are a diverse group of savvy opt-outs, somewhat less savvy newcomers and perhaps the odd would-be-member. Does it really make sense to grant licenses for their material?

Deliberate opt-outs—who I pointed out would include thousands of Creative Commons owners—have decided they don’t want their stuff used under an existing society collective license, but that’s exactly what would happen, and it would be legal. Maybe unidentified CC works already languish in society black boxes but at least they’re not there because the law says they should be.

Newcomers are another group that deserves more care. They probably don’t know the ramifications of royalty collection by one society or another, in one territory or another. They may not even understand that an ECL blanket might make their work available for a Macdonalds advert, a water cannon manufacturer’s corporate video or a drug-themed dance music compilation. It seems rather monstrous that the state—which previously respected their inherent right to decide what happens to their work—now intends to turn it over to whoever wants it, for any purpose.

Especially when it’s most likely already available online for any who wants it other than commercial users.

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