Every year, New York plays host to the NY Media Festival, bringing together many players in the local music scene to essentially discuss what changes are on the horizon. Participants include employees from Pandora, SoundExchange, iHeart Radio, Universal Music Group, Vevo, and more. There was even a “fireside chat” (sans fire) with Benji Madden of Good Charlotte.
This year, Dancing Astronaut was there to see if we could figure out what the hell is going on and how to get in on the action.
There were a couple things everyone agreed on: artists aren’t being paid what they deserve, labels still have the power, and relationships matter
Artists aren’t being paid what they deserve
One publishing executive noted that nearly 25% of mechanical royalties are being left on the table, meaning that independent artists without a team to help them collect on payments are missing out on the very little money they are owed in the first place. No wonder the cliche of the “starving artist” is still relevant.
Everyone at the conference seemed to be in agreement that a Global Rights Database is needed to solve this issue, but how realistic is that? Current holders of this information view it as their competitive advantage, so why would they want to give it up?
Conspicuously absent at this event were key players from Spotify, who is in a unique position to help solve this issue. The company has come under fire for not properly paying out royalties to all of its artists, but they largely place the blame on the “incomplete data” that they receive.
What they’re saying is: it’s not our job to own this data — that’s the Label’s job.
Labels still have the power
Let’s be real: if the labels came together and pushed for this Global Rights Database to happen, it would happen. Why? Because the three majors are still collecting the majority of recorded music revenue, and are the ones with money in bank to invest.
So why don’t they? It could be that because they have the resources to get paid on the content they own, they view it as “not their problem.” It could be that pushing for increased centralization and transparency would mean their own payment practices would come under scrutiny. It could be that because these are public companies, anything that doesn’t drive profit is viewed as a bad decision.
But these same companies will tell you that a solution is needed, it just has to come from somewhere else.
Ask any of the panelists how a person or company might go about changing this status quo and they will tell you: you need both tech savvy and industry relationships. Because while technology has disrupted the consumption experience of music, the power in numbers of the labels suggests that you need them on your side to make any change.
And how will you have the industry insiders on your side? You’ll probably need to have decades of experience working with those people. This is a group that has seen what Facebook and Google did to the advertising and publishing industries, and is going to do what they can to avoid the same fate.
In all likelihood, the requirement to “fix” the system might need to come from the government. Which might be tricky, considering the entertainment industry and the political system aren’t particularly on good terms at the moment.
Regardless, participants at NYME remained optimistic about this solution coming down the road (just not very soon). Companies like TiVo are already providing a backend data system for some of the largest music players like Pandora and iHeartRadrio. Entrepreneurs are looking to embrace blockchain technology at companies like Dot Blockchain Media and Ujo Music to create this decentralized database from the ground up.
No one is claiming that this solution will be easy, or that the players best suited to make the change will be the ones that do. But as long as people keep gathering at conferences like NYME, you can count on people continuing to try.