A Goal: Performance Royalty Accountability In 2012

By George Howard
(follow George on Twitter)

Imagine a scenario in which the moment you create a piece of music it is: digitally fingerprinted and registered (with the Library of Congress, and your PRO). Imagine then that when that music is used in a TV show, this usage is immediately detected, and the public performance fee you are owed is immediately transferred to your bank account.

Sound too good to be true? Well, the reality is that the technology for just such a scenario described above exists.  Additionally, we clearly have motivated buyers and sellers to make this happen.

However, instead of moving toward a system like the one described above — a system of transparency and accuracy — we continue to bumble through a system that really hasn’t changed in the last 100 years or so.

If we’re to have any optimism towards the business of music continuing to grow — in an era when music creators have seen their revenue from sales go from roughly $7 per sale for a full album, to fractions of pennies for a stream of the same album — we MUST push for innovation in the measuring, collecting, and paying of music usage.

I recently met, Scott Schreer, the founder of a company called TuneSat.  In talking with him, my optimism that we may indeed be tilting toward not only a healthy music business, but one where songwriters can flourish, has been greatly enhanced.

This is not an ad for TuneSat. I’ve not used the service, and while, based on my limited exposure to him, Mr. Schreer certainly is a very smart and passionate individual, I simply don’t know enough about him or his company to recommend or not recommend it.  I do, however, feel strongly that it’s worth your time to check out and make your decision.

Rather, TuneSat represents a tangible example of how technology might alter the economic fortunes for composers, artists, and publishers alike (anyone that has an interest in a royalty stream).

Music used in TV, at last count, accounts for $800 million of the $2 billion distributed to composers annually by the PROs in the US.  Additionally, music used in TV represents something akin to what radio used to represent for artists: exposure that can lead to sales/streams of their work, ticket/merch sales, etc…

No one can deny that the goal of many musicians is to have their music used on TV.  However, the vast majority of musicians are woefully under-informed about how the process works.

It’s not their fault.  As stated above, it’s an old and outmoded system; one that pretty much defines byzantine.

For instance, question one: how much do you get paid when your song is played on TV? Impossible to answer.  The variables are many: is it a theme song, what time of day was it aired, are there vocals on the track, is there anything else surrounding it (people talking, etc…), is it background instrumental music.  Beyond these, one massive distinction is whether or not the song is what’s called a “featured registration” or a “non-featured registration.”  A featured registration is essentially a song that has a band or artist associated with the track (i.e. a song that was released on a CD, available from iTunes).  A non-featured registration is a work that was written specifically for the TV show or ad.  This distinction becomes very important when you realize that a featured registration earns the writer six to ten times what a non-featured registration earns when it’s broadcast.

These and other weighing factors make a huge difference to the bottom line of the rights’ holders whose music is used on TV.

However, there’s yet another problem. Mr. Schreer informs me that as much as 80% of all music that’s on TV is misreported.  This means that music is being broadcast on TV, and the author (or copyright holder) is not getting paid the correct amount (if anything).  Typically, this misreporting occurs as a result of human error in conjunction with the byzantine classifications used by the PROs in order to calculate weightings (and thus payments).

TuneSat’s goal is to use fingerprinting in order to reduce this number.  Even a fractional reduction when you’re dealing with $800 million represents tremendous value for artists.

I hope that they pull it off.

As we can see all around us (from the financial world to the Arab Spring) institutions that eschew transparency are crumbling.  Technology is making it increasingly difficult to obfuscate the flow of information.  As we increase transparency, we reduce transaction costs, and thus increase profitability for artists.

This is truly our best hope. As the barriers of entry for broadcasters come down, and an increasing amount of music is streamed, rights holders have an opportunity to make up in volume what they are losing in margin, but only if we increase accuracy in collection, reporting, and payment.


George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee.  He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650

A Conversation With Frank Bell & Deej Hofer: The Making Of “Everything Falls Into Place”

In August of 2010, musician Frank Bell and producer Deej Hofer were introduced through a mutual friend and decided to see what music they could create together.  Their collaboration immediately proved successful, as the tracks for Frank’s latest album, “Everything Falls Into Place” did just as the title suggests.  Read on to learn about their studio dynamic and how the album came together.

Without using the words “pop,” “hip-hop,” or  “soul” describe your sound.
Frank: The sound a bendy straw makes when freshly bent. The sound a soda can makes when first opened, but mic-ed through a Vintage ’57 Fender Twin.

Deej:  The warm, excited feeling you get when you pick up someone you love from the airport. The wistful longing you feel when you take them for their return flight.

Burgundy-colored melodic hooks riding inside gritty, lavender grooves.

Let’s talk about the new album Everything Falls into Place. What was (or were!) your inspiration(s)?
Deej: Initially, my inspiration was Frank.  I watched some of his you tube videos and thought “Damn, he’s so raw, so much soul, I love his songwriting instincts.”  We started talking and trading playlists…with everything from  Al Green to MGMT to Adele to James Blake to Danger Mouse…and everything in between.   And, during the process of making the record, it was really unbelievable (and magical) how many times we would be discussing a song that we liked, and would then immediately hear the song on the radio, or over the loudspeaker at the restaurant we where at.  That’s one example of how, ultimately, the inspiration came in real time.  It was woven into the process itself, and it was amazing.  We inspired each other, and were inspired by whatever invisible forces that were helping us.

Frank: Yeah, I totally agree.  And from a message standpoint, I’d add this: Making this record inspired me to take a journey where I looked deeply into my experience as a man, a human, and an artist.  One thing I believe is that we are ALL searching for some sort of purpose, whether we know it or not.  And, I feel like one of the things I’ve learned is that purpose comes from accepting the good AND the bad, the heartache AND the joy.  Deej and I had a lot of long sessions together, exploring this sort of thing together while making music, and at some point it became obvious that we where creating an album that expressed that journey in song form.  So, my hope is that this record reminds people (and myself) that the journey is worthwhile and, eventually,  “Everything Falls Into Place.”

How did you end up working together on it?
Frank: Odd as it is, Deej and I are both from Atlanta, but actually met each other a year ago in Bozeman, Montana!  We were introduced by a mutual friend, Yarrow Kraner, who runs Hatch Fest, a festival where I had just appeared as a groundbreaker artist.

Deej:  Yeah, my music studio is adjacent to Yarrow’s film studio.  He sent me an email one day saying “You gotta meet my buddy Frank.”  Yarrow has an unbelievable knack for attracting really creative, talented people into his life and to Hatch Fest, so I knew Frank must be worth meeting.  The next day, I stepped outside for some fresh air, and there was Frank.  It was a sunny day, and as we looked out at the Bridger Mountains, we started a conversation that set us both into an unexpected direction for 2012.

Frank: We decided we should work together on something. At first, we weren’t sure exactly what, or to what extent, but we knew we should try it and see where it took us. It started off as a 3-4 song EP.  As we dug into those first few tracks,  Deej and I started hinting to each other that maybe the project should be bigger.

What was the collaborative process like?  Did you each bring ideas to the table originally? Or did things fall into place organically when working together?
Frank:  Ah, I see what you did there, madam interviewer.  Did things: “fall into place”?….nice!

Deej:  To begin with, we picked a few songs from Frank’s catalog. I demoed some production approaches that felt like they resonated with the connection we had made.  From there, it was a collaborative, creative firestorm.

Frank:  Yes, everything pretty much did just fall into place. From the creative side of things, nothing was really “calculated.” Our focus was on recording good music. Music that speaks, that is honest, and that has a message. Music that we would listen to. This record is about life, genuine life. We’d bounce ideas off of each other, and the songs eventually individually took on a life of their own and became what is now the full length album.

The song “Home” is one that sticks out in my mind.  We wrote it one night when Deej got a very sobering phone call right in the middle of a session.  He stepped outside to talk, but I could feel the emotion in the conversation, even though we were separated by walls.  He came back in, sat in his chair, and stared at the floor.  There was this whole mood of intensity and sorrow.  I picked up the guitar, on the verge of tears, and started strumming.

Deej:  I was waiting on a follow up call, but in the meantime, I picked up a guitar as well, and grabbed a pen and paper.

Frank:  We ended up writing “Home” that night. Then, there was “Alexandra,” which we wrote in one 5 hour sitting while doing a live webcast.

Deej:  Why didn’t we record that webcast?

Frank: Because I couldn’t find the record settings and I figured not much was going to happen.  Oh, well!

Deej:  We could go on and on about each track on the record, but the last one I think I’d like to mention is “Shades of Grey.”  Super strong track, in my opinion.  I (poorly) recorded Franks album performance, just as a demo to play around with, but ended up falling in love with it.  I just threw up a mic and hit record.  But, Frank ended up KILLING it, and it was clear that we’d never get something like that again.  The guitar and vocals that you hear are Frank’s first, and only,  take.  A couple small overdubs later, and the track was produced.  Mixing, on the other hand, was a total pain because of the way I had haphazardly recorded Frank.  But, at the end of the day, the magic of the moment totally translated.  And really, that’s what this record is, a collection of many different magic moments.

What were some of the challenges/obstacles you came across in the creation of the release?
Deej:  Where to begin? There was the mystery-medical-condition that landed Frank in the hospital unable to walk for 3 days, or that “pajama party” that resulted in having to cancel those critically-timed vocal sessions, or my computer conveniently breaking down (and having to be rebuilt from scratch) right in the middle of mixing, or my lovely (and very supportive) lady finally kicking me out of the house and telling me to go live at my studio until the record was done because I was so obsessed…there was also private, personal tragedy for both of us…the list could go on.  But, somehow, I think it all ended up actually benefiting the record.  Isn’t there a saying:  “you have to suffer for your art”?  We sure as hell did.

Frank:  One of the most consistent things that was an obstacle was scheduling and time management.  During the year we were doing the project, I was traveling back and forth between Los Angeles, New York, and Amsterdam for shows and other projects.  Deej had other various other little production gigs he had to juggle.  It was important for us to align our schedules whenever possible and make the best use of our time when we were together, which meant a LOT of late hours! Implementing technology helped immensely, using services like DropBox to share media files and other things while on the road.

What kind of studio equipment did you use to record?
Deej:  We recorded (almost) everything on Pro Tools 8, and I mixed on Pro Tools 9, though I just got the news brief about Pro Tools 10, and sure wish we had had that 6 months ago.  I think it would have really expedited things.

I have a small collection of hand-wired boutique mics, the Pearlman TM1 being the one mostly used for Frank’s vocals.  I mostly used mic pres from API and Universal Audio, although there were a couple of occasions where I  borrowed Great River Pres, and the Metric Halo UlN-8, which totally saved the day for those particular uses.

I really wanted to capture a sound that was decidedly vintage, and modern, all at once.  I had plenty of analog Joo Joo going into Pro Tools, and most of the mixing was done “in the box”, with an occasional track being routed out to a Distressor Compressor, a Universal Audio EQ or an LA-2A.  Franks vocals almost always had an LA-2A on them, sometimes in the box (with Waves), and sometimes outboard.

For the mastering, I got Brian Lucey (Magic Garden Mastering) on the job because I was very impressed with the mastering he did for the Black Keys’ Brothers album.  Ok, I’ll quit geeking-out about gear now.

Frank:  What about that crazy looking machine with all the different colored lights that looks like it’s from a 1950’s sci-fi movie?

Deej:  That is the secret weapon.   And that’s all I can say.

Did you have a marketing plan in place for the album release?
Frank:  I’ve been really lucky in that all of the marketing for my career has happened very organically.  I started uploading videos to YouTube a few years ago, and the next thing I knew, I got featured.  Things just grew from there.  You meet a fan on the road, and they tell their friends.  Or you send out a tweet, someone gets curious and checks you out.

Deej:  Frank totally forced me to get a twitter account.

Frank: “Forced” is a strong word.  I simply signed you up without your knowing it and emailed you your log in information.

Deej: I finally started using it a couple weeks ago.  I tweeted to all ten of my followers when the record came out!

Frank: But seriously, it all comes down to connection.  The music speaks for itself, and you either connect or you don’t.  Luckily, I’ve connected with a lot of folks and built a fan base a step at a time, and I like it that way.  It’s real.  That said, we are engaged in trying to get the word out by encouraging viral campaigns.

Deej:  That’s another way of saying, if you’re reading this, please give the record a listen. And if you genuinely like it, share your discovery!  That’s the best marketing.  Also, the new indie model has largely benefitted by placements in Film and TV.

Are there any placements in the works?
Deej:  Well, I’m not at liberty to say much right now, but if you get connected on the social media, you’ll be kept abreast.

Got any new projects you’re working on?
Frank: We’ve already started a discussion about another record.  Also, there are some collaborations,  remixes and mashups being explored.  And pretty soon here, I’ve got to get back on the road.  If I go too long without playing shows, I get anxious.  Its part of why I love being an artist.

Deej:  True Dat.

Frank:  I don’t think you can say that, you’re not black.

Deej:  Word.

Learn more about Frank Bell

Follow him on Twitter

Become a fan on Facebook

Check out Deej Hofer’s site

Follow him on Twitter

TuneCore Artists Featured In Digital Stores – October 2011

Radical Face – iTunes U.S. Indie Spotlight Free Download 10/4

TuneCore Sale Feature  – iTunes Indie Spotlight 10/11

JJ Heller – iTunes U.S. Singer/Songwriter Page 10/11

Crooked Still – iTunes U.S. Singer/Songwriter Page 10/18

Mongomery Gentry – iTunes Newsletter 10/20

Coasting – eMusic Newsletter 10/21

For the full roundup of TuneCore Artists featured in October, check out our slideshow below…

(To view larger images, click on them and head to our Flickr page.)

The Government Giveth, The Government Taketh Away

By Jeff Price

Over the course of history, it was decided that people who made their ideas tangible –like songwriters– should make money.  So they made up a bunch of really esoteric, hard to understand rules­ (aka laws) on how it should all work.  The foundation for these laws can actually be found in the United States Constitution. The rules built on this concept get updated from time to time, but ultimately the foundation of the six legal rights that a person gets when he or she creates a copyrighted work, by making a song tangible (meaning it’s recorded or written down) are the basis for all the rules, laws and money made in the music industry.

Which, if you think about it, is a bit weird, because, what is it that is actually being sold when someone buys “music?”  A buyer walks out of the store with some sort of device (like a vinyl record, CD or digital download) and plops it onto a machine.  That machine “plays” the device, causing a speaker to vibrate in such a way that sound waves move through the air to our ears.  Our ears detect these sound waves, and transmit them to our brains as electrical impulses.  Our brains interpret these impulses and we “hear” the music.

In other words, unlike food or clothes, there is nothing tangible to a song beyond the intangible memory of what you just heard.  The sound of music always lives in the past.

And yet, the governments of the world (acting on behalf of their constituents; in theory at least) decided that these transmissions of sound waves, and the people who wrote the songs, are so valuable and important, that they created a complex set of laws and regulations.  These laws require that licenses be granted and payments  be made to the people/entities controlling the rights to the recordings of the songs (usually called a “record label”) and the lyrics and melody of the song (usually called the “songwriter” or “music publisher”).

These rules and regulations tie together, regulate, and give basis for a global consortium of tens of millions of record labels, artists, songwriters, music publishers, performing rights organizations, and mechanical royalty collection agencies, to generate and collect and administer over $23 billion dollars.

And the governments of the world take this stuff very, very seriously.  So much so, that there is an entire shadow economy built around an infrastructure of copyright boards, judges, copyright police, congressional committees, and teams of lawyers that are supposed to be the experts in knowing all the rules, and, in some cases, set royalty rates as to what these innovative creators should be paid.

However, in a move that could be construed as paradoxical (or, at the very least a “head scratcher”) these very same governments that created a way to assure that artists, songwriters and record labels can make money also decided that a songwriter/lable only gets these rights for 70 years after the death of the last surviving person who wrote the song (or ninety-five years from the date of publication in the case of a work for hire), after which point, all of the author’s rights get taken away, and the song becomes a “public domain” work,  This means it’s available for anyone to use in any way they like without having to pay or negotiate anything with anyone.

Or put another way, 69 years and 364 days after the death of the last surviving writer, the people who control the rights to the song (like someone’s child or grandchildren) get to make money from the use of that song.  The next day they don’t; one hell of a Monday to a Tuesday.

Which brings up the question as to why.  Why give all of these rights and all of these rules for a set period of time?  What is the reason that on that last magical day the very same hand that gave these rights decides it’s enough and takes them all away?

After all, when a song’s rights are stripped away from the person who wrote it, and the copyrights expire, many other people can make money off the recording and song.  For example, at some point in time, the Beatles’ recordings and songs will enter the public domain, and when they do, anyone can release a Beatles album or cover Paul/John’s song without paying them.  If someone buys that song or album physically from Amazon, a slew of people make money off the Beatles: Amazon makes money, the person who sold it makes money, the entity that made the cardboard box that the CD ships in makes money, the U.S. postal service makes money.  The Beatles’ label, their estate, and John and Paul’s estates don’t make money from the sale.

Hardly seems fair.

On the other hand, what happens if Dr. Evil comes to life, only this time he has a trillion dollars at his disposal (don’t laugh too hard, there was a moment not too long ago when Bill Gates was worth a trillion dollars),  and he decides he is going to buy the copyrights to all the recordings and songs in the world.  Without a reversion of copyright, the world would be denied access to these creations.  Corporations could hoard them forever, and perpetually deny or grant access at their whim.  Put another way, corporations would have a complete and total stranglehold on culture (one could argue they already do, but that’s a different topic).

And thus the tension between the public good vs. copyright holders and creators comes to play with the government standing in between them, trying to come up with a solution that does not tip the scales too far on way or another.

The question I have relates to technology opening the flood gates to more creators: should there be a re-evaluation of this tension?  I honestly don’t have the answer, and I truly can argue both sides of this equation.  If it were me, and I wrote and recorded the song “Paperback Writer,” why the hell should I not be entitled to make money off the thing I created?  Who the hell is the government to interfere with my rights and decide it’s been long enough for me, or my children, or their children’s children to make money off my creation.  If I build a house, the government doesn’t get to take it away from me after a period of time and say it is “public domain.”  Why is my song, my creation, thought less of than a house?

On the other hand, somehow it would just not feel right to me if Mozart’s great-great-great-great-great (not sure how many greats should go here) grandchildren got paid each and every time his Flute Concerto No. 2 In D Major – K. 314 was played and sold.

In other words, what is the place of public domain and the reversion of copyright in the new emerging digital music industry?

My concern is not over what the answer is, but instead who gets to shape the discussion. To this point in time, the creators themselves are the minority voice.  The multi-national corporations that have gobbled up and/or “own” all of these songs and copyrights are the ones pulling the strings, lobbying for changes to the law.  This would be fine if the creators of culture–aka artists–and corporations were in step with one another, but this is hardly the case.

Today’s world has allowed musicians and artists to break free of a system requiring them to relinquish their copyrights to pursue their dreams and ambitions.  Together they are louder than any other music entity.  The trick is allowing their voice to be heard.  TuneCore is simply a megaphone, you are the voice.

How Creative Commons Can Stifle Artistic Output

By George Howard
(Follow George on Twitter)

I have spent twenty years or so being inspired by artists.  Watching them work and refine their craft.  Watching them sacrifice so much for their art; servicing a muse that they didn’t necessarily ask for, but one they couldn’t ignore.  The one realization that I’ve come away with from these years of watching is that artists (and, I use the word inclusively: musicians, poets, filmmakers, et al.), are undercompensated.  Certainly, there are exceptions to this rule; undeniably, there are artists who are overcompensated.  Most artists, however, when they tally up their compensation on a per-hour basis, earn a low wage.

Now, the servicing of the muse is not compelled by money, but, rather, other impulses.  However, absent some type of financial return for the artists’ work, bad things happen: artists begin to believe that their work is without value, and they stop; or, artists have to subsidize their artistic income by working a soul-crushing job that eventually diminishes their ability/desire/time to create…and they stop.  In either case, art stops being created.  This to me is unacceptable.  I defy anyone to give me a good argument against the creation of more art.

All of this is why I react negatively to proponents of the so-called “copyleft” movement.  As a bit of background, the copyleft movement originated from software development, where hobbyist programmers desired to make software free (or very cheap) in order to reduce/eliminate piracy.  There are parallels and inter-connectivity with this movement and the Open Source initiative that makes a program/application’s underlying source code accessible to other programmers so that they may use it as they see fit (to build upon, etc.).

The musical fork of this movement is most widely represented in the woefully misunderstood Creative Commons initiative.  Developed by Lawrence Lessig, et al., Creative Commons provides artists with a means to opt out of certain of the exclusive rights that are automatically granted to authors when they record a song or write it down (also known as fixing an original work in a tangible medium).

There are several justifications for an artist or songwriter to give up copyrights.  The first is reasonable: that by providing a means for artists to more easily exchange rights, reduces transaction costs, and thus encourages collaboration.  The second — that current copyright law enforces and encourages a restrictive permission culture to the detriment of the public good — is not.  By this I mean that the idea that copyright somehow impedes creativity and artistic development is just plain wrong.  As I stated above, what really impedes creativity and artistic development is the artist’s perception that his or her music is valueless/the inability of the artist to monetize his or her output.

The real impact (intentional or otherwise) of the very vocal arguments put forth by Creative Commons with respect to copyright’s contribution to “restrictive permission culture” is that it leads people to make to an incorrect and dangerous conclusion.  People begin to believe that copyright is somehow bad or evil, and that anyone who wants to enforce copyright is anti-progress, anti-collaboration, anti-public benefit, etc.

This view implies that an artist whose sole asset is (or is directly related to) his or her artistic creation is somehow a non-progressive asshole for desiring payment for his or her work.

To be clear, a Creative Commons license is nothing more than a way to opt out of certain of the six exclusive rights you get with a copyright, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  One of the beautiful things about copyright is that you (and only you) have the right to do whatever you want with your rights…including give them away.  Creative Commons, on its surface, simply strives to make this process of giving away certain of your rights easier.  However, the judgment passed by this organization on any creator who doesn’t allow his or her work to be used by whomever so desires (the vague mantra of “information wants to be free” – full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing) is not only ridiculous but also dangerous.

An artist’s copyrights are her assets.  They are hers to do with what she will (again, including give them,or a portion of them, away).  No creator should be shamed, embarrassed or be made to feel guilty if she chooses to sell her art.

Artists tend to have — at best — an uncomfortable relationship with the monetization of their work, and need no encouragement to devalue it.  Rather, artists need to be reminded that their contribution to this deeply troubled world is valuable.  The exchange of value between an artist and his or her fans, is a means to allow the artist to continue creating art, and thus is crucial.

We don’t need an organization of high brow philosophical “all information and music should be free” people trying to convince a starving musician to forgo the $1 that he or she made to buy something off the Taco Bell $0.99 menu for the better of humanity.

What we do need is an environment that reinforces the value of art.  Copyright is one of the key elements of rule of law, and rule of law is a key element to an autonomous culture.  When we begin stripping away rules based on one person’s (or group’s) opinions of what is right/wrong/just, we move away from autonomy, and closer to fascism.  Fascism is not good for art.

George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is an Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee.  He is most easily found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gah650