By Stefanie Flamm
As everyone ramps up for the music industry’s busiest time of the year, both our store partners and the music publishing world at large have some exciting new updates:
- Amazon amplifies their existing digital music platform with a brand new streaming service, specially designed to work with their Echo devices.
- Kesha has dozens of releases in limbo as her legal battle with Sony and Dr. Luke continues.
- Spotify defends their “freemium” price tier in the face of criticism from competitors and publishers.
- The upcoming US election is more important than ever for songwriters and music publishers.
Amazon’s long-anticipated interactive streaming service has finally launched this month.
Yet another streaming competitor takes to the stage this month with the launch of Amazon Unlimited, an on-demand music streaming service developed to work in tandem with Amazon Prime. This service has been a long time coming, as Amazon launched Prime streaming for select releases on the Amazon Digital Music store a few years ago, but Prime and Amazon Echo loyalists have been especially excited for Unlimited’s launch.
Amazon is also posing a strong threat to other services like Apple Music, Spotify, and TIDAL. While Amazon Unlimited is priced at $9.99 /mo for its base-tier users, the pricing goes down to $7.99 /mo for Prime users, and even more for owners of Amazon Echo ($3.99 /mo).
The Amazon Echo also brings another potential advantage to Amazon over its competitors. While the new iPhone design will eventually render your $10 headphones useless, Amazon Unlimited is currently the only streaming service to offer a complementary listening device, integrated with their service right out of the box.
“The first phase of [streaming] growth was driven almost entirely by smartphones,” said Amazon Music VP Steve Boom. “We believe pretty strongly that the next phase of growth in streaming is going to come from the home.”
Amazon might seem a little late to the party, with Apple Music and Spotify both quickly becoming unstoppable Goliaths of music streaming, but Amazon does bring a fair share of weight with its new product. After all, it does have the unique advantage of being associated with the widely popular Amazon Prime. For the 63 million people already using Amazon Prime, the extra $2 a month savings may be worth it to make the switch over to Unlimited.
With their widely-anticipated launch, and exclusive streaming deals coming down the pipeline, it looks like Amazon Unlimited has already hit the ground running.
Kesha and Dr. Luke are back in the news with recent updates on their legal battle.
In recent weeks, the NY Times has pointed its spotlight back on the contentious lawsuit between Kesha and Dr. Luke. While the story has been in the news for some time now, their coverage has reignited a debate about one of the industry’s most complicated litigations to date.
For the last two years, pop star Kesha Rose Sebert (popularly known as Kesha) has been buried in an exhaustive legal battle with both Sony and her producer Dr. Luke (né Lukasz Gottwald) over the restrictiveness of her contracts. You may remember the #freekesha hashtag trending on Twitter a few months ago, when Kesha and Dr. Luke met in NY State courts to fight for Kesha’s right to abandon her contracts. And while this is one of countless lawsuits that have stemmed from artists being locked into governing contracts with their record labels, Kesha’s current struggle stands out.
Back in 2014, Kesha sued Sony and their subsidiary Kemosabe Records, asking to be released from the many contracts that obligated her to work with Kemosabe’s CEO and lead producer Dr. Luke. Dr. Luke is one of the biggest producers in pop music today, boasting a producer credit on works from Nicki Minaj, Pitbull, Miley Cyrus, and Katy Perry (to name a few). Kesha is under several contracts that bind her to working with Dr. Luke, including that he produce six songs on every album she releases. Her reasoning behind this request is that Dr. Luke has allegedly been emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive to her.
“I cannot work with this monster,” Kesha wrote in an affidavit in 2015. “I physically cannot. I don’t feel safe in any way.”
In February of this year, NY State courts denied Kesha’s request for a judicial order that would end Kesha’s legally-binding professional relationship with Dr. Luke. Two months later, the same NY State judge determined not to pursue the claims further, due to reasons including Kesha’s sexual assault claims having passed the statute of limitations, lack of evidence, and Kesha’s claims that the sexual assault was a hate crime. Dr. Luke is now pursuing a countersuit for defamation, which is currently awaiting trial.
And that brings us to now. Kesha’s career has been at a standstill since she first took legal action against Dr. Luke, and as she has lost her case in both New York and California, there is no end in sight. In that time, Kesha has written more than 20 songs that she is legally forbidden from distributing without the permission of Dr. Luke.
“Kesha has been trying for six months to record and release new music,” Kesha’s attorney said in a statement. “Kesha still has received no commitments on promotion, songs or even a release date. We hope things turn around fast.”
It’s an extremely tricky situation for both parties, who refuse to budge on their initial stance. Dr. Luke’s reputation has been badly damaged, resulting in backlash from fans and low charting numbers. But it looks as if either of them dropping their cases would give the public the impression that they are admitting defeat or accepting responsibility, so for the time being Kesha is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Disputes like this are a great example of why it’s increasingly common for artists to choose independent distribution over foregoing their rights to a label. And like many artists who’ve been in a similar predicament (Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Prince, etc.), we’re likely to see Kesha insisting on a lot more control of her music once this situation is resolved.
Check out the NY Times podcast for more detailed information on the dispute.
Spotify’s Global Head of Creator Services goes on record to defend their services “freemium” price tier.
For example, TIDAL and Apple Music are both available only to paying subscribers. The exclusivity of their service to those listeners who are willing to shell out as much as $19.99 a month has spawned a congruent exclusivity of their product. Beyoncé, Drake, Nicki Minaj, etc. have forgone more popular streaming services in the name of exclusivity.
The catalyst for this exclusivity? Freemium price tiers.
“Freemium” refers to a pricing model in which consumers can use a service for free, as long as they listen to periodic ad placement. The eventual hope is that they will become a paid subscriber, in exchange for removing the ads and adding additional features. It’s pretty simple: the store has to make money for both profit and royalty payments, so they earn that either through ads or through customer subscription payments. Freemium is separate from 30-day trials, which most subscription-only models offer before either billing you or locking you out of the service.
Freemium has received a lot of flack over the years because it’s said to lower per-stream payouts. “Consumers are blissfully ignorant, mostly content to endure a few ads to listen to unlimited free music,” said Taylor Hatmaker for The Kernel. “Considering how many people are sharing the pie, the ad-supported ‘free’ streaming model remain a bonkers excuse for a business plan, no matter how you slice it.”
Ask a lot of people in the industry, and freemium streaming is a bad idea. But in spite of that, Spotify stands firm that they will retain their free pricing tier for the foreseeable future.
From Spotify’s point of view, the advantage to a free pricing tier is clear: afford more listeners an opportunity to hear your music, and the royalty difference will balance itself out in ticket and merch sales. Unfortunately, since the era of pirating began, people don’t like to pay for music, and Spotify’s defense is a way of making lemonade out of 55 million lemons.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a world where everybody on the planet is going to pay for music,” Spofit exec Troy Carter said. “[A freemium user] may never convert to a paid subscriber…but they’ll be able to afford a concert ticket, they’ll be able to afford a t-shirt.”
In spite of criticism, Spotify doesn’t stand alone in this fight for free, ad-supported streaming. Martin Mills, Co-Founder of Beggars Group, stood behind Spotify’s pricing model, saying, “The use of free [price tiers] to transition fans from piracy to monetised has clearly been a success – very visibly so in markets particularly challenged by piracy. And the industry would be insane to throw that away right now.”
Streaming is still very new territory for the music industry, and while there are obvious flaws to the free price tier, freemium pricing still has its merits. And whatever you think of this, at the very least you can continue to stream the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to your heart’s content, free of charge.
In the wake of the most heated US Presidential election in history, music publishers and songwriters are more eager for Congressional reform.
As we draw ever closer to November 8th, it feels like all anyone in the US can talk about is the upcoming election. With two controversial candidates at the top of the ticket, tensions are high with talk of the future of the country.
However, for music publishers and songwriters, there’s far more to their ballots than just Trump versus Clinton. With over 450 Congressional seats up for grabs this year between the House and Senate, folks in the music industry are focusing their efforts on reshaping the Legislative branch.
As far back as the Clinton Administration, publishers have been advocating for policy reform to accommodate the digitization of music. In 1996, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed as an effort to reinvigorate some seriously out-of-date legislation, but this was only a tiny push in the right direction. The last time any major music royalty legislation was passed, we were still in the throes of World War II, so publishers and songwriters have justifiably been frustrated with the slow progression of licensing and royalty reform on the side of Congress.
For publishers, this election is an opportunity to win on several fronts, all surrounded by this outdated legislation. “Music creators today face extreme hurdles in their ability to seek a fair value for their work thanks to music licensing laws that have not kept pace with the advent of new technologies,” said ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews. “We need to modernise the 75-year old consent decrees that govern how ASCAP and BMI operate to ensure a strong collective licensing system. We need a set of laws that give the PROs and our songwriter, composer and music publisher members more flexibility to adjust to wherever the marketplace takes us.”
It may seem like there are bigger fish to fry in today’s political climate, but music copyright reform can’t change without the help of legislative support.
Want to do your part to help sway the US Legislative branch in favor of copyright reform? Check out the platforms for the Congressional nominees in your state here.
For assistance collecting 13 different royalties from around the world, check out TuneCore Publishing Administration.
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