posted by admin
Monday, March 17, 2014

The Rise of the Amateur Class (Composers)

Recently in a LinkedIn group “Music 4 Media” I began a thread titled: “Performance Free Libraries, Scam or misunderstood?” I was searching for the opinions of production music composers regarding Royalty-free and Performance-free libraries that are starting to pop up worldwide. This is a very concerning issue as they appear to be nothing more than a scam. The question one has to ask is: why are these libraries coming into existence in the 1st place. Why are writers allowing themselves to be used in this manner, propagating a race to the bottom. I was given this link http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_on_institutions_versus_collaboration by Chris Boardman (University of Miami – Frost School of Music) and it made me question everything that I had been thinking regarding this issue.

This deals specifically with: “Institutions vs. Collaboration”. If you find that the 20 minute talk is a serious head full, and that you have to listen to it 3 to 4 times to wrap your mind around full content, don’t feel alone.

I came back to Chris and suggested that a possible answer to this “rise of the amateur class” might only be a top-down solution. He quickly corrected me, to suggest that it may not be a valid resolution as the business model has changed in the shadow of a rising amateur class of composers. It quickly became obvious to me that he was absolutely correct, and that a new group of aggregators are exerting influence across the spectrum.  I posted an answer in response to him, and the content follows:

If top-down isn’t the answer because the business model has changed, then it must also be true that this would naturally eliminate “from the bottom up” and “from the middle out”. We are seeing a rise of aggregators within this industry, which is true! Its funny how those who have no real skin in the game come out of nowhere to put such pressure on our industry. They neither manufacture, nor do they use. Their sole purpose is simply to make money. That is sad, but may in fact be a reflection of what we are to expect in the future. Another middleman to the middleman.

I believe that their answers outside of all the business models, and those answers are to be dictated by technology. That is one thing that negates any re-formation of past models. We only need to look to the computer industry to see how true that is.

If technology does its job well, and business models have to conform to the technology in order to survive, then possibly we see two possible scenarios that will survive. That is the royalty paying side of our industry, and the royalty-free side of our industry. And I suggest that the royalty-free side of our industry may, emphasis on “may”, be a flash in the pan. To me this industry of royalty-free music is just a fraudulent way for some to take advantage of the least experienced. The technology that may be the catalyst is fingerprinting.

As far as the amateur classes concerned; I will liken it to hockey. I love hockey, and until a very few years ago I still played hockey, but I was never paid. As I said in an earlier post, sometimes amateurs are just amateur. If on the royalty side of the business the playing field is dictated by technology and we witness the demise of the nonexclusive/retitle libraries, we will probably see a rise in the professional class that includes those amateurs that are ready to make that leap. Therefore the amateur class may be relegated to those royalty-free opportunities which may never go away. As a matter of fact, they may in fact be a benefit to the professional class by establishing a defined boundary between the professional class and the amateur class. And we may, as professionals be advised to let this boundary be.

So Clay Shirkey’s “Power Law Distribution” chart might be able to be used in the scenario. And it may be broken down by revenue, where we can say 80% of the revenues go to the professional class composers, where as 20% of the revenues go to the amateur class composers. This might possibly be a number that we should be satisfied to live with. If this is a fair assessment of where our industry could be, providing the technology would take us there, it should eliminate a good deal of bickering within the industry. So whether the music is distributed by aggregators (who by the way would have a very difficult time dealing with nonexclusive retitling), or by individual publishers might be moot.

So the bottom line is that you may be absolutely right. We may have to adjust to an all new paradigm.

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