So goes the song. Composer suicide may be painless as well. After all it has been a slow burn until now. That said. I can assure you that at death it will become very painful!
Our profession has been under attack by unethical and shadowy characters since the days of the masters. There have always been ways to steal our works throughout history and many have succeeded. But, something has fundamentally changed it the past few years. For lack of a better category I will call it “Assisted Suicide”.
I think the worst started with the onset of re-titling led by Pump Audio in 2001. The model was designed to entice music creators by suggesting that they have many more opportunities based on placing a single piece with many more publishers. Seemed like a winner; except-Licensing fees began to plummet as the re-titlers, to compete with the higher quality exclusives, began reducing, blanketing, and later removing all licensing fees.
To compete with the lower licensing fees the Royalty Free libraries began to take hold. No licensing fees what-so-ever! And to compete with the Royalty Free Libraries along came Performance Free libraries that actually remove the music creator from the Performing Rights Organization, and vice versa eliminating royalties.
To complete the circle of this downward spiral we come back to Pump which is now part of Getty Images. Arguably one of the largest publishers and content providers in the world. Getty/Pump is now up to their old trick of telling composers they are missing opportunities if they don’t provide their music for free, depending only on their back-end royalties as a reward for their work (often less than a Venti at Starbucks). How far down does the spiral of devaluation go before the our music is simply worth zero? I fear that is where we are headed.
Hence Composer Suicide. By supplying music to these companies the composer today is filling everyone’s pockets but his or her own. When the value of music reaches the level that only tens of thousands of pieces make money where does that leave the composer? Dead! That’s where. And unfortunately only the composers have themselves to blame in today’s information packed world.
There is an old story about the alligator and the bunny. The bunny wanted to cross the river to see his girlfriend, and the alligator offered him a ride. The bunny objected; “you will eat me”! The alligator countered with a promise not to. After some time the alligator convinced the bunny and across the river they went. Upon arriving on the opposite side, as the bunny hopped off, the alligator grabbed the bunny in its jaws. The bunny cried; “you promised!” the alligator replied; “Hey, I’m an alligator stupid!” Well there you go.
Composers are falling into this same old trap. It’s funny how they vent toward the exclusive publishers (who focus on licensing and royalties, or up-front and royalties), with argument after argument that they have typically been given without any critical thought. Given by whom? Well it may be a well-meaning friend, but trace it back to its source and it typically begins with an alligator! These alligators don’t typically say; “Hey, I’m an alligator stupid!” No, that is not their style, they just think it!]]>
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.]]>
The nonexclusive/re-title business model is such an example. Let’s look at the fear side of this equation. “Your music is only placed with one library, you must be missing out on many opportunities. So, I can re-title your work and register it with your PRO, and expose you to many more clients than your other publisher will alone. Otherwise you will miss opportunities.” On its face this seems like a logical argument, albeit not an ethical one.
Let’s examine what really happens historically. Library “A” is placed in the same production environment as library “B”. Before library “B” came along library “A” offered its client a reasonable sync license for use of its music. Library “B” on the other hand now offers the composer’s piece of music to the same client for a much smaller sync fee. The composer feared he might be missing placements, so placed the same piece of music in two libraries under different titles and cost himself the greater sync fee which probably would have exceeded the new sync fee plus total royalty. The composer’s fear actually caused him to sell low.
Greed: the composer thinks to himself, “wow, I got a placement” convincing himself that he should now approach other nonexclusive/re-title libraries, and he does. Now the same work is represented by library “C”, and others. Library “C” offers a blanket license for their entire catalog at no charge to the client. Now instead of a smaller sync fee the composer’s pieces are placed with no sync fee whatsoever. Library “A” was in the same production house, but unfortunately so were “B” and “C”. In these scenarios the composer was not served by either his fear or greed. The only winner in this situation is the nonexclusive/re-title publisher who really had little or no skin in the game and the production company. Simply stated, the composer is the unquestionable loser. The nonexclusive/re-title library owner built his catalog standing on the shoulders of those who came before with minimal effort. The composer traded reasonable sync fees plus royalties for minimal or no sync fees plus royalties. And most often composers don’t understand that these lost sync fees most assuredly always exceeded the royalties for single placement. This is what we mean by “a race to the bottom”.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel. A number of networks have stated very clearly that they will no longer work with nonexclusive/re-title libraries. This is a fact that has been stated by their music supervisors publicly in a number of venues. Some claim that they make these statement publically but do otherwise in reality. I have a bridge for sale. It’s not because they’re excited to be paying higher sync fees. It has much more to do with the legal complexities of music clearance. Additionally; with the onset of fingerprinting this practice of nonexclusive/re-titling is probably entering its final days of placements outside the most local and minimal markets. It is my opinion that the concerns expressed by the major networks are indicative of a trend downward through the cable networks and production companies. The alpha dogs always lead the pack.
There is a substantial push back from composers who refuse to believe that these trends are real. There is a serious case of “nobody’s going to tell me what to do” or worse, “someone has told me what to do”. That may cause many to find their portfolios; if not worthless, nearly worthless in the future. The reason to believe that this may be true is that once fingerprinting is in place many nonexclusive/re-title libraries will find themselves moving in an exclusive direction. This is already happening. This will naturally force some libraries out of business therefore stranding re-titled works in the ether, with nowhere to go. Those pieces are branded.]]>