Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Standing Out in the Crowd: Making the Most of the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Conference

It's October in Los Angeles, and as sure as the cotton cobwebs with black plastic spiders adorning every bar and hotel lobby across this fair city, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter produced yet another two-day Film & TV Music Conference, reminding everyone who already knows that...well...a big part of success in this part of the business comes from who you know.

Of course you need talent too. That goes without saying. But as evidenced by the droves of independent artists, freelance composers, catalog managers and licensing reps (including some acting as all four) milling about the upstairs conference area at the W Hotel Hollywood, there is a lot of talent out there. There is even more music out there. But there are only so many gatekeepers who will pay good money for music. And thus the challenge becomes getting the right music in front of the right people at the right time.


To that end, one of the conference's strongest features was the unique opportunity to meet some of "the right people". While it seemed that the majority of attendees this year were "providers" rather than "buyers", anyone who took a proactive approach to handshaking was sure to walk away with at least a handful of good leads. Many of today's top music supervisors and composers for film, television and advertising spoke on panels, and a quick post-panel race to the front of the room or a tap on the shoulder down the hallway was all it took to get their ear.

That said, with a floor full of people attempting the same approach, such ventures were often competitive and fleeting, and many found their time best spent chatting up fellow attendees. "Hi, I'm so and so. This is what I do. What's your name and what do you do?" It was amazing to see how far a simple intro like that would take people. And from what I could gather, this type of connection really makes up the core value of the conference. Bringing together a community of like-minded professionals and allowing them to tap into each other's expertise is what it's all about. The phenomenon was most evident during the lively "networking roundtables" that capped off the first day, where industry experts stationed at some 15 circular booths facilitated free-flowing conversation and networking for all.  Upstairs and poolside at Drai's Hollywood against a backdrop of Capitol Records and the Hollywood Sign, the environment could not have been more comfortable and conducive to a roomful of music folks trying to get their network on - like black plastic spiders building a vast, interconnected cobweb.


By comparison, the panels themselves served in complementary contrast to the all important socializing. With easy going moderators, light-hearted attitudes and plenty of audio-visual stimulation, the discussions were entertaining for sure, if perhaps a bit light on the cold hard info some attendees were seeking. But while industry fans and the uninitiated happily soaked in behind the scenes stories of inspiration and the "making of" each project, there were always a few insider gems that shook loose to the benefit of all. As a publication that first and foremost promotes the value of music, we'd like to share one gem in particular from composer Michael Andrews that really spoke to us.

Michael has had a very interesting career, straddling the worlds of both film/TV music and popular music (you can read all about it by clicking here), and he had some very prudent advise for those making a career writing music for film and TV: always hang onto your copyright. Too many composers give up the rights to their music without so much as a fight. Perhaps they don't know any better, or perhaps they're afraid that if they don't, they'll lose the gig. Further, too many composers work for free, or very little money, for similar reasons. There already exists a steady trend of downward pressure on music budgets for visual media, and practices like these hurt everybody by further devaluing both the music and the services of those who create it. So composers - stand up for the value that's inherent in what you do. Ask for the rates you deserve. If you're being asked to give up the rights to what you create, make sure you're getting paid more up front. And if the up front budget just isn't there, make sure you hang onto your copyright. Residuals can be a very good friend to you over the long run and should not be overlooked.


As many noted throughout the conference in tales of projects gone good and bad, film/TV music protocol certainly has its prescribed "do's" and "don'ts". But somewhere in the middle exists an area of creative opportunity waiting to be filled in. An opportunity that can be served equally by any number of musical solutions. Everyone at that conference seeks to serve these opportunities, and many of them can just as well as the next. But the ones who will are the ones who stand out in the crowd, both musically and professionally. So get out there. Take advantage of conference and networking opportunities such as these. Shake some hands and share some stories. Sell yourself with pride and back it up with great sounding music. Stand up for the value of what you do, and do everything you can to stand out in that crowd.

- Andrew DeWitt for AMM

View from the balcony of Drai's Hollywood at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Conference. Wednesday, October 24, 2012.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

It Ain't Easy Being Green: Digital Music's Hidden Costs to Our Environment

UK-based music industry network Music Tank recently published a report by Dagfinn Bach that raises several interesting points with regard to digital music and the environment. The main takeaway - digital music consumption may be more energy intensive than you think.

At first thought, the shift to digital may seem like a no-brainer as far as the environment is concerned. No physical product to produce. No transportation required to distribute the product. No facilities needed to store it. No physical waste to dispose of when the product is thrown out. But the reality is, as Bach notes, "digital music isn’t distributed in an environmental vacuum". The rapidly increasing growth in online data traffic, he continues "depends on sprawling server farms and a complex, energy-sapping network infrastructure. This is on top of the energy consumed in device manufacture and operation of a vast array of devices." In other words, while it may seem like energy costs are disappearing, they may in fact just be getting shifted to new areas.

Bach estimates that the streaming or downloading of 12 uncompressed tracks just 27 times uses about the same amount of energy as is needed to produce and ship one 12-track CD. Using these figures, it would seem that once a consumer exceeds 27 streams of a particular 12 song set, streaming becomes more energy intensive than physical production. He then concludes, "it would therefore appear that repeated streaming of individual tracks may not necessarily be a desirable long-term solution with respect to energy consumption for the life cycle of a sound recording."

That said, this conclusion may be missing some key considerations. Most notably, Bach uses a 12-track CD to evaluate the "energy consumption for the life cycle of a sound recording". We're talking a single sound recording vs. a 12-track disc here. Consumption patterns have certainly changed with the shift from physical to digital, largely favoring a more singles based market. Music isn't necessarily tied to the album format the way it once was, and consumers now have the freedom to pick and choose individual tracks from across many more releases than they once could. Thus, for Bach to assume that "repeated streaming of individual tracks" may threaten to cost more in energy than physical production, he also assumes that the average digital consumer, with their entire digital consumption history divided into defined sets of 12 tracks, will stream each of these sets in total more than 27 times. Is this likely to be the case? It's hard to say for sure, but with so much new music being released so regularly, it doesn't seem too far fetched that consumers may instead tend to listen to more music less times.

There are other questions too. How does the energy used to consume the CD once it is received factor in? What about the energy needed to process the CD once it is disposed of? Is there any consideration for efficiencies gained in the hardware and processing of the server farms themselves? Or efficiencies in improved bandwidth and content delivery?

No matter the questions, it would be foolish to disregard the impact that an increasingly global digital economy has on our environment. There is always room for improvement - to lessen this impact - and Bach offers several ideas to this end. Caching content locally and improving search and filtering solutions can cut down on the need for repeated streams from the cloud. Similarly, more regional "close to consumer" cloud solutions, or services that utilize certain peer-to-peer file sharing technologies can cut down on on the distance that data needs to travel. As he notes, "the shorter the journey the more energy-efficient the transfer". Savings can also be found by utilizing more energy-efficient wireless protocols such as WLAN and Bluetooth. Much of making these solutions a reality may depend on the cooperation of infrastructure providers, delivery networks, ISPs and content owners, but the good news is there is plenty to work towards.

Have any thoughts on the future of digital consumption, its impact on our environment and how to maximize its energy efficiency? Leave your comments below!


"The Dark Side Of The Tune: The Hidden Energy Cost Of Digital Music Consumption" from Music Tank:

- Download a copy of the full report for free at:

More from Music Tank:

"Streaming media could have larger carbon footprint than plastic discs" from Paid Content:

"So much for Post-Scarcity, unless Electricity is free?" from The Trichordist:

"Streaming Music May Be More Environmentally Damaging Than CDs" from One Green Planet:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Secondhand Singles: Is Reselling Digital Music Legal?

It's such a 21st century question, and one we'll soon have an answer to. In January of this year, EMI filed a lawsuit against ReDigi, a one-year-old digital music service that aims to take the "first-sale doctrine" digital. The court case officially got underway earlier this month.

At a very high level, the "first-sale doctrine" allows the owner of a lawfully purchased copyrighted work to re-distribtute that work as he or she pleases. This doctrine is what allows a DVD rental service or used CD store to operate. Once a copyrighted product has been purchased, the buyer has the right to resell, rent, dispose of or otherwise "exhaust" their purchase. To be clear, the first-sale doctrine only limits the original copyright holder's right of distribution. All other rights remain wholly intact, meaning that a buyer has no right to make new copies of their purchase, perform it publicly, or otherwise exploit any other rights granted to the original copyright owner under copyright law.

Until the internet came around, this was a relatively simple concept to accept. By definition, any physical for-sale copyrighted work is available in tangible form only. This made re-distribution a zero-sum game - i.e. if I buy a CD and then sell it to someone else, I no longer have the CD and someone who did not previously have that CD now has it. Easy enough, right? But can the same be said for digital works? ReDigi thinks so. EMI and the RIAA do not.

ReDigi's service requires users to download a software application that, according to ReDigi, ensures users are only re-selling music that was purchased legally to begin with and completely removes music from the user's computer once they re-sell it. EMI argues that in order for music to be uploaded to the ReDigi service, a copy must be made which is not allowed under the first-sale doctrine. The company also notes that it would be very easy for someone to make a copy of their music collection, store it on another computer, then re-sell the first copy of their collection.

If the court rules in favor of ReDigi, the implications for copyright owners could be far reaching. Not only could a large new market emerge from which copyright owners would see no direct revenue, but it could also cut into copyright owners' current digital revenue streams as consumers look to services like ReDigi for new music instead of buying from traditional digital storefronts. The problem would only be compounded if users make backup copies of their music before re-selling them.

However, could a ruling that favors ReDigi act as an impetus for even greater investment in "streaming" and "access" services by copyrights owners? As consumption moves away from "ownership" in favor of "access", services like ReDigi may lose their appeal. Aside from the obvious monetary incentive, the only reason for someone to re-sell their music is that they no longer wish to hear it. Using the access model, there's nothing to re-sell. In theory, as "access" gains popularity, much of the money that would be lost to digital re-sellers would be re-captured by copyright owners as more and more consumers pay them for the perpetual right to hear whatever they want.

This court case has the potential to act as a major catalyst for the music business. We'll be waiting eagerly to hear how it turns out.

Read More
"EMI sues MP3 reseller ReDigi" by CNET:

"US court to rule on ReDigi's MP3 digital music resales" by BBC News:

"Labels await crucial EMI/ReDigi decision" from MusicWeek:

Learn about ReDigi on their website:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pandora's Plea: Treats Artists Like Un-Royalty

You may recall our previous post that highlighted AFM executive Ray Hair's position against the recently proposed "Internet Radio Fairness Act" now floating around Congress. In short, the act aims to level the playing field for internet radio services such as Pandora by adjusting how the music licensing fees that they pay are determined. If passed, every internet radio service would pay significantly less money back to content owners for the use of their music.

Satellite (i.e. Sirius/XM) and cable radio services (i.e. the really high numbered channels that play music only)  currently pay much less than internet radio companies like Pandora, and terrestrial broadcast stations don't even pay the owners of master recordings. According to Pandora founder Tim Westergren, "last year Pandora paid about half of all its revenue in performance fees alone." He also states that, aside from Pandora, "no radio service anywhere in the world pays more than 15% of its revenue in such royalties." The new act would apply the same standards used for satellite and cable radio royalty rates to internet radio. Perhaps not surprisingly, Pandora is turning up the heat in an effort to get this piece of legislation passed.

Anyone with a registered Pandora account has probably seen at least a couple of notes from Pandora and Mr. Westergren in the last few weeks. The letters detail the points mentioned above and more or less paint Pandora as the undeserving victim of outdated and biased legislation, then ask users to contact their elected officials in support of this act. In the end, they say they just want to be treated "fairly", like everyone else.

The concept of fair treatment isn't really so much the issue here. In fact, it does seem fair that providers of similar services be held to the same standards. The issue is how this "fair treatment" is implemented. The rates that Pandora operate against now were set in response to a modern, evolving music economy. How does reverting back to even older standards seem appropriate? Any radio service relies first and foremost on the content that it plays. Squeezing this resource to the more immediate benefit of shareholders, advertisers or investors is short sighted and cannot be healthy for the industry in the long-term.

Services and content owners must find a healthy, balanced solution that allow each to develop, grow and re-invest in themselves. This will benefit everyone with whom they interact and not just certain interested parties. Today's artists are clearly not the wealthy rockstars they're sometimes assumed to be. In fact, the music industry's revenues have shrunk by "about half" ever since digital music first came onto the scene. Based on Pandora's complaints above, it seems they would agree that this is an unhealthy trend. The last thing content creators need is even less money coming their way. So with all this in mind, wouldn't it be equally "fair" to increase rates paid by all of the other radio businesses instead of decreasing those paid by internet radio? As a starting point, how about giving labels and artists the right to earn performance royalties when broadcast stations play their music? If everyone else pays a little bit more, Pandora could still pay a little bit less and EVERYONE in the industry would be a lot happier.

So yes, be sure to contact your elected official, but do so to push for a solution that is TRULY fair for everyone.

Pandora's side of the story:
Analysis against Pandora's efforts:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Artists Create Awesome Content...and Everyone Else Gets Rich?

A few weeks ago, London-based Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) posted an engaging op-ed on the challenges that face creators given the influential "open rights movement" permeating today's internet culture. Using the widespread backlash against now-aborted anti-piracy legislation SOPA and PIPA as a central theme, writer Danuta Kean laments how those in protest "became the first generation in history whose rebellion left corporations and venture capitalists clapping their hands in glee."

Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, and at least 40 other highly trafficked internet companies took public stands against the proposed pieces of legislation. Some of these companies, including Wikipedia, Reddit and Mozilla, joined thousands of other websites across the internet in a coordinated "blackout" on January 18, 2012, denying access to their content for the day in protest of what they call "internet censorship". While this act was certainly a legitimate expression of first amendment rights, it's hard not to see the irony that was inherent in their actions. As ALCS deputy chief executive Barbara Hayes notes, "where is this freedom they’re all talking about, if they can pull the plug on their service when they can’t get what they want for free?"

The main issue here is copyright. Ever since Napster first took off at the turn of the 20th century, artists, publishers and owners of creative content have witnessed their copyrights being illegally distributed en masse across the web. Not only has this completely undermined the exclusive right to distribution protected by U.S. Copyright Law, but it has also generated an ecosystem in which everyone makes money off of this content except for the content owners themselves. Traffickers are the obvious beneficiaries, generating revenue through "paid-for premium subscriptions that enable faster downloading; and display advertising – often supplied through Google Ads – which appears as content downloads" (check out some examples of ads alongside music from Tom Waits). Much of this money then goes to infrastructure providers of servers, bandwidth, computer equipment and software - another beneficiary in the food chain.  But there are many, many others too, including "global corporations – computer manufacturers and service providers and venture capitalists – because users of stolen content need hardware, mp3 players, ebook readers, computers, and broadband services to download and use stolen books, music and films. Financial sector corporations benefit too because traffickers have to pay for servers and bandwidth. And for that they need revenue raised through advertising or subscriptions, and to process that revenue they need payment services. None of these corporations may actively target trafficking sites for revenue, but they do profit from them."

Kean goes on to expose several other noteworthy considerations. She references David Lowery's "utter bemusement at a generation happy to shell out money for hardware and gadgets or for Fair Trade coffee, but not to pay the artists whose work they profess to love." She observes that "the more Northern Californian VCs can drive down the value of content the higher the return on their investment in things that deliver content in one way or another." But she also offers up several suggestions for how content owners can fight back.

Is it really too much to ask that the content driving so much joy and so much business be given the respect it deserves? The fight is far from over so be sure to do your part. Spread the word. Lobby your elected officials. Educate your friends. Support a FAIR and open internet.

Read "The Big Online Rip-Off" from ALCS here (it's a great read):