Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Getting Paid: Still Looking for a Model that Works

If big-time, commercial music can't make a commercial success out of selling recordings, what expectations can we have for music from a commercially negligible genre?  

It's no news that there is no really good model for paying for new and experimental music.  To some extent, new "classical" or "serious" music has either sought to find advantage in low-verhead niche production or been able to parlay its prestige into a modest bit of piggybacking on the success of more commercially successful  musics in rights organizations like GEMA, but the former stream, that fabled "long tail", seems not to have played out as hoped and the latter has seriously declined in the face of stagnant or declining mainstream music revenues.  I've written recently about the inherent difficulties with reproducible media as a commodified form of music, (see also this item) and here are a couple of recent items from musicians representing more popular which reinforce this viewpoint.  

Here's rock star Prince, in the Mirror

He explains that he decided the album will be released in CD format only in the Mirror. There'll be no downloads anywhere in the world because of his ongoing battles against internet abuses.

Unlike most other rock stars, he has banned YouTube and iTunes from using any of his music and has even closed down his own official website.

He says: "The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it.

"The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.

"They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

Also read this blog item by musical composer Jason Robert Brown, confronting a teenager who wants to download copies of his sheet music for free from a "sharing" site. 

We really, urgently, need to find a better model. I often wonder what such a model would look like if we were were able to start from scratch, without the cumbersome institutions (including rights organizations, management, and production firms)  and legal framework (copyright laws, in particular) that have, like Topsy, just grewed.


ulyssestone said...

I believe Spotify has already showed us what a better future would be like.


Daniel Wolf said...

I have not been able to find Spotify's payment schedule, but one artist reports receiving US$3.00 for over 55,000 plays on Spotify. That's not an acceptable future for musicians, that's a bad hour's busking.

ulyssestone said...

Many of the payment figures people find online now are not accurate, the most famous one being Lady Gaga got paid a bit more than 100 Euros after being the most played "artist" on Spotify for months. That's just not ture.

Spotify is already the biggest income resources for Universal in Sweden, it makes more money for the label and musicians than CDs and itunes store.

Daniel Wolf said...

All of the payment figures I've found online for Spotify are in that order of magnitude; until Spotify itself publishes the figures, I am more inclined to believe the reports of artists who have actually been paid something. In any case, I see nothing in the model that appears to be advantageous for independent and niche musics.

I have followed the negotiations between GEMA and Spotify fairly closely and, although there is a good point of departure on a sharing of advertiser income for free users, the difference in positions on the subscriber service makes me very skeptical about Spotify. GEMA insists on a fee based upon actual plays of titles, Spotify wants to pay GEMA a flat fee per subscriber, so that the more titles which are actually played, the lower the fee artists will receive.

Spotify's position in Sweden is irrevelent; Sweden is a small country (<10m. people) and Spotify is a local enterprise. The most telling figure is the actual total number of paying subscribers, supposedly only 250,000.

ulyssestone said...

The 250,000 subscribers figure is from like half a year ago, I remember Spotify announced that it doubled after the new version and new price. Yes people are cheap, 10 Pounds per month for 320k streaming access to over 9 millions tracks, and they say it's too expensive. I do hope the subscriber rate go much higher.

If Spotify can make enough money for a label like Universal in Sweden, I see no reason why it won't work in other countries.

And I don't think the artists as individuals could actually know exactly how much Spotify is paying them, usually they sign a contract that includes the digital rights with their lable, and the label license it to a digital distributor like IODA, then it goes to Spotify. Spotify pays IODA or the labels, not directly to the artists.

Put the business model aside, technology has enabled people listen to whatever they want from the cloud anytime anywhere, this is so much better than tranditinal radio, CDs and itunes store, so it must be the way how the next generation listen to music. Technology never goes backwards. Maybe vinyls are different, it indeed sounds better and have a better look than CDs.