2019 will surely go down in music biz history as the year that artists and songwriters decided to fight for their rights.
Just look at some of the biggest music business stories of last year.
The Copyright Directive, finally passed in March 2019, and the US Music Modernization Act, signed into law at the end of 2018, both empower music creators like never before. The US Music Artists Coalition launched in June to campaign for their rights.
The row between songwriters and the streaming services over the DSPs appealing the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision to give songwriters a much-needed pay rise shows that hitmakers are no longer prepared to give anyone a free ride. And Taylor Swift calling out Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun over their Big Machine deal involving her back catalogue took the movement into the heart of mainstream consciousness.
At the forefront of many such battles was the MMF (Music Managers Forum), led by chief executive Annabella Coldrick. So Music Week sat down with Coldrick to talk about why this revolution is just getting started…
Why did the artists’ rights movement gather so much momentum in 2019?
“There probably are other years when similar things have happened. Legislation has led to this, such as the MMA finally getting pushed through the American legal system but, when you’ve got very high profile international artists speaking out, it makes a big difference.”
Record companies would say they need to make a living too. Do you have any sympathy for their wish to still own copyrights?
“Absolutely. But the investment model has changed and shifted. In a world when you were doing physical releases, obviously you’d be having to have stock in record shops, so you could understand at that point [the attitude of], ‘We need to get as much money as we can out of the record, while we can’. But now there’s basically a longer-term revenue stream and the business model has shifted dramatically for that upfront investment. There are much lower costs in terms of route to market, although there is still the marketing cost. The market is shifting and those who retain [the old] business model are becoming increasingly outdated. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to recoup on investments, of course they should. But a lifetime assignment feels increasingly outdated.”
Does the artist/songwriter-label/publisher/DSP relationship need to be completely reset?
“Yes. Now, if you’re negotiating new contracts, you can do that. But we have also pushed the labels to look at and review the previous ones to ensure that they’re on fair and appropriate terms. I know labels will occasionally renegotiate with individual artists when those artists are still together and performing, and therefore they’ve got some leverage to renegotiate. But we have long argued that there should be a wider updating of what are essentially contractual terms from the analogue era that should be reviewed into being voluntarily more progressive environments. We’ve been talking about that for years, when you think about packaging deductions – they are increasingly rare but there hasn’t been an across-the-board amnesty saying, ‘We’re no longer going to charge these on any artist contracts even if the artists are no longer together’. There is still no justification for putting those kind of deductions on digital income, but we’ve not had that amnesty, we’ve had to fight every single battle and each artist has to fight individually. That’s what Taylor Swift’s been trying to do, getting Universal to agree on the [sharing of proceeds from] Spotify equity as part of her new deal. That’s one example, but there could be many more.”
What’s the MMF’s role in such campaigns?
“To raise awareness and give knowledge and power back to our membership. Looking at the whole chain, the industry can be very focused on the income that goes from streaming services to rights-holders, but then you also need to look at how much gets from rights-holders back to those who made the music.”
Streaming services have changed the economics of the industry, but not necessarily the structure. Would you like to see more support from them?
“Some of them have [been supportive], but it’s up to us to call for that. That is part of the role of the music-makers, the managers, the artists, the songwriters: to push for that transparency throughout the whole chain. Everyone’s got bored of the word transparency but part of it is making sure money actually comes through. At the moment you shine a light and say, ‘Hang on a minute, why am I still on this very outdated rate from a contract that was signed 20 years ago that doesn’t reflect modern practice and doesn’t reflect the fact that the industry is now booming again, back in growth and the money is there?’ The question is, how do you make sure that the proceeds are shared fairly? Listeners are listening to new stuff and catalogue and all of that should be shared with those who made the music in the first place.”
* To read Music Week’s feature on how a decade-old fire in an NBC-Universal vault helped spark an artists’ rights revolution, see the current issue of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.