Wednesday, April 29, 2009

FMC Releases "Same Old Song" Playlist Analysis Report

Have you ever been scanning through the music rags at your local bookstore/music retailer/coffee emporium/tchotchke outlet and wondered, “why do I never hear this band that’s on the cover of all of these magazines on my local radio station?”

We’ve scratched our heads about this, too.

There are quite a few independent acts out there that are successful by pretty much any other measure — they sell out venues, play Saturday Night Live, can be heard on movie soundtracks, TV shows and commercials yet never seem to crack commercial radio playlists. After a while you start wondering if there’s a reason. Turns out there is – it’s just sort of complicated.

But don’t worry — FMC lives to sort this stuff out. To that end, we’ve just released a major new study of what gets spun on radio called “Same Old Song: An Analysis of Radio Playlists in a Post FCC-Consent Decree World.” Before we get into the results of this data-driven report, let’s look at some of the history. (If you wanna dive in, click here).

Same Old Song” analyzes radio playlists from 2005-2008 to determine whether the policy interventions resulting from the recent payola investigations have had any effect on the amount of independent music played on terrestrial radio. Back in 2007, Federal Communications Commission issued consent decrees against the nation’s four largest radio station group owners – Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Citadel and Entercom – as a response to collected evidence and widespread allegations about payola influencing what gets played on the radio. In addition to paying fines totaling $12.5 million, the station group owners also worked with the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) to draft eight “Rules of Engagement” and an “indie set-aside,” in which these four group owners voluntarily agreed to collectively air 4,200 hours of local, regional and unsigned artists, and artists affiliated with independent labels.

Using playlist data licensed from Mediaguide, FMC examined four years of airplay – 2005-2008 – from national playlists and from seven specific music formats: AC, Urban AC, Active Rock, Country, CHR Pop, Triple A Commercial and Triple A Noncommercial. FMC calculated the “airplay share” for five different categories of record labels to determine whether the ratio of major label to non-major label airplay has changed over the past four years.

Guess what? The number crunching indicates almost no change in station playlist composition the four years we examined. Specifically, the national playlist data showed little measurable change in airplay share from 2005-2008, with major label songs consistently securing 78 to 82 percent of airplay. There was a slight increase in airplay for indies on a few formats (Country and AAA Non-Commercial, in particular) but otherwise the data from year to year stayed pretty much the same.

But we didn’t just look at these big meta trends — we dug in and also examined airplay by release date. This showed that many formats leave only small portions of their playlist for new material, with current songs sprinkled in among well-worn hits. While such programming choices might make sense for a given station’s target audience, the outcome is that there are very few spaces left on most airplay charts for new music. Looking specifically at airplay for new releases, we found that new major label songs typically receive a higher proportion of spins than new indie label songs. Finally, we looked at the indie labels themselves, and found that only a handful have enough resources and clout to garner airplay consistently. For the remainder of indies, airplay is infrequent and modest, if it happens at all.

The fact that indies are still having a tough time getting airplay is something a recent survey of A2IM independent label members indicated in a more anecdotal way. The major labels’ built-in advantage, combined with radio’s risk-averse programming practices, means there are very few spaces left on any playlist for independent labels, which comprise some 30 percent of the domestic music market. Remember, this is after well-intentioned (if nonspecific) attempts to address this imbalance.

So what’s the take-away? How might the situation between radio and indies be improved? Our new report offers a handful of policy recommendations that might prove useful to the FCC’s oversight of the airwaves and improve the radio landscape for both listeners and the broader music industry. In particular:

1. Improve Data Collection

The radio and music industries participate in and employ some of the most robust and timely data monitoring systems available. There are private companies that measure audiences, that keep track of radio ownership transactions, market share and revenues, that track retail sales and box office grosses, and at least three services that monitor what is being played on commercial and noncommercial radio. Many radio stations, music labels and advertisers subscribe to these services so they can get up-to-the-minute information about their own activities, and those of their competitors.

In other words, radio stations are already very data rich. What’s now required is the political will and organizational capacity at the FCC to determine what questions need to be asked, how frequently, and of whom, and then to seek out or collect the information it needs to be an effective regulator. Nonprofit organizations like FMC have been conducting much of this oversight work on behalf of the public interest, but clearly the FCC needs to play a greater role. The FCC could acquire data from commercial sources, or it could request data from stations as part of their responsibilities as broadcast licensees, or some of both. Regardless of the method, the FCC needs to clarify its oversight role, then rigorously and consistently monitor what’s happening in radio in order to craft more effective policies and enhance accountability.

2. Refocus on Localism

Both anecdotal and empirical evidence indicate that commercial radio has become a risk-averse media that employs cookie-cutter formats across many radio properties. In recent months, commercial radio has also been the source of layoffs and downsizing as it struggles with both reduced ad revenue and huge debt loads racked up during the station buying spree following the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The radio industry is clearly in crisis. Stations have lost touch with their local markets, but unfortunately, the industry seems to have responded by pushing for greater consolidation and syndication. FMC believes this is the wrong way forward, as radio’s chief advantage in the modern media landscape is “live and local.”

We join others in the media reform movement – and many in the radio industry itself – in calling for commercial radio to regain its local foothold and build programming in which serving its local community is its primary goal. We also simultaneously call on the FCC to revisit the localism proceeding and design clear guidelines about how to measure whether its licensees are honoring their obligations to the communities in which they operate.

We know that locally oriented programming isn’t as cost-effective as running a station using pre-programmed playlists and automated DJs, but it is radio’s strongest asset in an increasingly saturated media environment. FMC and our partners have engaged in pilot projects with small commercial operators to determine best practices for engagement between programmers and the independent sector to set goals and identify mutually beneficial marketplace solutions, and we hope that these projects help us to convey information that other stations can use in the future.

3. Expand the number of voices

This report also shows us that major swaths of the music economy aren’t currently represented on commercial radio. It outlines the many structural barriers to airplay for all types of labels, but for independent musicians in particular. Using other metrics to measure the profile of some indie artists, including retail and digital sales, TV appearances, large live shows, and licensing deals that place their songs in movies, video games and in ads, the lack of airplay on commercial radio for the same artists seems counterintuitive. Independent music belongs on commercial radio and is just as vital as the music currently receiving heavy airplay. Changing the prevailing culture at commercial radio will take a concentrated effort with all parties working in good faith basis; identifying structural barriers to airplay in this report represents part of this ongoing effort.

Finally, this also moment in time when the government can make a conscious effort to expand the number of broadcasters in this country. The passage of legislation to allow Low Power FM in more American towns and cities would provide local groups and organizations with an opportunity to serve their communities.

Feel free to let us know what you think!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gearing up for Artist Activism Camp V

Jolie Holland

[UPDATE: Now with Saul Williams!!!]

Things are coming together for the fifth installment of FMC and Air Traffic Control's Artist Activism Camp, which takes place in New Orleans on May 19-22. And as always, the retreat — where up-and-coming and established musicians from around the country come together to talk about ways to incorporate activism into their lives as artists — includes an all-star concert with performances from all the musician attendees.

This year's show at the legendary Tipitina's is shaping up to be one of the most exciting yet. We're still waiting on confirmation from a participant or two, but we're so excited about who's confirmed, we just have to spill the beans. Here's what we can tell you.

Artists appearing at "Musicians Bringing Musicians Home V" include Wayne Kramer (MC5), Jolie Holland, John Langford (Waco Brothers, Mekons), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5, R.E.M.), Laura Viers, Vijay Iyer, Erin McKeown, Bonerama, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Martin Perna (Antibalas, Ocote Soul Sounds) and Paul Sanchez.

Tickets for the event are available at and in person at the Tipitina’s box office. Admission is $12, with all proceeds benefiting Sweet Home New Orleans — a coalition of non-profit organizations that helps find affordable housing and provides rental assistance for Katrina displaced musicians, Mardi Gras performers and other traditional New Orleans artists.

More to come!

Friday, April 24, 2009

LPFM On the Hill Recap

Nicole Atkins on the Hill (More and better pics on the way!)

This just in: Washington DC has been been invaded. . . by Low Power FM supporters! We had you there for a second, right? OK, probably not.

As we previously mentioned, advocates from around the country have come to the Federal City to talk to their representatives about the importance of community radio (specifically LPFM) to their towns and cities. In addition to visits to Congressional offices, supporters went to the FCC and even the White House to tell their stories.

On Thursday, April 23, there was a policy briefing in the Rayburn House Office building. FMC brought Asbury Park, New Jersey singer-songwriter (and Columbia recording artist) Nicole Atkins along to talk about how her town could use an LPFM station. Like, pretty badly.

"Asbury Park has become something like a ghost town over the years, but it's starting to come back," Nicole said. "When I was first starting out, there was a really great local station that was the first to play my music, which gave me confidence as an artist. There’s no longer any stations like that in my town, and LPFM would be a way to give other artists the same chance I had.”

Low Power FM stations are community-based, non-commercial radio broadcasters that operate at 100 watts or less and reach a radius of 3 to 7 miles. LPFM provides a platform for underserved musical genres, minority, religious and linguistic groups and offers a forum for debate about important local issues. LPFM also has a crucial role to play in disseminating public information for the welfare and safety of local communities.

The FCC has wanted more LPFM stations for a long time, but earlier in the decade, the National Association of Broadcasters successfully lobbied Congress to restrict these stations to all but the smallest communities, claiming interference with their own megawatt signals. This is a bit like saying that a flashlight will steal brightness from a floodlight, and an independent FCC-commissioned study completed in 2003 found no significant interference would be caused by LPFM. (Read our fact sheet to learn more about the issue.)

That's why there's a coordinated effort to get a bill passed that would lift the ban on LPFM in more American towns and cities. Groups like FMC, Prometheus Radio Project, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Media Access Project, United Church of Christ, the Media and Democracy Coalition and Free Press are all doing their part to provide important information about the benefits of LPFM — from emergency preparedness and local issues-awareness to art and cultural programming that probably wouldn't be heard on commercial (and even te bigger non-commercial) stations.

Low Power to the people!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nicole Atkins and LPFM supporters on the Hill

Congressional recess is over (or district work period, as the grown-ups call it) and our representatives are back on the Hill, doing those legislative things they do. So it's as good a time as any for a community radio pop-in.

On Thursday, April 23, Low Power FM supporters from around the country will visit the offices of their various representatives to talk about how LPFM benefits local communities. FMC is bringing kickass New Jersey singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins along for the ride, which includes a Policy Briefing on LPFM in room 5456 of the Rayburn House Office building.

In addition to Nicole, the briefing panel includes moderator Parul P. Desai, Vice President of Media Access Project, Liz Humes of WRIR-LP in Richmond, VA, Erubiel Vallardes of KPCN-LP, in Woodburn, OR and Cheryl Leanza of United Church of Christ.

Then there's the visits by advocates to Congressional offices, the FCC and even the White House. If you're among those coming to D.C. for the activities, one bit of advice: wear comfortable shoes, because it's a lot of walking!

Stay tuned for reports on our LPFM adventures (and for more info on this issue, check out FMC's handy fact sheet).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who Needs Earth Day When There’s Record Store Day?!?

Although many independent and mainstream music stores have closed over the years due to a decline in CD sales and general economic turbulence, there are those shops that have dug in their heels in the face of an increasingly technology-driven music industry. These survivors took part in the second annual Record Store Day, held this past Saturday (April 18) in stores all across the nation.

For those unfamiliar, Record Store Day is celebrated yearly on the third Saturday of April. On this fine day, the country’s independently owned record stores to come together with artists to celebrate the dazzling dance of music and commerce. This year, top acts like Franz Ferdinand, Erykah Badu and Ani DiFranco all gathered to pay homage to their hometown record stores while others like Bruce Springsteen, The Smiths and Modest Mouse offered limited special-edition vinyl releases for the occasion. As music junkies, we get pretty psyched about this “holiday,” so we figured we'd give you a little recap on how things went down in the District.

DC staples such as CD Warehouse, Crooked Beat Records, Melody Record Shop and Smash! all opened their doors to throngs of music fans who lined up hours before opening to get their hands on exclusive releases from their favorite artists. Melody Records, for instance, offered limited-edition seven-inches from the likes of Green Day and Jane’s Addiction, as well as reissues (although if you weren’t there early enough you could forget about those). Other treats included goodie bags filled with indie samplers, gift certificates, posters and discounted CDs.

Despite the success of Record Store Day, it’s still tough out there for music sellers. Just a couple of weeks ago it was announced that DC staple DJ Hut (known for their extremely awesome vinyl collections) will be closing its brick-and–mortar shop at the end of this month to become a strictly online record store. This trend has become all-too familiar to music fans these days.

On the upside, reports are suggesting that because of Record Store Day (and all of those cool exclusive releases) traffic and sales volume this year will eclipse the previous event. Which is very good news for independent retail owners (and musicians). Who says Christmas only comes once a year?

Attention New Yorkers: WGXC (free103point9) is Looking for Volunteers!

You may recall us talking about free103point9 — a New York State "transmission arts" collective that recently was awarded an FCC license for a brand-new Full Power non-commercial station in New York's Greene and Columbia Counties. Well, the new station is called WGXC, and they need your help getting it off the ground (or rather, on the air).

(Learn more about FMC's role in helping community arts organizations apply for licenses here; check out a podcast interview with free103point9's Tom Roe here.)

Here's what the good folks at WGXC are looking for (keep in mind you'll probably have to live in the Hudson Valley area):


Please sign up to help WGXC get on the air. Join the growing volunteer team that is donating their time to bring community radio to Greene and Columbia Counties. E-mail if you would like to help WGXC in some way.

Tell us what you can do, or directly e-mail the committee captain of any WGXC Working Team listed below that you would like to join.

Below is the complete list of people who are currently volunteering with WGXC. Please join in and lend a hand!

Ron Truesdell and Jenny Juristo Morrison are recording professional station identification tags, and others may sometimes host live remote broadcasts, and/or record promotional recordings for future WGXC events. E-mail Tom Roe at

Working on web site design, logo design, branding, and promotional design. E-mail Galen Joseph-Hunter at

Construction, scouting locations, design, and RF engineering. E-mail Kaya Weidman at

Training youth about all facets of media: radio, blogging, audio editing, photography, journalism, web design, social media, and other related topics. Team members will help coordinate appearances from experts on these subjects from Greene and Columbia Counties. Team members will teach youth to prepare for live broodcasts, and help facilitate youth broadcasts at events throughout the community. E-mail Tom Roe at

Organizing, and staffing benefit events to get WGXC on the air. Anyone who can sit at a table, do some recording, organize events, or help clean up afterwards, e-mail Tom Roe at

Members are charged with creating a news policy for the station, and making audio and video recordings and preparing blog entries for launch in May, 2009. E-mail Tom Roe at

Members are charged with creating a photo policy for the station's web site, news coverage, and promotional materials, and documenting WGXC events. E-mail Dharma Dailey at

Creating a useful web site for a community radio station, with citizen-participation. E-mail Galen Joseph-Hunter at

Updating social network pages, and attracting more members. E-mail Tom Roe at

Recording interviews, events, performances, and other sounds in and around Cairo. E-mail Tom Roe at

Recording interviews, events, performances, and other sounds in and around Hudson. E-mail Tom Roe at

E-mail WGXC to declare support at

Friday, April 17, 2009

Clear Channel Gets Local. Sort Of. Maybe. Not Really.

Yesterday, Clear Channel sent out two press releases that seemed to contradict each other on some pretty fundamental levels. The first described a "commitment" to a "higher minimum level of service" in the communities in which its stations operate."

There's also a passing bit about "an expanded programming commitment to music from local artists." If you listen to commercial radio, you're probably familiar with stations' graveyard shift local music programs, many of which start at midnight on Sunday. Artists heard on these slots rarely, if ever, make it to regular programming. Does this mean that Clear Channel stations will start slotting local music at other times of day, say, drivetime? Will they also start to spin more indie content? It's tough to tell from this press release.

The second announcement from Clear Channel actually talks about making their programming less local. Yep, it's all about syndicated content — but local stations will be able to choose which syndicated content they want from pre-defined packages. "Local Clear Channel Radio program directors will have total choice and flexibility in choosing the Premium Choice programming elements. They can elect large portions, single pieces, or none of the offered programming. All of the Premium Choice elements were determined in full consultation with the company’s most experienced and trusted programming and operations managers." Lucky them!

Ex radio industry honcho Jerry Del Colisano does a typically good job in describing the cognitive dissonance of these dual releases over at his Inside Music Media blog.

The bait-and-switch that Clear Channel is trying to sell to the public is basically this: we cut back local programming and at the same time announce an empty shell that it touts as increasing local public service programming and outreach. . .

. . .As we said a few weeks back, Clear Channel has a plan in place to make sure there is a warm body on duty at every studio site -- looking ahead to possible FCC objections to turning their local broadcast licenses into a network that has basically nothing to do with the local city of license. Is this what a license has become -- a license to steal local radio stations from the public airwaves?

It's clear that the massive consolidation in station ownership that followed the 1996 Telecommunications Act has been a disaster, both as a business plan and as a means to serve local communities. But Clear Channel's answer to the problem has thus far looked like more consolidation and automation, with a bone or two thrown at localism.

FMC has issued two studies that look at the effects of consolidation on commercial radio: 2002's Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians? and 2006's False Premises, False Promises: A Quantitative History of Ownership Consolidation in the Radio Industry. We're also about to release a new report that examines playlist composition on commercial stations to determine whether broadcasters are programming more indie content following the "Rules and Engagement" and Voluntary Agreements that came out of the payola investigations of 2003-2007. (No, we can't tell you the results just yet, but just sit tight — it's on its way!)

One thing we can say: if commercial radio isn't living up to its localism obligations and presents significant barriers to indie artists, then we need non-commercial alternatives. And getting more Low Power FM stations in American towns and cities is an important step.

Next week, LPFM advocates from around the country are coming to Washington, DC to demonstrate their support for local radio. At noon on Thursday, April 23, there will be a Policy Briefing on LPFM on the Hill — room 5456 of the Rayburn House Office building, to be precise.

Thursday’s briefing will feature opening remarks from Representatives Michael Doyle and Lee Terry — co-sponsors of The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 (H.R. 1147), introduced in February 2009.

Immediately following is a panel discussion with LPFM producers and policy advocates who will explore the legislation’s potential impact on emergency preparedness, media ownership and arts and cultural broadcasting. Moderated by Parul P. Desai, Vice President of Media Access Project, the panel features singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins, Liz Humes of WRIR-LP in Richmond, VA, Erubiel Vallardes of KPCN-LP, in Woodburn, OR and Cheryl Leanza of United Church of Christ.

That same day, there will be coordinated visits to Congressional offices and the FCC by community radio supporters of all stripes. Sharing information and having some fun is part of what community is all about.

For more information on Low Power FM, check out our fact sheet. And support community radio!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Musicians and Copyright: An Interview With Attorney Lisa Alter

[Image courtesy XKCD]

Recently, FMC spoke with attorney and copyright expert Lisa Alter (Alter & Rosen, LLP) about musicians and copyright. Lisa recently wrote an excellent, artist-friendly article on the subject called Protecting Your Musical Copyrights (you can download a PDF copy here).

Copyright is a pretty complex issue, but this article does a great job of demystifying it while explaining in detail the protections copyright provides to musical artists. We thought it would be cool to ask Lisa a bit more on the subject, which you can read below. Our conversation is meant as a supplement to Protecting Your Musical Copyrights; for a more detailed explanation, you should refer to the original document.

FMC: Why is copyright important to musical artists?

Lisa Alter: Copyright is very important to musicians, particularly singer-songwriters. It is the legal structure that protects their rights in a song or composition.

FMC: A lot of musical acts, like rock groups or jazz groups that write their own material, might not have a single individual designated as the singer-songwriter. If the material is composed together, is that a joint copyright?

LA: Yes. If a song is co-written, it’s a joint work in the United States. Outside the U.S. it is necessary to look at the laws of the individual country.

FMC: And that applies to the composition and the sound copyright, if they haven’t assigned it to a third party (like a record label)?

LA: Well, it certainly applies to the actual song. The sound copyright owner would be whoever the claimant is. Often, the record label tends to have a lot of different people involved, though it may also be the songwriter or artist. There are musicians who may render their services as “work for hire” on a recording, so it tends to be a bit more complicated. By the way, songwriters and artists can also have an agreement among themselves as to how the copyright is actually split. For example, if a group has two songwriters, the assumption is that it would be split 50-50, but they could agree to anything — 60-40, 80-20, 90-10, whatever.

FMC: There seems to be a variety of opinions about how important it is to retain your copyright if you’re an artist or a songwriter. Do you think the transferal of copyright will continue at a time when an artist has more direct licensing opportunities, like one-shot television uses, etc.? Could this eventually impact statutory laws or private contractual agreements?

LA: I don’t know about statutory laws, but it might affect how people structure their contracts. Obviously, it’s in the interest of artists to hold on to as much as they can. The old deal was that you’d assign 100 percent of the copyright and you’d get the songwriter’s share — 50 percent. Which is really just an industry fiction; it’s not something that’s in the copyright law. Those deals still happen, but it’s more of an old fashioned way of doing things.

FMC: Do you think a work loses value in the film or TV or ad marketplace once it’s been used in this way more than once? (Unless it’s the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and Martin Scorsese.)

LA: It depends. If a song has a well-known life outside of that usage, maybe not — each use may actually make it more sought after. On the other hand, if a song is associated with a particular movie or a particular commercial, then another advertiser might think “I don’t want people thinking about toilet paper when they hear this song used in an ad for our cars.” But in general, the more it’s out there, in some respects, the better.

FMC: Traditionally, having music in an ad or film was considered a driver for album sales. Now, there are a lot of different ways that music can be used beyond physical sales — there’s a performance right for some digital uses like webcasting, and then there’s so-called interactive streaming and on-demand listening. How strong do you think the copyright structures are in dealing with all these new uses?

LA: I think the copyright structures are strong. The modes of exploitation and contractual arrangements are evolving and will continue to evolve. Copyright is an important protection; the focus is more on adapting this protection as it expands to new uses.

FMC: Do you believe that current copyright law needs to be adjusted to deal with the realities of easy duplication and amateur uses like YouTube videos, etc?

LA: It’s not so much that it needs to be adjusted. As a pro-copyright person, my feeling is that there needs to be an assertion of the application of the copyright law. That yes, it applies in these circumstances. And no, just because you’ve written a song does not mean that you’ve contributed to the general good, but you the creator are still entitled to protect your interests, regardless of how its exploited.

FMC: Some people would look at “the greater good” as similar to a public library, which we pay taxes to maintain. But what if some of those libraries are having difficulties archiving things digitally, because they may be breaking some aspect of copyright law?

LA: There are specific exceptions for what a library can and can’t do in those particular circumstances. In addition, the good of the public needs to be balanced against the rights of the creator. Say your business is having a farm. That doesn’t mean that the public, just because they pay taxes, can take your milk for free.

FMC: That reminds us of the true story of a Scandinavian heavy metal band that protested one of their local politician’s supposedly soft views about copyright online by hopping his fence and stealing one of his sheep.

LA: Well, it goes back to the importance of understanding what your copyright rights are. Again, if you had a farm, you’d know how many chickens and hens and geese you had, and how old they were and whether they were still producing. And if you have a farm full of songs, you should have the same kind of information.

FMC: Younger songwriters might wonder if or why they need a publisher. Can you collect your royalties from a Performance Rights Organization (like ASCAP or BMI) directly?

LA: They need a publishing entity. But that could simply be “Your Own Name Publishing.” It doesn’t even have to be a corporation or any kind of legal entity — just a “doing business as” is fine. They need to sign a separate publisher membership application with the PRO, but they could certainly do that and not have to go through a third-party music publisher.

FMC: So why do people go through third-party publishers? Is it that they have more leverage in administering rights?

LA: Well, in the old days, the publishers had the actual “song pluggers,” who used to go out and push the songs to other artists. They’d be able to approach the music directors at film studios and ad agencies, and the publishers were where those people would go when they were looking for a song. And that’s still true to a greater or lesser degree. Also, the publisher is up-to-date on the current licensing fees. For example, if someone calls the actual writer and says “I want to use your song in a commercial — what do you want for it?” the writer may have no idea. These things move very quickly, and the publisher would know the going rate. Again, if the publisher is acting as the administrator and taking a small fee, it may well be worth to have them in that role, because they know the business and have the connections.

FMC: Here’s a technical question we wondered about when reading Protecting Your Musical Copyrights: How is it that record companies can get away with paying less than the full statutory rate on mechanical royalties?

LA: I’ve always been surprised that no one has litigated that. To me, it’s a blatant and successful effort to end run the law. I think it just perpetuates a practice of artists being taken advantage of.

FMC: Do you think blanket licenses could ever apply to musical copyrights online? Do you have an opinion about that?

LA: I think everything needs to be explored to facilitate payments being made to ensure that music is legally transmitted online and artists and songwriters are paid something that is collectively determined to be a fair and reasonable market rate. I’ve always thought that making it easier to get these licenses. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper, but easier — streamlining the process will make it more likely that people will do it. If the process is too complicated, the average person may just ignore it.

FMC: Can you tell us about “termination rights?”

LA: Termination rights are important because traditionally, songwriters did grant their rights in perpetuity — it was very common to grant the rights for the life of the copyright. Under the US copyright law, there are provisions where, if you provide notice within the statutorily set time period, either the writer or his or her heirs can terminate the grant and get their rights back. Obviously, if the song is popular enough when that time period rolls around and is still earning or has the potential to be earning, then it can be very valuable for the writer or his or her heirs to get the rights back and either exploit it themselves, or enter into a more favorable deal.

FMC: Do you think that the US termination rights could put too much of a burden on the artist or their heirs to notify the grantee?

LA: It was a heavily negotiated and lobbied right. It came about because copyright in the US kept getting extended. And Congress said, “well, the author made a deal thinking the term of copyright was only 28 years, or only 56 years or only 75 years” — now that the term has been extended, the author needs to have a chance to get out of a deal that he would have gotten a lot more for had he known how long the term would be. You can justify some of the decisions that were made, and some I think were a little more skewed in favor of the publisher. On the other hand, the definition of “statutory heir” has been expanded — originally it was limited to spouse, children and grandchildren, now it includes executors and next-of-kin.

FMC: Sometimes you hear people — even musicians — say things like, “MP3s aren’t worth anything; they’re just promotional.” Do you think we’ll ever have an environment again where the duplication and use of copyrighted works, regardless of type, will regularly result in artist compensation?

LA: I certainly hope so. My sense is that around the time that online transmission was just starting there was a lot of buzz about how copyright laws were depriving the public. But I’ve sensed some backsliding on that. I think that if people really think about it, they can understand the value of having a creator be able to make a living from the creative process. And it’s important to encourage that. If you look at it from that perspective, I think you’d be hard pressed to come up with reasons why a creator should be less entitled than someone who makes a living any other way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Best Curated Panel Ever?

OK, we know it’s been a while since we’ve talked about net neutrality. But we figured you could use a break. Not that it’s not still relevant — actually, the reason we’ve blogged about the issue so much in the past is because net neutrality — the principle that protects the open internet —is crucial to artists and fans. Today’s musicians depend on the web to reach potential audiences without the interference of gatekeepers, toll collectors and middlemen — which could change if net neutrality goes away.

There have been some promising signs that net neutrality is here to stay, but the fight to preserve the open internet is far from over. (Need a recap? Have a look at our Rock the Net campaign, previous blog posts and our net neutrality fact sheet.)

So, with all this in mind, we figured you might want to check out this discussion sponsored by the Pop Montreal Symposium (a Canadian organization that fosters discussion about music industry issues.) This event took place back in October of 2008, and was moderated by FMC founder and General Counsel, Walter McDonough. Joining Walter in the feisty back-and-forth were music artist Keith Serry, Alain Brunet of the Creators Coalition, NDP MP candidate and journalist Anthony Hamond and technology journalist Anne LagacĂ©-Dowson. (Walter called this the “best curated panel in the history of panels,” so you know it’s gotta be interesting, at least!)

The conversation touched on issues ranging from the future of the recording industry, the iTunes, illegal file sharing and. . . renowned music authors who were former deadheads? Oh, yeah — and net neutrality is in there somewhere, too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

FMC is Hiring!

Yes, you read that right. FMC is currently hiring for two positions: International Project Fellow and freelance Event Sponsorship Coordinator.

For the Int'l Fellow position, we're looking for individuals to work in 5+ month terms and help research and interview musicians and music business people from around the world. Duties include research on musicians, regions, businesses; logistics coordination for interviews and international trips; coordinating and organizing interview transcripts. Depending on skills, experience level, and needs of the project/timing, fellows may also conduct interviews and/or travel with team as road/logistics manager on a trip and/or participate in report writing.

The Sponsorship Coordinator will assist us in researching sponsorship opportunities and approaching potential sponsors for a music/law/technology/policy event in fall 2009.

For more information on both of these opportunities and to apply, head to our Jobs page. And good luck!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Variable Pricing Lands at Online Music Retailers

You may have heard the news about Apple's iTunes store moving to a variable pricing model, which means no more fixed 99 cents for individual songs across the board. (iTunes previously had different pricing on its DRM-free "iTunes Plus" offerings, but that looks to be all over, as the retailer is removing all the digital locks from its 10 million-song catalog.)

The major labels have long pushed for variable pricing at iTunes, and they finally got it. According to reports, Apple negotiated a with the labels to remove DRM from their tracks in exchange for a tiered pricing plan with "less popular" songs at 69 cents and up to $1.29 for current chartburners. The new scheme kicked off with little fanfare from Apple on April 7. [UPDATE: Check out this article by Glenn Peoples of Billboard about how the price changes are affecting sales ranking.

FMC asked our Twitter pals if this would affect their purchasing habits; here's a handful of the responses:

summervillain: much less difference to me than removing DRM. But sounds like it could benefit the long tail?

bryanvargas: iTunes is already a bad deal. Emusic & Amazon are much better options.

villageworkscan: I think it will devalue MP3s for unknown indie artists. There should be a minimum scale - > don't like? don't buy

Disasterdisastronaut: iTunes is last port of call if I'm really, really desperate - after hypem, napster, etc amazon move 1st of many!

AngelaOrtiz: Do people still buy music? :-)

We hope that last tweet was tongue-in-cheek.

This informal, completely unscientific survey indicates that some folks aren't big iTunes customers to begin with. This is interesting, because not long after we asked the question of our tweeps, we caught wind that other digital music retailers — namely, Amazon, Lala, and Rhapsody — are moving to a variable pricing scheme, too.

So we might as well ask again: what do you think of variable pricing for digital downloads, and will it influence your purchases?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

FCC Gets its Data On?

This morning, FMC staff attended an "Open Agenda" meeting at the Federal Communications Commission that outlined steps the agency would take to expand broadband, determine competition in the video marketplace and collect data on female and minority ownership among broadcast station owners.

If there was one theme to emerge from the meeting, it was the need for the agency to do a better job of collecting and analyzing data on the industries it's charged with regulating. (This is something many public interest groups — including FMC —have been saying for years.)

"If we're to be a data-driven agency, we need to do a better job of collecting the data," said acting Chairman Michael J. Copps. "Right now, we don't have a clue." He described the past several years at the agency as "a period of benign — or to some, not so benign — neglect," stating that timely and efficient data collection is crucial to effective policy.

Members of the FCC leadership often speak publicly about the agency's commitment to promoting "localism, competition and diversity" on the public airwaves, so it was good to hear Copps describe how the FCC could add meat to those worthy bones. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein echoed this sentiment, saying that better methods of data collection and analysis is "someting I've been begging for for years."

The Commissioners were speaking specifically about a national strategy for getting affordable broadband to more Americans, and the need to ensure diversity in the broadcast media landscape. But we at FMC think it applies to music, too, which is why we've spent so much time examining the nuts and bolts of the commercial radio marketplace to determine whether it serves communities, artists and the listening public.

Having observed trends in terrestrial radio since the turn of the millennium, we realize two things: a) consolidation in station ownership after the 1996 Telecommunications Act has led to a loss of independent owners and local control over programming decisions at commercial stations, and b) pay-for-play schemes like payola have made it incredibly difficult for non-major label talent to score commercial radio play. (For more info, check out these FMC research reports, past and present: Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians?, False Premises, False Promises: A Quantitative History of Ownership Consolidation in the Radio Industry, the Payola Education Guide and "More Static: Independent Labels and Commercial Airplay.")

We also understand the importance of quality information to the agency responsible for overseeing the broadcast industry. Without it, there's really no way to measure the effects of public policy. Groups like FMC do our best to fill in the gaps — our anticipated playlist tracking report that looks at indie spins on commercial radio comes out on April 20 — but there's no replacement for having an independent agency like the FCC collect and anylyze their own data. We hope today's meeting is a step in that direction.

As Copps himself said today, "We can't make fact-based decisions without timely, reliable data." In other words, data rocks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This Week In News

Music Fans Will Buy Songs, Says Head of Free Online Music Site Spotify
Record sales are down, illegal file sharing persists and a whole generation is getting used to enjoying music for free. But Daniel Ek, the man behind Spotify (still not available in the US), the world's fastest growing online music service, is convinced that fans will still pay for songs they love if they are packaged in the right way.
Alexandra Spotting, Guardian UK

CD Baby Payouts Cross 100 Million
Sometimes, simplicity pays, and in the case of CD Baby, artist payouts have now passed $100 million. ... The critical question now is whether avenues like CD Baby can generate serious artist salaries, instead of just impressive aggregated payouts. [FYI, CD Baby founder Derek Sivers is also FMC Board of Directors] Digital Music News

Next Generation iPhone & iPod Touch to offer Low Power & Wireless Radio
The next iterations of the iPhone and iPod Touch are likely to have 802.11n wireless radios inside, offering lower power consumption, longer range and faster data rates. More importantly, it will mean that you can hook your handheld up to your n-enabled home network and not slow everything else down.

Is MP3HD the Future of Digital Music?
For all its joys, MP3 is an old format - and it's lossy, which means no matter how high the bitrate you never get a perfect copy of the original audio. Thomson, the firm that helped invent MP3 in the first place, has come up with a solution - MP3HD, and you won't need to bin your existing kit as the file format will still play on normal MP3 players.

The YouTube DJ Cutting Up Copyright
Kutiman has become an Internet sensation with his mash-up tracks and videos culled from YouTube clips. There is indeed something new about Kutiman's approach to making music: all his songs, and the accompanying videos, have been painstakingly clipped together from YouTube clips of disparate, mostly (defenseless) amateur musicians.

Obama: Stop Filling Administration with RIAA Insiders
Nearly two dozen public interest groups, trade pacts and library groups urged President Barack Obama on Thursday to quit filling his administration with insiders plucked from the Recording Industry Association of America. Groups such as Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the Wikimedia Foundation and, among others, the American Library Association, are demanding Obama to look outside the content industry when filling up his administration.

Drama on Top of Drama: Ticketmaster Scrutiny Keeps Intensifying
The concert industry's favorite bad guy is now getting pummeled. After a Springsteen-inspired flare-up, the investigatory and legal flurry surrounding Ticketmaster keeps intensifying, across several fronts. [For more info on the proposed Live Nation and Ticketmaster merger, check out our earlier post.]

Let the Fans Decide: KISS Practices Touring Democracy…
Why not let the fans decide where a band should tour? That is exactly what KISS is now doing, a novel concept that could reshape live gigging. The band has now announced a partnership with Eventful, specifically for upcoming North American dates. "No matter where the fans say - from stadiums to cornfields - if there are enough votes, KISS will be there," the group declared.

D.I.Y & the Death of the Rock Star
The industry has long theorized that the current media landscape is simply unable to create the mega-bands of old, on the order of Guns N' Roses, Kiss, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, or Black Sabbath. Why?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

FMC Releases "Artist Principles"

You don’t have to be a super-genius to notice that the music economy isn’t exactly stable at the moment. (Then again, neither is the rest of the economy). One thing is certain — sales of compact discs continue to plummet, and it’s tough to predict which of the new music services will thrive — or even survive — in this period of transition.

Check out this article in Digital Music News for a thoughtful look at the state of digital music in 2009, and a few salient predictions of where things might end up a little further down the road.

Launching a music site or service that’s simultaneously affordable, appealing to music fans and fair to rightsholders is clearly difficult, especially in today’s economy. It’s a tough time for many of these new sites and services, but articles like the one above always get us thinking about those who create the music itself. From the beginning, FMC has stood for the right of musicians to be paid for their work, so we want make sure that artists aren’t overlooked in the ongoing experimentation with new music business models.

This is why today we’re releasing “Principles for Musician Compensation in New Business Models” (or “Artist Principles”) — a set of guidelines for ensuring creator compensation in an evolving music landscape. Crafted by Ann Chaitovitz with input from over a dozen industry experts, the Principles represent an important first step in ongoing discussions about musicians’ revenue streams.

We’re called the Future of Music Coalition, so we like to look ahead. In fact, the Principles are primarily meant to apply to music services that have yet to be brought to market. But, FMC also knows it’s important to learn from the past. The majority of the Principles are based on what we’ve observed from the launch of existing services. For example, you might recall our earlier post about the launch of MySpace Music, which saw the major labels enter a joint venture with the social network that reportedly included a cut of the advertising and equity stakes in the enterprise. Yet it remains unclear if or how the labels plan to share that equity or ad dollars with their artists.

And that’s just one example. With music moving beyond the physical (and even download) model, it becomes increasingly important to make sure that musicians are fairly compensated. Regardless of the system, artists deserve to be paid for their work — especially considering it’s their music that’s attracting listeners (and hopefully, dollars) to that service.

But without reasonable guidelines, creators could be excluded from any revenues generated by these new models. Hence, the Artist Principles. We’ve even drafted a point-by-point explanation of each principle, offering examples and what we think are possible ways forward, which you can read here. Just trying to be helpful.

Clearly, there’s no silver bullet solution to the challenges currently faced by artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. Yet, as always, we think the best thing to get a conversation going. And the Artist Principles surely will.