By: Joseph Kathmann
Last week, a major event went down in the music industry. SESAC, the third-largest performing rights organization, or PRO, in the country, purchased Harry Fox Agency, the country's only distributor of mechanical royalties. Isn't that amazing? Did I just blow your mind? I know. It's hard not to be blown away by that news. Well, for those of you who have no idea what I just said, I'll fill you in. So SESAC (what that stands for is outdated so don't worry about it) is one of three performing rights organizations in the great US of A. What does that mean? Well, a PRO is what gets songwriters paid. They are the distributors of royalties, or what a songwriter lives off of as he/she tries to makes a living. So why do songwriters exist? Well, many major pop and country artists today do not write their own music. They simply perform it. This practice is so widespread that Taylor Swift makes a big deal out of the fact that she's also her own songwriter. The practice also dates back to the dawn of modern music. Elvis? He was a performer, not a songwriter. The Rolling Stones manager famously locked Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in a room until they came out with an original song, "As Tears Go By," and wrote their own music ever since. There's a lot of money to be had in being a songwriter, which is why many make a (somewhat) comfortable living doing it.
Next up, what's a mechanical royalty? A mechanical royalty is a the royalty a songwriter gets from every album sold. Right now, when you buy Brad Paisley's hit single "Whiskey Lullaby," songwriter Jon Randall gets a mechanical royalty for it. When you buy Paisley's album Mud on the Tires, Randall will get another mechanical royalty for that song and any other song he wrote on the album. There's a bit more to it than that, but that's a rough summary of what a mechanical royalty is.
So, now that you know what everything means, is it a big deal to you yet that SESAC bought Harry Fox Agency? No? Well, here's why it matters: up until now, Harry Fox Agency was the sole distributor of mechanical royalties. They kept the royalties the exact same for every songwriter and artist, regardless of what PRO they belonged to, (there are three in the US, remember, and every selling artist and songwriter in the country is a member of one of them) and everything went by smoothly. That is, until the Internet came along.
The dawn of streaming services, both for music (Spotify) and TV shows, (Netflix) and piracy has thrown mechanical royalties for a major loop. Time after time we see a songwriter come out and say they made only $2,700 in songwriting royalties off a song streamed 43 million times on Pandora. We see songwriters complain about laughably minuscule royalties on their music in TV shows that's streamed on Netflix. iTunes has been targeted for not distributing royalties properly. The numbers are wildly inconsistent, and songwriters are struggling to even make a poor living off of these small royalty checks nowadays. In an attempt to combat this, the other two PROs, ASCAP and BMI, (both have more songwriters in their memberships than SESAC) have been lobbying Congress recently to allow them to distribute mechanical royalties (and other royalties, but we won't get into that). They are doing this in an attempt to make themselves look more appealing for incoming songwriters who are trying to decide which PRO to join, while also benefiting these songwriters by distributing higher/more thorough mechanical royalties in the process. The problem with this is that ASCAP and BMI are publicly traded companies; they are reigned in by government laws, many of which were put in place before anyone had even heard of the word "internet." The rumor had long been that had ASCAP and BMI successfully convinced Congress to allow them to get into the mechanical royalty business, SESAC, a privately-owned company, would purchase Harry Fox Agency to compete with ASCAP and BMI. Well, even though ASCAP and BMI have yet to convince Congress to let them in on the mechanical royalties game, SESAC went ahead and purchased Harry Fox Agency to get a head-start on the other two PROs.
So, now that I bored you with a lot of music industry drama, here's the question that matters. Why should you care? After all you don't care about songwriters, you just want good music right? Well, that's exactly it. Without Mark Ronson, there is no "Uptown Funk." Without Pharrell, there is no "Blurred Lines." Without Leonard Cohen, there is no "Hallelujah." Without Albert Hammond, there is no "One Moment in Time." The songwriter is a pivotal part of the creative process, and nowadays they are treated with little to no respect. After all, Beyoncé has more money than she knows what to do with, so why should we care about where the money goes. Well, because there are thousands of talented songwriters vying to get their music heard. Vying just to make a living doing what they love. Julie Keltonic is a songwriter (and a member of SESAC) who has made a living writing Christian music. "I see so many insanely talented writers turning away from their calling, and perusing other industries in the name of survival," she says. "We need people advocating for writers."
That's what SESAC is hoping to do by purchasing Harry Fox Agency. Many songwriters have never seen a check from Harry Fox Agency-mechanical royalties always get sent to the PRO and publishers first before being distributed to the songwriter-but with SESAC's acquisition, many songwriters within the PRO will likely see an increase in mechanical royalties in time. This acquisition also puts additional pressure on Congress to allow ASCAP and BMI to distribute mechanical royalties as well. Additional competition = higher royalties for songwriters. Higher royalties for songwriters = better songs written as fewer talented songwriters are discouraged by a lack of money in the industry. Better songs written = better music you get to listen to! Better music is always good, right? While this acquisition will not fix all the problems within the music industry, (not by a long shot, but that's for another conversation) it's definitely a mighty good place to start. "I look forward to seeing how [SESAC] implements new ideas to make licensing more valuable for writers and publishers," Keltonic says. "I trust the people at SESAC to continue their good work with their new acquisition."
http://www.musicrow.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/sesac-hfa.jpg (SESAC, HFA photo)
http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18iwgcfj83c3gpng/original.png (Spotify logo)
http://assets.rollingstone.com/assets/images/story/exclusive-book-excerpt-leonard-cohen-writes-hallelujah-in-the-holy-or-the-broken-20121203/leonardcohen-624x420-1354563972.jpg (Leonard Cohen photo)
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Well, it's hard to believe, but we're already halfway through 2015. So, it's only natural for us to talk about some of our favorite albums of the year so far, right? We have a few categories on this list. First is our top five albums of 2015 so far. Then, we'll talk about what we feel is the most disappointing album of the year thus far, and then a few songs that we've been playing on repeat for the last few months. Ok ready?
JOSEPH'S FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2015 SO FAR (In no particular order - scroll over the album for an explanation.)
Twenty One Pilots - Blurryface
Kamasi Washington - The Epic
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
Susanne Sundør - Ten Love Songs
JOSEPH'S BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2015 SO FAR
Mumford and Sons - Wilder Mind
For all the hype surrounding this album; with the hullabaloo surrounding the notion that Mumford and Sons were "going electric," what we got was an extremely bland The National-ripoff. I've listened to Sigh No More so much in the car, but now, two albums later, Mumford and Sons have all but lost the magic of that first album that made them as a great as they were. What's worse, now we might get one more electric album before we get a "triumphant return to folk" or some crap. You used to be good, Mumford and Sons....
JOSEPH'S FAVORITE SONGS OF 2015 SO FAR (In no particular order)
Florence + The Machine - "Delilah"
X Ambassadors - "Unsteady"
Father John Misty - "Chateau Lobby #4"
Twenty One Pilots - "Heavydirtysoul"
Susanne Sundfør - "Memorial"
DEREK'S TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2015 SO FAR (In no particular order - scroll over the album for an explanation)
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
Kamasi Washington - The Epic
The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
The Lone Bellow - Then Came The Morning
DEREK'S BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2015 SO FAR
Mumford and Sons - Wilder Mind
It's Bob Dylan goes electric...badly.
DEREK'S FAVORITE SONGS OF 2015 SO FAR
Tame Impala - "Let It Happen"
The Decemberists - "Make You Better"
Shamir - "On The Regular"
Houndmouth - "Sedona"
By: Derek Jung with an addendum from Joseph Kathmann
DEREK: Cincinnati production company Self Diploma announced Monday evening that it will be cancelling its popular summer concert series on Fountain Square in response to the violence that led to at least seven arrests, one hospitalization, and a two injured police officers. The series, which has hosted some of the biggest up-and-coming hip-hop and electronic artists as well as popular DJs, often attracts several thousand attendees to the square on Saturday nights during the summer.
According to police reports, groups in the crowd became unruly around 11pm, and when officers moved in, they started throwing bottles, fireworks, and other items at police. Backup was called and officers in full riot gear eventually dispersed the crowd. Read a full report of the incident here.
My family and I were unlucky enough to stumble upon the aftermath of the unrest. We were about a half block away from the square when we heard two distinct booms approximately a half second apart. Immediately a flood of people turned the corner of 5th Street and Walnut and ran south towards us. While we later learned that people were setting off fireworks in trash cans, at the time we thought for sure that it was gun fire. We ran down to 4th Street and west to Vine before entering the hotel adjacent to the square to avoid the chaos. I counted around a dozen police cars on scene, but by that time the incident was over.
Many people have been clamoring about the racial implications of cancelling the series, and while I do think that the Self Diploma concerts have a higher minority demographic than the Midpoint Indie series on Friday or other events during the week, I think organizers made the right decision in cancelling the remaining dates after this coming weekend's show. This wasn't the first incident at one of their shows. Police have been called on several occasions in the past for rowdy and disorderly crowds, but nothing of this magnitude.
I think the Self Diploma shows could return given appropriate security changes. For example, I think that these events need to be at least 18+, preferably 21+. Three of the seven people arrested were between the ages of 16 and 23, and witnesses at the scene have said that it was these teenagers specifically that instigated and escalated the violence. I think next week's show, which Self Diploma stated will have extra security, is a big test as to whether a return would be an option with the City, 3CDC, and with sponsors. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Self Diploma has now cancelled next week's show as well) In a city environment that is already on edge from the jump in gun violence this year and being in the spotlight for Major League Baseball's All-Star Game next week, this was an unneeded black eye that necessitated a swift, albeit unfortunate response.
Read Self Diploma's full press release below.
JOSEPH: I wasn't there. Let's just get that out of the way. So I can't provide a firsthand account. That's Derek's job, and he did it swimmingly. However, I have been following the situation closely, and am disappointed with fallout. While ultimately necessary, it is unfortunate to see this great event be cancelled outright because of this incident. My biggest quirk, however, is how this event immediately became an issue of race. Conservatives are upset because a couple African American teens beat up a White dude and it was recorded, and are now looking at the actions of a few as a representation of the entire African American community. Liberals are now upset with response of the city and Self Diploma, claiming that the city is racist themselves for canceling the concert series. Well, I'm going to upset everyone: hush up. Seriously. You're both wrong. Conservatives: group mentality is a powerful thing. Systemic racism has been piling up all across the country like gasoline, and all it takes is one person to throw a match on the situation in any way and it lights the fire of group mentality. Once the crowd got rowdy, there was no stopping it. And don't say you'd act any differently. Had you been an African American forced to grow up in constant fear of being targeted because of the color of your skin, you would've done the exact same thing in that moment on Fountain Square. If you deny that, you're just ignorant. I don't care how you were raised, because there were lots of good people in that mob too. Liberals: the city has to do everything they can to ensure that we don't have an incident like this during All-Star Week. For one week, we are on the national stage, and if we mess it up it will tarnish the image of the city for a ridiculously long time. Honestly part of me was shocked that this event wasn't cancelled sooner just as a precaution. I wouldn't have even blamed them then. The city needs to do everything in its power to make the biggest week of the year go by perfectly, and if that means canceling the entire Fountain Square concert series for a few weeks, then I wouldn't complain. You have to look at the big picture, guys. Here's to hoping they bring it back next year, and we be more grateful for it when they do.
EDIT: Yesterday, Self Diploma cancelled this Saturday's performance as well. With the start of All-Star Week on Sunday, the city felt the move was necessary. Self Diploma hopes to return next year.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
JOSEPH: So, let's talk about the big issue rattling everyone's brains right now: Apple Music. As you know, there's been a lot of controversy surrounding this new streaming service. The biggest of which was the controversy surrounding the issue of royalties (or lack there of) due to artists during the service's 3-month trial period. A contract was leaked by the record industry that said that no royalties whatsoever would be paid to artists, labels, or anyone while us, the listener, was using the trial period of the service. Or if someone was given the service for free from Apple. The timing would be killer: the 3-month trial period would kill indie artists everywhere that release their music before the holiday season. Traditionally, the holiday season is when major artists drop new albums, and as a result indies tend to avoid this time because, as much as I'd like to think Kishi Bashi can compete with Beyonce, he cannot. So all of their new music would be streamed to no end on Apple Music, and they wouldn't see a dime of revenue for it. Additionally, there were reports of Apple threatening smaller labels and artists, saying, "If you don't put your music on Apple Music, we're going to remove it from iTunes." This would obviously kill smaller artists, as their biggest revenue stream digitally is still purchases on iTunes. However, Taylor Swift recently used her power as an extremely influential artist to write an open letter to Apple vowing to never put her music on the site because of these tactics. Then, suddenly, Apple changed its mind. Now, they will pay royalties during the trial period, however I'm not convinced everything is now perfect in Cupertino.
I'm about to kick it over to you, Derek, but I wanna throw up a few quick thoughts to get us going: I'm not buying the whole Taylor Swift and Apple were in cohorts conspiracy theories. However, I don't trust Apple at all. I say this as I type on my 2010 MacBook Pro, and I'll likely text you in a bit from my iPhone 5, and before I go to bed I'll scour my iPad 2's MLB At Bat app for a few Cincinnati Reds highlights. (If there are any.) But my trust in the company has been completely destroyed in the last year, as I've watched the company become more obsessed with itself and more and more anti-consumer in the process. Apple's entry into the streaming industry has been surrounded by controversy, (let's not forget how before the announcement of Apple Music, they were putting pressure on labels to get them to ask Spotify to remove their free tier completely-the definition of a conflict of interest and one which they are still in legal heat over) and also why the largest company in the WORLD, with more market capital than anyone else in the WORLD, couldn't afford to spare some money to give to artists during their trial period is BEYOND me. They are trying to position themselves as the saviors of the music industry. How do they expect to convince those of us who care about the music industry's well-being that they're our saviors when it takes Taylor Swift getting the mainstream listener involved for them to be like, "Whoa. You're right. We'll pay you." I mean, seriously? I'll tell you what I think I'm going to do, Derek. I will likely use this service for about a day, then I'm going to go back to my Spotify Premium. Sure, Spotify has its problems, but at least it doesn't threaten indie artists with removing their music from iTunes if they don't agree to Apple Music's stipulations. What do you think?
DEREK: First off, let me say that the last Apple product that I bought was an iPod Classic because it had the most space for an MP3 player and I had a substantial music library at the time, so I am not beholden to the almighty Apple. Second, I think that you made some great points about Apple's motivation (good or bad) for not paying artists during the first 3 months. I think that, as a publicly traded company, they are expected to trim expenses where they can.
In this respect, one can also argue that since record labels agreed to these terms with Apple, artists like Taylor Swift have less of a right to disagree with terms their labels agreed to already. This is from a purely business perspective and not at all on what I consider right or wrong.
I think Taylor needs to have more understanding of what people in her camp are doing. She's been getting some backlash from photographers for what her management firm makes them agree to in order to shoot her concerts. Namely, the photographer has to get permission every time they use or publish pictures taken at her shows. Critics, including myself, say that photographers should have exclusive rights to their photographs without exception because that is their art form, just as music is to Taylor Swift. If she is going to publicly claim that her rights as an artist are being violated by Apple Music, she needs to know the nuances of her business as a whole too.
In the end, this may be one of the nails in the coffin for Apple Music. I think one thing that AM has over a service like TIDAL is that most people have already used the iTunes Store. There's already brand recognition beyond that of the artists involved. The problem with being one of the last to enter a market is that, as was a problem for TIDAL, people are already in the habit of using services like Pandora or Spotify. I have yet to see a reason, application feature or pricing, what would take me away from a freemium service that I'm already in the habit of using. I can tell you right away that I haven't tried TIDAL, I have no plans to try Apple Music, and I probably won't try whatever else is released until there are service features that get me excited enough to change my habits.
JOSEPH: Excellent points. Building off what you said towards the end there, I really think Apple is going to back track on not having a free tier shortly after the 3 month trial period ends and the service sees a mass exodus. So it's important for them as a company and for the artists/labels involved that are putting their music on there that they begin to establish royalties for the inevitable free tier once they go freemium. Not only that, but now they've put themselves in the position to give any amount they want for royalties on the trial tier that will likely transfer over to the freemium tier. Can you say $1 for 1,000,000 streams? Given Apple's recent track record, this is a very scary possibility to me.
Now I'm not going to sit here and call Taylor Swift a savior, because she has her own problems for sure. But at least she has the balls to step up and use her power and influence as a major mainstream artist for good. Because all of you saying that this should've been an indie artist who sent in the open letter instead of Taylor Swift, I got news for you: the only people who care what Automagik has to think is Automagik fans. That's it. Most of their 2,000 Facebook fans will say, "Right on guys! Way to speak the truth and stand up for what you believe in!" and then do nothing. But every mainstream fan will say, "Who?" and then stop caring. That is if they even hear about it. The music industry DESPERATELY needs more mainstream musicians willing to stand up for controversial beliefs like Taylor Swift does, and even though she is far from perfect herself, I still respect her tremendously for at least putting herself out there.
Finally, the music industry has long struggled to come to grips with the popularity of digital media, and they have always been behind on the popularity of anything involved with it. The notion that Apple is going to save the music industry? Well, if Steve Jobs were still alive and a major piece of the company, I might agree with you. But now? It's pure BS. As you said, Derek, the only reason anyone will use Apple Music is for the name, and we'll have to see if the name alone is worth enough to get people to leave Spotify. I'd be willing to bet the farm it isn't.
https://consequenceofsound.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/apple-music.jpg?w=807 (Apple Music)
http://cdn.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/taylor-swift-apple-music-644x373.jpg?20efae (T Swift Apple pic)
http://s.thestreet.com/files/tsc/v2008/photos/contrib/uploads/tidal.jpg (TIDAL pic)