|THURSDAY 27 APRIL 2017||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: How do you convince the music industry that you're taking the data issues that continue to hinder the streaming business seriously? Tell em you're going to fix it via the blockchain and 'boom', no one knows what you're taking about, but boy are they impressed. To that end, Spotify has bought itself a team of data and blockchain specialists... [READ MORE]|
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Spotify acquires blockchain team at Mediachain Labs
To that end, Spotify has bought itself a team of data and blockchain specialists to "further the streaming leader's journey towards a more fair, transparent and rewarding music industry for creators and rights owners".
The streaming firm has acqui-hired - if we're allowing that term now - New York-based Mediachain Labs, the team behind the open-source Mediachain protocol who say that, over the last three years, they have "developed open, decentralised data infrastructure, built open-first applications to surface attribution for creators, and even prototyped our own cryptocurrency to reward creators and curators for their contributions to culture".
But it's the people rather than the company's past products that Spotify is interested in. Quite what the digital firm wants the Mediachain team to work on isn't clear, though the acquired company wrote in a blog post yesterday that "a shared data layer is key to solving attribution, empowering creators and rights owners, and enabling a more efficient and sustainable model for creativity online. The opportunity to join an organisation that shares this vision comes at a crucial time, when the relatively nascent blockchain community has few bridges to mainstream consumers, creators or the platforms they use to interact".
As much previously reported, mediocre metadata attached to the music industry's recordings mean streaming services often don't know who performed on and produced a track, what song the recording contains, and who wrote, publishes and reps that song. Poor data makes it harder for services to fully credit all those involved in a track and to use that information to aid discovery tools, but more importantly makes it tricky for services to directly pay the owners and beneficiaries of song copyrights.
The streaming sector generally relies on the collecting societies to administer payments to songwriters and publishers - and, as discussed at CMU@CMW last week, some societies are better than others at that task. Meanwhile in the US, where there is no industry-wide mechanical rights society, Spotify and others have found themselves on the receiving end of lawsuits for failing to pay all the royalties due on the songs it's streamed.
Some reckon that it is the music industry's job to sort out its data issues, rather than relying on the streaming platforms to do it. Though Spotify made commitments about building a songs database in the wake of the aforementioned lawsuits, plus the platforms can use better data to improve the navigation and recommendation elements of their services. The Mediachain team may now be charged with fixing the bad data problem for Spotify.
Blurred Lines case shouldn't have gone to a jury, says lawyer
The appeal process in the high profile 'Blurred Lines' song-theft case continues to rumble on with a new submission from lawyers repping Thicke and Williams, who want the original ruling in favour of the Gaye family overturned. In the new filing, the 'Blurred Lines' twosome's legal reps argue that their clients should have won the case on summary judgement, without the whole matter being taken to jury trial.
As much previously reported, one of the key issues in the 'Lines' case is what elements of 'Got To Give It Up' are actually protected by copyright. The dispute was over the song, not the recording, and technically under American law only the core composition of 'Got To Give It Up' as registered with the country's Copyright Office has copyright protection. Lawyers for Thicke and Williams argue that any similarity between 'Blurred Lines' and 'Got To Give It Up' are in the original recordings of the two songs, which have the same 'vibe', rather than the core compositions.
The argument goes that a jury couldn't be expected to appreciate these complexities and - while the judge didn't allow the original recording of 'Got To Give It Up' to be played in court - lawyers for the Gaye family gave evidence that related to the recording rather than the core composition.
Say the duo's lawyers in their latest court filing, according to The Hollywood Reporter: "The two songs in this case are not the same, and the district court should have granted summary judgment. Rather than address the fatal flaws in their musicology evidence, the Gayes attempted to distract the court with irrelevant issues and assert a copyright in musical elements beyond those found in their copyrighted work, which is the lead sheet - and not the sound recording - to Marvin Gaye's musical composition 'Got To Give It Up'".
The filing adds that just because musicologists disagree on whether or not two songs a sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement, that alone shouldn't necessitate a jury trial. "The district court erred in holding that the issue of substantial similarity was for the jury just because the musicology experts presented conflicting opinions," say the lawyers. "Under the district court's approach, musical composition cases would enjoy special immunity from summary judgment determinations merely because the parties offer competing musicology experts".
Beyond all those legal technicalities, the latest submission again returns to the long-running inspiration-v-infringement debate, and the argument that the ruling in the 'Lines' case sets a dangerous precedent. "A 'groove' or 'feeling' cannot be copyrighted, and inspiration is not copying", adds the legal filing.
The battle for lost MegaUpload data goes to the Fourth Circuit
As much previously reported, when the US authorities shut down the often controversial file-transfer platform MegaUpload in 2012 on copyright grounds, as well as cutting off access to mountains of pirated material, some people lost access to the files they legitimately stored on the now defunct company's servers.
In the main the American authorities have shown little concern over those caught in the crossfire during their big assault on MegaUpload, noting that the file-transfer firm's small print urged users to keep local back-ups of their files.
The music and movie industries - while not objecting to the likes of Goodwin getting their content back - hindered that process by opposing a temporary reconnection shortly after shutdown. Since then they've done little to help Goodwin, despite him being a fellow copyright owner, and the fact such contempt only further damages the reputation of big rights owners like the Hollywood film studios and major record companies.
As the years have gone by, it gets ever harder for the likes of Goodwin to get their content back, as the servers once rented by MegaUpload get stacked in warehouses and gather dust. At best. Some have been wiped by their owners, while others may have become corrupted simply due to not being used in such a long time.
For their part, the courts have been much more sympathetic to Goodwin; not that that has helped. Backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, he has now taken his case to the Fourth Circuit appeals court, asking judges there to intervene.
According to Torrentfreak, EFF's Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz says: "Mr Goodwin, and many others, used MegaUpload to store legal files, and we've been asking the court for help since 2012. It's deeply unfair for him to still be in limbo after all this time. The legal system must step in and create a pathway for law-abiding users to get their data back".
Goodwin's lawyers want the Fourth Circuit to issue a 'writ of mandamus', which isn't quite as exotic as it sounds, and is basically a superior court telling a subordinate court or government department to bloody well do their job properly. Because the government's actions to date on this - the EFF's lawyers add - is damn unconstitutional.
"The seizure and continued denial of access also violates Mr Goodwin's constitutional rights", says the new court submission. "Under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, the government was obligated to execute the searches and seizures in a manner that reasonably protected the rights of third parties to access and retrieval".
Noting that this case sets something of a precedent, given how common it is becoming for people to store digital content online, EFF's Legal Director Corynne McSherry added: "We're likely to see even more cases like this as cloud computing becomes increasingly popular. If the government takes over your bank, it doesn't get to keep the family jewels you stored in the vault. There's a process for you to get your stuff back, and you have a right to the same protection for your data".
Max Richter is the first signing to all new Decca Publishing
Says Richter: "I liked the idea of being the first signing to Decca Music Publishing, as we agreed to take a fresh outlook on how we approach music publishing together, at a time when the rules are changing as to how music can engage with the multidimensional creative landscape of today".
Natasha Baldwin, who is heading up the Decca Publishing division, adds: "I'm incredibly proud to be working with Max Richter as the first signing to our new publishing division. He is spearheading a new generation of composers in a genre of music that is expanding in global popularity at a phenomenal pace. It's an exciting time for neo-classical music and I feel privileged to be working at the forefront of this movement with such a visionary composer as Max".
Ad agency allied label announces distribution deal with Sony
Rupture is the latest business venture from Alexandre Sap, who previously ran a label-marketing-agency combo allied to the communications group Havas, which now has partnerships with various Universal labels around the world, it having a shareholder in common with the mega-major's parent company Vivendi.
Rupture - which will also operate vinyl-centric record stores in Paris, LA and New York in addition to its label and ad agency - will work with Sony on the distribution of its artist projects. Those include new material from Canadian folk singer Alejandra Ribera; solo projects from Donald Cumming, formerly of The Virgins, and La Rudd, formerly of Grand National; and a collaboration between Tunisian artist Mounir Troudi and Brian Eno.
Says Sap of his latest venture: "I decided to call our agency Rupture because we need to completely rethink current short term development politics for bands and labels ... what short term profitability diktats show is, in fact, a lack of substance".
Record industry growth? Thank the retailers, say the retailers
And you know how, as the IFPI itself said, "Record companies have fuelled this revenue growth through ongoing investment, not only in artists, but also in the systems supporting digital platforms, which has allowed for the licensing of over 40 million tracks across hundreds of services"?
You know that right? Record companies have fuelled this revenue growth. Of course they have! You've always said that, haven't you? Well, you're wrong. Wrong I tell you. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It's all down to the retailers, of course! Think about it for a moment, people. The retailers! Providing you count the Spotifys of the world as retailers. But they're members of the Entertainment Retailers Association, so they must be.
"The IFPI numbers amount to a ringing endorsement of the ability of digital services and retailers to broaden the market for music and generate more revenue for artists and songwriters", said ERA boss Kim Bayley. "It is significant that the two fastest growing sectors of the music industry - streaming and vinyl records - are both the result of the innovation, market insight and investment of retailers and digital services".
Too right. Fuck off labels, it's all down to the retailers and digital services. "Investment from services like Spotify, Amazon Prime, Deezer and Google Play has effectively thrown a lifeline to the music industry", Bayley added. "The key to maintaining that investment has to be to ensure an equitable split of the fruits of that success between the digital services, the artists and songwriters, and the labels and music publishers who represent them".
You know who else has played a crucial role in turning round the fortunes of the recorded music industry? You think I'm going to say 'artists' don't you? No, fuck them, music business journalists, that's who. When will you people finally recognise the vital role us music business journalists played, being all snarky and sarcastic on the sidelines. OK, that might have just been this music business journalist. But never under-estimate the impact of the snark. I have it on good authority that it saved the music industry.
Bristol's Colston Hall to rebrand to cut association with slave trader namesake
The venue is named after Edward Colston, a divisive figure in Bristol's history who lived from 1636 to 1721 and during his lifetime financially supported schools, hospitals and almshouses in the city, but who made his fortune through the slave trade.
There has been a long campaign for the Colston Hall to change its name because of its namesake's involvement in exploiting and trading slaves, and some artists - including Bristol legends Massive Attack - refuse to play the venue in protest. The Bristol Music Trust seemingly reckons that the planned relaunch of the building is as good a time as any to respond to that criticism and choose a new name.
The CEO of the Trust, Louise Mitchell, says that the Colston name - which is used by a number of other locations and institutions in Bristol - is a "toxic brand". Colston himself had no involvement in founding or funding the hall - he had been long dead when it opened - but the building was nevertheless named in his honour.
"We really don't feel an association with Edward Colston, however tenuous, is the way we want to [move] forward", Mitchell said. "I have members of staff whose families won't come into the building because of the perceived connection with slavery. We can't have that. For us this feels like the beginning of a new dawn. We are doing this now because it is the right thing to do".
Mitchell said that the Trust planned to consult artists and the local community on a possible new name, and that she hoped Massive Attack might agree to play the venue once it has been rebranded.
The Trust's decision has been welcomed by a number of artists and campaigners in the city. Cleo Lake, a member of a campaign group called Countering Colston, told the BBC: "Today we turn a corner in Bristol and history is made. It has been the continuation of decades of movements aiming to decolonise the city and pay some respect to those whose lives were taken and exploited in the name of capitalism".
However, the move isn't without its critics, who choose to focus on Colston's philanthropy over his profession. The name change could also result in a different constituency boycotting the venue. Local Conservative councillor Richard Eddy has dubbed the rebrand "an abject betrayal of the history and people of Bristol and a complete surrender to the forces of historically illiterate political correctness".
Eddy told reporters: "Instead of tackling the real victims of modern slavery in Bristol today, those who whinge about Edward Colston 400 years ago just want to airbrush history away and have no awareness of the huge debt we still owe to this great Bristolian. Even in the early 21st century, the inhabitants of our city still gain immeasurably from the housing, healthcare and schooling legacy of Colston".
Calling for a new boycott of the Colston Hall, once that's no longer its name, he went on: "I am utterly fed up of pandering to the views of a tiny minority of non-Bristolians and outraged that the unelected directors of the Bristol Music Trust can make this controversial decision. However, this knee-jerk surrender will at least save me money. As a regular concertgoer to the Colston Hall, I do not intend to spend one penny on tickets there if it changes its name after 2020 and I hope other true Bristolians will do likewise".
Secrecy around streaming still making it too difficult for artists to know if they're getting a fair deal
As part of this year's Global Creators Summit at Canadian Music Week in Toronto, CMU Insights presented a series of sessions on the streaming market. Based on the 'Dissecting The Digital Dollar' reports CMU Insights produced for the UK Music Managers Forum, representatives from the digital market, collecting societies, artist management and entertainment law spoke. The audience heard a detailed breakdown of how streaming services are licensed, conversations about ensuring that the streaming business works for all parties, and a discussion about ongoing transparency issues.
For the final session of the day, CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke was joined by Canadian artist managers Graham Stairs and Jake Gold, entertainment lawyer Angelika Heim, and CEO of the UK Music Managers Forum Annabella Coldrick. They discussed the issue of transparency in the streaming business, what is changing and what remains problematic.
Laying out the concerns of managers and artists, Coldrick stressed that "it's not transparency for the sake of transparency and data for the sake of data", but that managers need a certain amount of information to audit their client's income, and assess which business partners and digital platforms are in their artists' best interest. And that means having a full understanding of the business of streaming, including usage and royalty data relating to their artist's tracks and songs, but also information about the deals done between labels and publishers and the streaming services.
Getting some of that information is a good start, but what managers really need is the full picture. "When we talk to the labels they say, 'look we're sharing all this marketing data, we're sharing all this information about what is being streamed and where'" Coldrick said. "But it's being able to understand the full flow of money all the way through the chain that really matters".
"It's an increasing problem as streaming becomes more dominant", she added, because a lack of information is furthering distrust between artists and their business partners. "We know that where artists are self-releasing, or they're working with certain indies, they can understand how things work throughout the value chain and they therefore have trust in the way streaming is operating", she continued. "But in many cases, artists and managers can't see that information, they can't see all the different terms of the deal, so trust is lacking".
As previously reported, attempts were made in the UK to reach an industry-wide voluntary agreement on issues like transparency via trade body UK Music, talks which involved the majors, but negotiations have fallen flat. "We went through seventeen different drafts of the code of conduct and it came to nothing", she said. As a result, the MMF and other music creative groups in the UK have moved on to lobbying politicians in London and Brussels on this issue.
"It's not that managers in the UK want to leap to regulation", she said. "Managers are very entrepreneurial and would like the market to find a solution. But we're now getting to the stage where we're having to look at potential backstop legislation to bring about transparency and the ability to ensure that modern digital contracts really are modern and that older artists are not stuck on legacy contracts with unfair terms".
When it comes to labels and publishers sharing key data and information, some of that is about willingness to share, and some of it is about the ability to share. Managers recognise that the vast amount of usage and royalty data coming in from streaming has posed a big challenge for labels used to reporting more modest CD units to their artists.
Gold recalled: "I had an artist signed to an independent UK label where we had a 50/50 net deal. Which meant 50% of all profit came to us. So transparency was always part of the deal, because every dollar spent I got to see with back up".
The label was willing to be transparent, but streaming created a different challenge. "When I got the first royalty statement that included streams it was [thousands of pages] thick", he continued. "And it got to the point where they literally stopped sending royalty statements and they had to create a portal so you could view you royalty statement online, because it was too big to attach, because there were all these micro transactions happening".
"Now, was I going to go through every single one of them?" he added. "My thinking was, if they say they've collected this much money and I'm going to get half of it, I'm going to have to go with that. That's a key problem - you can ask for transparency, but how are you going to audit them?"
Many labels and publishers have since invested in ever more sophisticated reporting platforms, making it easier for them to provide streaming usage and royalty information to managers, and to help managers navigate that data. Though the quality of those reporting systems varies greatly across the industry, and even with the best there is still room for improvement.
There remains the issue of managers not knowing how any one streaming service is calculating what is due to any one label or artist. That problem endures because of the non-disclosure agreements in the deals between the labels and publishers and the streaming services.
"As a lawyer, I respect that there are confidentiality provisions", said Heim. "As a lawyer, I don't necessarily want other people to know what I got for my clients. There are many different reasons why there might be confidentiality provisions. One of them is the label or publisher wants to have a leg up on their competition. They want to know everyone else's deal, but they don't necessarily want them to know theirs".
However, the secrecy creates challenges when it comes to the label/artist relationship. "My job as a lawyer is to get the best deal as possible for you, so I care about the money", she went on. "I work with the manager and artist to make sure that your artistic vision is also going to be respected by your partner, but at the end of the day I want to know about the money".
In the streaming age, the NDAs hinder the process of understanding the money. That said, Heim continued, in the same way some labels and publishers have worked on how they report streaming and royalty data, some are now reaching out to try and given a little more clarity on the way the streaming deals work, within the constraints of the NDAs. Sony Music Canada has made some effort in this regard of late, she added.
Allowing managers to understand how the streaming service knows what to pay the label is key, Coldrick stressed once again. "There's amazing amounts of information out there, but it's being able to understand what Spotify paid the label. Some managers have occasionally been able to see what's gone from Spotify to the label, and some of them have said that actually it's been reassuring. They're signed to an indie and they've seen that what's been paid from the streaming service is what they are paid their share on".
However, she added, "I hear stories from others that what's been paid by Spotify to the label is a lot more than what the artist received, which is to say, the artist didn't get the share they were due under contract, which might be 15%. So something happened - deductions were made - before the artist royalty was calculated. But what and why? The lack of transparency means artists can't see that".
Artist's record contracts can also be complex, of course, and labels may be applying contractual discounts and deductions to streaming income before the artist's royalty is worked out. But a lack of clarity - over both what the streaming service paid the label and what discounts or deductions were then applied - means managers often can't see what is going on; and whether discounts and deductions are being applied fairly, especially on pre-digital contracts where terms written with CDs in mind are being applied to streams.
Picking up on that, Stairs noted: "One of my artists is, for want of a better word, a heritage artist, who signed a deal in 1978 before any of this stuff existed. It's interesting now, we're having a conflict, shall we say, with one of the majors in the UK about how they're interpreting that contract with things like packaging deductions on digital sales".
However, the panel was keen to acknowledge improvements that were being made, especially in the way data is reported and shared. Gold noted that in some ways the industry was dealing with its new royalty and reporting issues faster than with the old ones, by making sure it utilises new technology.
"Before radio was fingerprinted, they kept logs and the performing rights societies had to trust their logs", he recalled. "So it ended up being a sample, and we were paid out as a sample, before we were able to fingerprint the audio and get accurate reporting. It that took decades to get to that point. So I think in a lot of ways we're moving way faster than we ever were before".
Issues still remain though, especially when it comes to accessing information about the streaming deals, where willingness as well as ability is still an issue. And it may require a change in copyright law - like the transparency elements of the European Copyright Directive - to address those problems. Though artists and managers being unified in their demands for clarity, both in public but also directly with their business partners, could also bring about the desired change.
"Having these conversations and having the stakeholders who are making the deals hear what's being said, it will pressure them to make changes", said Heim. "The truth is, if you have an artist that's in demand, they're going to look at [the policies of labels courting them]. Do I like the public face of the person who's going to be representing me? And when that starts happening, there are going to be changes. I am optimistic".
Stevie Nicks among Lana Del Rey's Lust For Life collaborators
Del Rey's new long player, 'Lust For Life', is yet to have a release date, though is set to include a number of collaborations, including one with Sean Ono Lennon, and the already released title track, which features her mate The Weeknd.
Little is known about the Stevie Nicks collaboration, but at least you now know it's incoming. You might not realise it just now, but you'll sleep better tonight having that information stored in your brain.
And God knows, we need help sleeping at the moment, what with all the recent world events. For Del Rey, those world events have even been interfering with her quality dancing time.
"[I had] complex feelings about spending the weekend dancing whilst watching tensions [with] North Korea mount", she recently wrote on Instagram, referring to the Coachella festival. Though it all inspired a song.
She added: "On my way home I found myself compelled to visit an old favourite place of mine at the rim of the world highway where I took a moment to sit down by the sequoia grove and write a little song. I just wanted to share this in hopes that one individual's hope and prayer for peace might contribute to the possibility of it in the long run".
Madonna hits out at unofficial biopic for quoting her verbatim
In particular she noted a line on the first page of the screenplay for 'Blond Ambition', written by Elyse Hollander, in which she will be seen telling American TV host Dick Clark during an interview on his show that she's a "famed high school dropout" from Detroit.
"Lets start with the first page", Madonna wrote in a post on Instagram. "I was born in Bay City not Detroit. And I did not drop out of high school, in fact I went to University Of Michigan. Why would Universal Studios want to make a movie about me based on a script that is all lies? The writer Elyse Hollander should write for the tabloids. Anyone who supports this film is supporting lies and exploitation. Lies have no legs!"
Though the queen of pop has since deleted the mini-rant, possibly because a clip of the Dick Clark show on which she appeared in 1983 has surfaced in which she does indeed describe herself as a "famed high school dropout" from Detroit. A clip Hollander presumably plundered when writing the first page of her script.
Still, that one bit of front page accuracy doesn't mean the rest of the screenplay isn't dripping with lies. Though if it does turn out that the movie is, in fact, full of inconvenient truths, Madonna can just label it 'fake news' and President Trump will make her Secretary Of State. Then she can blow up the White House from the inside. See, there's your happy ending.