First of all, I’d like to welcome you to the new redesign of the SOCAN online Words & Music magazine. It’s fitting that this President’s Message is about change and the digital shift in our industry. It’s a theme I’ve written about before, but it continues to swirl around us, so please read on…
Every day, you see something new about how the digital world has affected the music business. These articles range from doom and gloom to the rosy future of the new world. Sure, everything is changing, but of course, change is nothing new. The way people have been consuming (or enjoying) music has been constantly evolving, from piano rolls to radio, 78s, 45s and 33 rpm records, cassettes, CDs, digital downloads and now streaming. The only thing really changing is the accelerating pace of change.
At the dawn of the radio era, songwriters and publishers thought their livelihood was over because it was going to kill the piano rolls business – and it probably did – but still we survived, and thrived. More recently, in a short period of time, we’ve moved from physical to digital, PC to mobile and download to streaming almost simultaneously, not to mention business practices shifting from territorial to global. Change is all around us.
Things have yet to settle down into a fully sustainable business model.
Of course, this whole wave of change started in 1999, with the first hint of Napster. Instantly, the music industry was set on its ear and piracy became rampant. In 2001, Apple jumped into the game with iTunes and the iPod almost immediately after. Likely both a blessing and a curse for the industry, iTunes introduced a viable legal download alternative, but still iPods were capable of holding more than 10,000 songs and it’s unlikely that anyone paid $1.00 for every song contained on them.
It’s hard to imagine that none of this technology and disruption even existed 15 years ago, and it’s equally hard to believe that through that time, things have yet to settle down into a fully sustainable business model. For many young music consumers, the current reality of music “that appears to be free” is all they’ve ever known.
Piracy became the devil of the music industry and only now, for us anyway, with streaming starting to take hold globally, it seems to be less of a concern. Still, 20 percent of internet users around the world access websites that offer music that infringes copyright. There are other owners of digital content who have it far worse than we do, though, with music only representing 3 percent of illegal internet traffic, while film and TV represent about 50 percent (granted there is music in that audio-visual product).
Perhaps the new piracy we face as songwriters and publishers now, though, is coming from within. With the world embracing streaming at a logarithmic pace, somehow the revenue that these services should be generating for us isn’t materializing in a sustainable way. Current rates for songwriters and music publishers are far too low, while labels seem to be getting the lion’s share of the royalties, and in many cases owning equity stakes in the major streaming services. Ultimately, there is very little transparency in the whole system, and while some people may be making money with these services, we music creators certainly aren’t.
A recent example that was all over the news was that of Kevin Kadish, co-writer of the Megan Trainor hit, “All About That Bass.” It was reported that Kevin earned only $5,679 for his share of 178 million streams on Pandora. Clearly, there’s something wrong with this picture. In order to have a sustainable music ecosystem, all contributors in the value chain need to be compensated fairly.
I’ve previously written about Fair Trade Music, now an incorporated entity, that’s been working to establish itself as a certification body for fairness, transparency and ethical and sustainable practices within our industry. Spearheaded by the S.A.C (Songwriters Association of Canada) and endorsed by CISAC (The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers), CIAM (The International Creators’ Council), MCNA (Music Creators North America) and supported in principle by ASCAP and Spotify, with contributions and support from SOCAN and SACEM, Fair Trade Music (FTM) is clearly gaining much traction.
FTM is working hard to define a level playing field among rights holders and music services by seeking to establish credible criteria for transparency and fair remuneration, as well as creating a reputable brand to help make the public aware of ethical players in the industry – as it’s been proven by other Fair Trade initiatives that many consumers would prefer to deal with entities that operate in a fair and sustainable way, not unlike the Fair Trade Coffee movement. Stay tuned for more developments on the FTM front.
Finally, while we’re on the topic of change, on a tangentially related note, sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m pleased to report that this past June, following SOCAN’s Board of Directors’ election, I’ve been re-elected to a second three-year mandate as President of the SOCAN Board of Directors. Along with our newly elected board – which turns out to be fairly similar to our outgoing board, but for two members (we welcome publisher Robert Ott from ole and songwriter Safwan Javed) – we’ll continue to work with SOCAN management to guide our way through these changing times, looking for opportunities to ensure that SOCAN continues to build on its strengths, and can thrive in this constantly evolving world.