To Do List 2012

Jan 12 2012

There’s never a busier day on the publishing calendar than the day after a holiday, and the first working day after New Years is the mother of them all.  Having had a nice two week break to sit and contemplate the future of music, the inadequacies of their present situation, the wealth of unexploited future classics sitting in their song catalogs, and the disturbing similarity between their circumstances this year and last, songwriters the world over wake up on the first day of the new working year with one single mission forefront in their minds:

CALL PUBLISHER!

I know this because I used to be a songwriter, and I did the same thing.  Every year.

Of course, it’s only natural to want to reassess, re-organize, and restructure in order to get a fresh start on the new year. It’s what we should be doing, whether we’re songwriters or publishers.  But often it’s too easy for songwriters to bring a list of complaints and goals to the conversation, without providing any ideas as to strategy. Likewise, too many publishers are prone to offer up a plan that’s amounts to more of the same—“keep writing, keep pitching and let’s hope we get that big break”. Both approaches leave a very good percentage chance that songwriter and publisher will be having the very same conversation next year.  And no one needs that.

So what does it take to move things ahead in 2012?  Of course, the detailed strategy will vary for every writer and publisher in every genre across every part of the world.  Nevertheless, there are a few resolutions we can almost all agree to make, that will pay off regardless of our professional level or musical market.

In lieu of a champagne toast, I offer you a no-cost kickstarter for the new year:

12 Resolutions for 2012!

1.  Get the paperwork right.

When I moved from being a songwriter to a music publisher, one of the great surprises was to see first-hand how much songwriter and publisher income vanishes every year due to paperwork errors, omissions and general sloppiness.  Settle your split disputes, check your song registrations around the world, read your royalty statements, make sure your PRO (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, PRS, etc) has your correct address.  There’s no excuse for a paperwork error in publishing. Paperwork is pretty much what publishing is.

2.  Expand your territory.

When investment-backed companies like BMG Rights make billion dollar investments in the music-publishing sector, one of the key motivators is the anticipated expansion of the global music market.  And yet many songwriters and publishers, particularly in genres like country, hip-hop, r&b, and even rock rarely think about the world outside their own borders.  Beef up your sub-pub relationships, check out internet radio to familiarize yourself with markets outside of your own territory, use YouTube and other tools to find talent all over the world. There’s almost always more than one geographical market for any type of music.

3.  Don’t demo.

Songwriters are the only ones left still using the word.  Rough work tapes for reference are fine. But when you record, make masters. That way you can license them to film & television, commercials, video games and other venues.

4.  Live the single life.

Please…. no more unknown artists making their “album”.  At this point, superstars are struggling to sell albums.  We live in a singles market, so make singles—one memorable “hit” song will move your career further than a thousand interesting album tracks.  Unless you’re Radiohead or Adele, put your focus on making singles.

5.  Tighten your belt.

The tragic truth is, there’s a lot of money that’s gone out of music publishing over the past five years, and it’s not coming back. Plummeting mechanical income, some ugly days at the bargaining table for ASCAP and BMI, the complete bungling of the negotiations for the rates on “streaming” services, and wild, cutthroat competition in the sync world all add up to one thing: less. Less money for everyone, so get used to it. We’re all going to have to cut waste, reduce overhead, and eat fewer lunches at Bice.  Let’s start with the cutting waste and reducing overhead part.

6.  Loosen your grip.

Publishers like control—it’s our nature. But with more and more of the entertainment universe being covered by blanket licenses, rather than specific song by song licenses, we’re going to have to be willing to put our music out there, with less and less control over how it will be used. Whether it’s a homemade YouTube video made by a stranger or a mix on turntable.fm, songs are being used all the time—we’re just not being asked for permission. Those uses are what keep songs alive, even if it’s not yet something remotely profitable. But squeeze those songs too tight and you’ll kill ‘em.

7.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

In a world in which the income for publishers and songwriters has been cut drastically, we cannot continue to waste time on meaningless matters. Does the split dispute get settled at 17.5 percent or 20 percent? Unless the record goes 4x platinum, it just doesn’t matter.  Someone changed a line in the lyrics without permission? Just hope a listener is paying enough attention to notice. What matters is what makes money. All else can be ignored.

8.  Put your head in the clouds.

For better or worse, the industry is embracing new cloud-based streaming services like Spotify, which means that iTunes will soon be going the way of Tower Records.  Given that this technology didn’t exactly sneak up on us, one might have hoped that the same mistakes made with mp3s might have been avoided this time around. Incredibly, the record companies managed to get this one right, while the publisher’s income seems to be lost somewhere in the grey, murky ether.  But publishers are going to have to figure out how to turn this technology into something profitable, or the only clouds we’ll be seeing will be those we pass as we plummet to our demise.  This is the battleground for the next five years.

9.  Don’t lose that syncing feeling.

Welcome to the only game in town. In the past ten years, the focus of publishing has shifted almost entirely, from records and radio, to film, television and advertising.  At this point, the transition is complete, and the sync world is the one that every songwriter and publisher has to be a part of. Depending on the style of music you work with, it might be video games, advertisements, source music libraries, branding campaigns, television spots or web-based advertising programs. But your business has to have some strategy for licensing your music in sync uses.

10.  Get the money in.

Easier said than done. It now seems that every record label uses songs without mechanical licenses in place, theater shows routinely drop songs into a revue without clearing the dramatic rights, advertisers sign sync licenses long after ads are on the air, and everyone pays late, if at all.  It takes a new kind of tenacity to get paid, and only those who are the most persistent, the most unrelenting, and the nastiest will get their money. You can’t just put your registrations in place and wait for the payment to show up.  Those who snooze will be abused.

11.  Move your business beyond music.

Despite a slightly better year in 2011, the writing is on the wall: the music business is in an almost permanent state of contraction.  It simply is no longer the singular cultural defining force that it was 30 years ago.  The good news is, the entertainment business as a whole is growing constantly, from new cable channels to internet tv to virtual worlds to a myriad of different venues for live entertainment.  The best news is, music remains a vital element in almost every entertainment form. Sometimes it’s okay to be the supporting actor. Music publishers who rely solely on the music business can’t survive. Better to be one small part of the larger industry of show business.

12.  Move your music beyond business.

Clearly 2011 was the year of Adele. Coming out of an environment knee-deep in Dr. Luke sound-alike records and generic auto-tuned voices over a Euro dance track, “21” was a breath of fresh air that above all else, sounded honest.  Public taste always swings like a pendulum and one can be sure that whatever is popular in 2011 will change to at least some degree in 2012.  But Adele’s triumph signals a move away from things that sound blatantly contrived. Songwriters are going to have to be more subtle, more daring, and dig a little deeper. Music that sounds more like a marketing strategy than a song may be on its way out.

 

Everything always looks good at the start. I’m sure that for all of us, 2012 will have its high points and low points, and enough inspiration and frustration to keep us all battling for the next 12 months. Still, now is a moment to make some plans beyond just calling your publisher, or assuring your songwriter that this could be his or her big year.  Here’s to making, not letting, things happen in 2012. Happy weaseling in  the new year!

 

 

 

 

Having vowed to keep the blog positive and focused on the new developments that could actually save the industry, I’ve decided to do what any cynical old music business weasel would do:

I’m calling on people younger and smarter than myself. (Doug Morris—wake up from your nap and take note.)

In what may be the best marriage yet of music and social networking, turntable.fm debuted this summer to rave reviews. One of those instant fans was my A&R colleague at Shapiro Bernstein, David Hoffman. Having educated our office on the endless possibilities of this new service, David recently sat down with my Berklee intern, Jorge Oliveres, to share the good news—two young guys looking at one exciting new facet in the future of music:

turntable.fm

Turtntable.fm is a virtual nightclub in which users are the DJs. The website is divided into “rooms” that play different styles of music. Users can chat with each other and bob their avatar’s head by clicking an “Awesome” button if they like the song that is being played or they can click the “Lame” button that, if pressed by enough people, skips it. DJs can choose the music they are going to play from a huge database or they can upload it themselves.

David Hoffman, Director of Creative Services at Shapiro Bernstein & Co., Inc., began using turntable.fm since soon after it was launched and he is extremely excited about its potential. I had a chance to talk to David about all the opportunities a service like turntable presents for both music publishers and songwriters.

David Hoffman

I heard you are very interested in turntable.fm.

I’m interested, almost slightly addicted to it. Probably a month ago now, a good friend of mine who is also in the music industry and one of the most knowledgeable music people I know, emailed me about turntable.fm. He said, “You have to check it out.” He’s also a DJ and I have, from time to time, guest DJed on his show–so we know each other’s music tastes pretty well. When he told me to check out turntable, I went on it immediately and was hooked. The next day I came to the office, stood up in front of everybody and was like, “You have to check out turntable.fm!”

I follow the digital music industry and the future of the music industry through blogs and reading up on the trades, and this, turntable.fm, [represents] the potential that I see for the new cloud services that are coming up. Hopefully, it’s something that will stay around for a while. Even if it doesn’t, it will show the potential of how great music discovery can be with the right website and the right digital tools.

What do you think of the legal implications of turntable.fm? I was reading that right now they claim they are protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Like Pandora, and a few other services, they are operating under the DMC Act of 1998 that allows Internet radio to exist as long as it operates within the confines of the law. If you spend a lot of time on turntable.fm, you’ll notice that there are some interesting little rules that they don’t tell you are rules. For instance, if you go into a room, you can’t listen to music just by yourself. As with Pandora, if you want to hear the latest Beyonce single, it’s not necessarily going to play that first; it’s going to give you other music. That basically limits the listener to what is now Spotify. [On Spotify], you call up the song and listen to it, but Spotify is a service you have to pay for. Right now you can get it for free if you have an invite, but eventually you’ll have to pay. There are other rules too: you can’t play an artist more than a certain number of times in an hour.

Last week turntable signed agreements with both ASCAP and BMI. That’s really great news because I think a lot of these services didn’t originally sign with the PROs because they figured they didn’t have to. Turntable.fm signing with them is a big step in the right direction.

I think the only problem they’ll have moving forward, and it’s a big one, is the fact that you are able to upload your own music onto turntable.fm. That’s where the waters get a little bit muddy. If I create a mashup of a song and I don’t get permission from the publishers to create that mashup, that piece of music is technically one big copyright infringement. I’m able to upload that song and play it for people, and I believe once you upload a song to turntable.fm, it stays there. And those are the most popular rooms–the ones that play these mashups and remixes.

It’s going to come to a point where they’re going to have to do some licensing like Apple has done with the cloud services and Spotify has done. I hope they can really get it together. I also hope that the music industry realizes the strength of turntable.fm. I think they do.

What do you think is its potential? How could publishers take advantage of this?

Publishers can take advantage of it in a lot of different ways. Number one: for music discovery. It used to be, back in the day, music lovers would go to record stores. You’d go to a really good one (for me it was always some of the Ma and Pa cool shops or going to the Tower Records on West 4th Street). You’d go in and just thumb through the records. If I was into jazz that day I’d go to the Miles Davis section and say “Oh, wow, this is a CD I hadn’t seen before,” an interesting import CD or something, and I’d buy it. For music discovery [today], aside from word of mouth and what you read on blogs, the organic element of actually discovering something for yourself is kind of lost.

Turntable is the perfect place [to recover this] because you’re combining word of mouth (you’re learning from someone that you’re virtually meeting or someone that you know because they’re on turntable) and you’re listening to it. You’re talking about the music, you can link from it, and that, from an A&R perspective, is the closest thing to that original sense of discovery.

As publishing companies seek out talent, they can go into the cool room on turntable.fm, figure out who the DJs are going to be, and actually listen to it, learn about it and be on stuff before anybody else. I can’t tell you how many bands I’ve heard on turntable that I’d never heard before. When you are in a great room and the DJs are really going with the vibe, there could be a song that may not be your favorite song if you just heard it out of context. But when you hear it within the context of songs that are along the same vibe, [it] makes a big difference to someone who has a good ear for music and is out there to scout talent.

Not only publishers, but also record labels, managers, publicists, booking agents; everyone [can take advantage of this] to promote music. There was a band who was inviting people to a turntable.fm room for a listening party to debut their new CD. If one of our artists or songwriters has a new album or a new song, instead of sending out random emails or taking every music supervisor out to lunch and handing them a CD, I can invite them to a turntable.fm room. I’ll know if they’re there or not, see that they’re bopping their head, thinking it’s “Awesome” or not, and I can actually talk to them about it within the chat room. You’re basically creating a virtual listening party. I think that more and more bands are going to take advantage of it, and I think publishers will as well. There’s definitely the potential to have music supervision and A&R rooms.

I was also wondering about the potential it has on the other side, for emerging artists. Do you think it’s a good platform to promote new music?

I think it’s one of the best platforms. Whenever I speak on panels, people ask, “How do I get my music into the hands of the gatekeepers?” I say, “The best way to do it is to give it to someone who knows that person.” The analogy I like to use is [this]:

I’m in my apartment in NY and I hear a random Chinese food menu come underneath my door. It’s from the local Chinese place and I’ve never heard of them before. I take it and throw it out. But if Eric [Beall], my colleague, says to me, “Hey, this great new Chinese place opened down the block from me, you should check it out, ” I’ll probably go there the next day.

I take pride in listening to most stuff that comes to our office. But if I’m learning of music because I’m getting a random email, I’m thinking “OK– most of the stuff that comes randomly is not very good.” But if I’m learning of the music at turntable.fm from someone I know, or even someone I might only know virtually, it’s a different situation. If they’ve played a few good songs that I liked, and they say “Check this out,” I’m going to listen with open ears.

It seems like a really cool blend between social networking and music. I’m surprised something like this didn’t come out before.

I agree with you. It’s such a simple idea. Yet the potential is massive. Think about colleges. Since it came out in the summer, it hasn’t made its impact on college yet. Once the fall semester starts, you’re not only going to be at a party and listening to awesome music— you’re going to be playing the music. You’ll bring your laptop, we’ll get up on turntable.fm and start our own room. And while we’re partying, we’re also going to be DJing. If I were in college, I’d probably do that about 14 hours a day.

Right now [turntable has] limited capacity to 200 people [per room]. I think that will eventually expand. It’s going to become more like satellite radio. It will be an Internet radio station playing in the background, somewhat like Pandora because you’re choosing your overall theme, but more like satellite radio or traditional radio with great DJs. In fact, you might personally know the DJs.

What about when turntable has an application? What about when automobiles are wired with wifi? Once it’s on your phone and you’re able to DJ on your commute to work, you’re going to say, “This is really tremendous.” There are so many ideas I’ve been reading about, like an external “Awesome/Lame” button. You can be hosting a cocktail hour and secretly, in your pocket, hitting ”Awesome”.

Also, the link with Spotify is fantastic– turntable and Spotify go together like peanut butter and jelly. You’re discovering [music] and immediately clicking the Spotify link so that you can learn more about the band later. When you’re DJing, you can call up and research songs on Spotify—it’s a better interface than turntable for that.

Turntable.fm is the first thing in a really long time that’s made me very excited about music discovery. Instead of being an old curmudgeon saying, “Back in the day it was so much better,” this is the sort of thing that [has me] thinking, “Wow, this is amazing!”

David Hoffman is the Director of Creative Services at Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc., one of America’s oldest independent publishing companies. At Shapiro Bernstein he is an A&R rep, TV/Film/Advertising placement person and song plugger amongst other things. The catalog ranges from classics including “In The Mood,” “On The Sunny Side of The Street” and “Ring Of Fire” to current hits by David Guetta, and current indie-darlings Savoir Adore. David is also a music supervisor who has worked on indie films like “Still Bill” a documentary on Bill Withers, and advertisements for Apple and Puma. Prior to becoming a full time publisher, David was a professional drummer with the popular instrumental jazz/funk/jamband ulu, touring upwards of 220 nights a year. Before hitting the road, David worked at BMI and Giant Step Inc.

David has been a featured speaker/panelist for CMJ, ASCAP Expo & ASCAP Night School, AIMP and others and DJ’s regularly on EastVillageRadio.Com.

Follow me on twitter @EricBeall

Hello Mr. Brightside

Jul 25 2011

I’ve been waiting about 5 years to write this particular blog. I can’t say that it’s done with total confidence. Like a person in the desert finding a fresh pool of water just ahead, I’m a little afraid that what I’m seeing is just one more mirage. It’s not written with much joy either. There are far too many talented music people, on both the creative and business sides of the industry, who are still out of work to unabashedly celebrate the moment. But with all the caveats and caution, I still think it’s time to go on record:

There’s light at the end of this deep, dark tunnel that we’ve been in.

After almost a decade of what has seemed like irreversible decline in the music industry, with each year bringing declining sales, more consolidation, less creative growth, and a growing irrelevance in pop culture, we might finally be turning things around. Over the past several months, there’s been not just random bits of good news, but an emerging pattern that would seem to indicate, dare I say it, positive momentum for a recovery that can reinvigorate the record labels, publishers, artists, songwriters, producers, live industry and all the thousands of other music-related businesses that have been suffering through this long slog through the wilderness.
Here’s a few of the things that have weasels smiling these days:

• The emergence of new technologies that are legal, licensable, and viable – and fun to use!

The appearance of Spotify, Turntable.fm, and iCloud, along with the continued growth of services like Pandora are showing that it is possible to make music available in a way that’s attractive and profitable. Of course, there will continue to be winners and losers in what seems to be an ongoing story of overnight sensations and quick, brutal endings (say goodnight, MySpace). But the convergence of streaming services and social networks, and the cooperation between labels, publishers and technology services in making the music available legally, is a model for a more promising future.

• A growing government concern about piracy and illegal file sharing.

I’ve been predicting it for years: once the technology of file-sharing reached the point of endangering the movie and television industry, we’d start to see a change in the US government’s willingness to step in and get involved. The truth is, politicians couldn’t care less about the music industry. It’s too small, too controversial, too disorganized, and too youth-oriented to matter, and as a result the industry has lost virtually every battle it’s entered, whether it with the broadcasters, restaurant and bar owners, or internet service providers (ISPs).

The movie business is a whole different animal. It is the big dog of American entertainment, and the companies that are built on movies, like Disney, Viacom, and Universal Pictures are among the crown jewels of the American corporate world. Now that they’re being threatened by illegal file-sharing around the world, the US government is sending signals to internet service providers both here and abroad that they will be held responsible for copyright violations occurring on their networks. In return, ISPs are showing a willingness to consider some type of punitive action toward consistent copyright violators, as well as a surcharge that would compensate rights holders. Thanks to Hollywood, what was deemed utterly impossible when the music industry asked for it five years ago is starting to look like a reasonable compromise.

• The revitalization of the CD catalog business.

Again, I’ve been at this one for awhile now—in “Living In the Past Beats Dying In the Present” I used the example of the German music market to argue that the short-term future of music was “selling old product to old people”. With its new $5 CD program, Walmart is taking that formula to the bank, selling CDs of classic music to older, mainstream consumers. Not surprisingly, it’s revitalized the catalog business, which especially for major record labels, is absolutely essential for a return to profitability.

• The opening of China.

This week brought more good tidings from abroad, where it appears that a consortium of the major US labels, called One-Stop China, and Baidu, China’s primary online Google-equivalent, have reached a deal that will allow Baidu to provide users with free ad-supported music streams. In turn, Baidu will pay the labels and creators of the music, as well as crack down on illegal sites that infringe copyrights. While it’s unlikely to generate any significant income for 5-8 years, this first crack in the Chinese fortune cookie could be a massive long-term step toward breaking into a potentially massive market of consumers. The prospect of monetizing markets like China, India, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia has been one of the primary factors fueling the hedge fund interest in purchasing publishers and music catalogs. It now seems that may have been right.

• The success of Adele.

Doesn’t seem right to discuss a resurgence of the music industry without even mentioning music itself. Given the divergence in tastes among any random group of listeners, as well as the constant creative rise and fall in each different musical genre, it’s possible at any time to make an argument for the proliferation or the imminent demise of “good music”, whatever that means. Still, one has to take note of the fact that just this year, Adele has sold more than 5 million copies of her album and set the record for the longest stretch at #1 of any female artist. Those kinds of numbers weren’t supposed to happen anymore in our post-album, singles-dominated, market-fractured, ADD-addled music world.

Adele

But the fact that it was done by a real singer who is neither a fashion model, television star or an ongoing gossip-column soap opera; who is not a winner of any TV talent contest; who doesn’t rent her music to advertising campaigns; who doesn’t Twitter; whose music is not aimed at Top 40 radio trends—these are signs that can’t be ignored. Add in other new artists like Mumford & Sons and Florence & The Machine, and one begins to sense a shift. This is not to demean Katy Perry, Kei$ha, or Rihanna, all of whom make great pop music for a demographic that loves and lives that kind of music. But it means that there are alternatives, and that there is more than one audience and one road to building a very substantial, and lucrative business around your music.

Of course, it would be foolish to ignore the equal number of warning signs flashing in the distance, or any of the huge potential pitfalls that could easily derail the resurgence of the music business:

• The major labels continued reliance on over-age, tired, and narrow-minded chief executives

• The brewing meltdown of many of the world’s performing rights and mechanical collection organizations

• Our continued inability to update and streamline copyright law to keep pace with technology and globalization

• The inescapable reality that music is no longer a primary pillar of youth culture, but rather shares that role with social networking, gaming, fashion, and a million other diversions

Yet even some of the worst news in the business, like the mass layoffs at Universal Records, or the continued consolidation of the major labels, has a positive aspect. At least it shows people making changes that in many cases were either inescapable or long overdue. Restructuring an industry is never pretty, and much that’s good is inevitably lost in the slash and burn of clearing the way toward the future. Nevertheless, it has to be done.

There is a time for criticism, and this blog has often pointed out the looming problems, mis-direction, or just plain dumb decisions throughout the music industry. But there is also a time for letting positive energy feed upon positive energy, re-establishing a sense of optimism and untapped potential. This business was never easy, nor was it meant to be. As I said in last week’s blog: the only thing that can truly kill you in show business is cynicism. Once that deadly element sets in, it’s over.

As we head into the 4th Quarter of 2011, this blog is going to try to focus on the good news, and what we can do to take advantage of the positive developments in the music business. With the help of my standout Berklee intern, Jorge Oliveres, I’m also looking forward to highlighting some of the people who are making new things happen, or who have a particular expertise that can help music publishers and songwriters exploit the new opportunities we’re seeing.

I think we’ve finally turned a corner in the music business. Now, it’s time to step on the gas and head toward that light at the end of the tunnel.

Follow me on twitter @EricBeall