An Open Letter To Musicians

November 25, 2012

This post also appears at brubeckinstitute.wordpress.com

Dear Musicians:

I recently participated as a guest speaker in a web chat hosted by Chamber Music America called “Audio Streams, Downloads and Digital Files” that was moderated by JazzTimes editor Lee Mergner. The discussion focused on the benefits and downsides of streaming music online, what is involved in streaming music via your own website or a site like Spotify, whether to offer free samples of your music for download, and the difference between mechanical royalties and performance royalties. The key question that emerged was how to strike the right balance between getting our music out there and maintaining enough control over our recordings to be able to derive income from them.

The terrain for recording artists, composers, and performers is rapidly changing. Aside from new technologies, we also face issues related to intellectual property and how we should view the recording industry. Many artists feel disenfranchised and disconnected from the very institutions that were set up to protect their rights and represent their interests. I often hear musicians, especially younger ones, questioning why they should bother with ASCAP or BMI if their checks are small, and why they should care about SoundExchange. Musicians are increasingly asking, “Isn’t it better to give our recordings away for the sake of promotion since we mostly make our living from live performances?”

Businesses are happy to broadcast/stream music without paying a decent royalty. Moreover, a growing number of music listeners believe music is and should be free. Taken together, these attitudes are slowly eroding the very idea of intellectual property. In fact, there is a strong movement that wants to do away with the concept of copyright entirely (think “copyleft”).

Thankfully, the very idea of intellectual property is written into the United States Constitution, in Article 1, Section 8 (alongside basics like levying taxes, printing money, etc.):

Congress shall have the power: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The important point is that, like physical objects, ideas have value too. When we buy a CD, it’s not the plastic disk that matters. It’s the music on it that we care about.


Earlier this year, as part of a group of NARAS governors and delegates, I had the opportunity to meet with members of Congress to discuss issues related to the future of the music industry. Congressman Steny Hoyer from Maryland offered the following comments:

“Stephen Foster died a pauper. Why? Because there were no publishing rights. No one thought they were stealing his property when they played his music and he didn’t get paid for its usage. IP rights in many respects are about raising the consciousness of good people. You’re not going to convince the bad people, the robbers and the thieves. They don’t care. But the good people understand that you are taking something of value, something that gives you pleasure, lifts you up and gives you vision. And that’s worth something. And if you don’t compensate people for creating art, they’re not going to do it. And if they don’t do it, our lives will be less rich and the quality of our communities and civil society will be less rich. The arts help to inspire us and give us vision. The fact of the matter is that art is a universal way to communicate. And we need to make sure that those of you who create art are protected.”

I believe many people would still create art even if they were not compensated. I think this is a primal drive — people will always be making and listening to music. The real issue is how the general public views recorded music and whether or not they believe it has intrinsic value. In this sense, Congressman Hoyer was right on the money. Intellectual property laws are partly about raising consciousness.


Technology, art and finance have been converging and feeding off each other for the past 80 years or so, creating the “music industry.” I put the term in quotes because I do not believe we should think of the music industry as a monolithic entity. Instead, it is a system made up of many moving parts, some are large corporations, but many are small companies or single individuals, all pursuing their own combination of art and business.

The fact that the “business of music” exists is a good thing. When I was a kid, my friends and I would often accuse musicians of “selling out” when their music seemed to be driven by financial interests more than artistic ones. As an adult, my view is more nuanced. I have come to realize that not only do music and commerce co-exist, they are mutually dependent on one another, at least for people who make their living by composing, recording and/or performing music.


Will choosing to become a professional musician continue to be a viable career choice in the future? Many people involved in creative fields are very concerned — and for good reason. Ask journalists or writers whose works are reduced to a few kilobytes of easily transferrable digital information how their industry is doing. My guess is they would say not so well.

The music industry is comprised of many industries that are interconnected — recording engineers, producers, promoters/publicists, venue owners, music critics, and so forth. Without professional musicians, all of these related industries would likely collapse. Music is at the center of it. Musicians are important, not just to our cultural health but also to the health of our economy.

But we undermine ourselves when we appear in promotional videos for piracy websites like Megaupload. I’m talking to you Kanye West and Will.i.am.

And when we say things like, “Piracy is the new radio.” Neil Young, you’re my hero, but that’s bullshit.

In this fast-changing world we musicians can and should have a lot to say. Becoming as informed as possible about issues that impact our livelihoods and refining our views are important first steps. We have to be comfortable with the idea that our music has value. And we should work to strengthen those laws and institutions that help to protect and enable us to sell our music in a fair way.

Please let me know what you think by posting comments below.

Posted on: November 25, 2012 |


  1. I don’t mind giving my music away for free, my biggest issue is the lack of compensation and poor treatment by club owners for performances. Purchasing music legally today is already extremely inexpensive so unless you are selling tons of of cd’s there is not a lot of revenue. A lot of the time Musicians get treated like “the help” instead of as an artist.

  2. Hi Ben, Thanks for posting this. It’s good that at least some people are trying to address these negative changes head-on. Lately, I’ve noticed that people are confusing the value of websites/devices on which they consume music with creators of music, if that makes sense. People might say they love Youtube, when in fact they love the content that hardworking people are uploading to youtube. They might say they love their ipod, when in fact they love the music that they are listening on their ipod. Somehow, the real person (hardworking musicians) have become too abstract in the minds of the general public. People idolize Steve Jobs and pay big money for his products (and he was in fact very innovative,) but the only reason they like his products is that creative people are making content that can be consumed on those products. Just a few of my thoughts on the matter. Thanks again.

  3. Hi Ben, this is a very worthwhile and important discussion, one that all musicians need to address. Don’t get me started on Spotify – I already had a major argument with them myself and removed myself from their pesky mailings (not easy to do, btw). Daniel Ek, the owner, is worth over $200million, while he pays musicians $0.048 a stream. It’s a slap in our faces. At this point, the average audience will not go back to buying CDs, piracy and streaming is just too easy and cheap/free. We, as musicians, 1) have to take our music off these services (ECM already has, among others) and 2) work on federal and global restrictions to set major boundaries here. If I walked into the Louvre and took photographs of the Mona Lisa and then sold the prints, a major lawsuit would ensue. Why not here? These services bank on the ambition and eagerness of musicians wanting to be heard and discovered. They hold up the one or two that have “broken through” with this kind of random exposure while the rest is on kickstarter trying to make a record. A healthy middle class of musicians keep the music business functioning. I am so am tired of hearing from the 1% (Will i am etc) about how we should be compensated.

    • Glenn White says:

      Hi, Theo (and Ben). Great discussion. But Theo, are you sure about your analogy? I can buy prints for the Mona Lisa all over the place. Google “Mona Lisa print for sale.” How much of that is the estate of LDV getting? I’m willing to bet that it’s not that much.

    • ballison says:

      Hi Theo. Thanks for your comments. I agree that we should be concerned about Spotify. Please check out my post and followup comments on the subject. http://benallison.com/ben-to-appear-on-wnyc-to-smackdown-spotify/

      It’s good to see you use the phrase “middle class” when talking about the challenges we musicians face. In my congressional testimony back in June, 2012 http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/future-audio I drew the Committee’s attention to the work of Carol Kaye, a bassist/guitarist who played on (and really helped to create) much of the pop music of the 60-70s. Carol, like most musicians, doesn’t receive royalties for terrestrial radio airplay. She certainly isn’t a millionaire (last time I spoke with her she told me she had recently lost her house). I think it’s vital that we bring home the fact that the vast majority of professional musicians out there are hard working, middle class people.

      Ironically, some of the negative feedback I’ve received in response to my views on IP rights (including when I went out on a limb in guarded support for a SOPA-like approach to dealing with piracy) comes from young music fans. There seems to be a kind of techno-libertarian group emerging, many of whom view any restrictions on internet traffic as a government over-reach. They type their thoughts furiously into their Apple hardware, which is indexed by Google search algorithms, distributed on bandwidth controlled by Time Warner/Comcast to Microsoft-run desktops (all companies holding billions of dollars worth of government-granted patents). As Jeremy has noted elsewhere in this comment thread, many people seem to have no qualms about spending thousands of dollars on hardware, software and bandwidth so that they can enjoy content which they somehow feel has little or no value.

      There’s a huge disconnect here.

      The question is, what to do about it. I believe musicians (as well as journalists, writers, film makers, painters, photographers, etc) have a role to play. We need to find ways to recast this discussion. I think we do this by first becoming aware of the issues and then reframing them in a more reasonable way. Most of all, we need to start having more conversations like these.

      Thanks again for posting your views. Oh, and on a personal note. Thanks for your music. This is a wicked album: http://theobleckmann.com/MUSIC/MUSIC_DISCO_13.html

  4. Scott Fields says:

    Yup. Sites give our musical property away and venues want us to play door gigs so that we can promote our music, which is being given away. That said, it used to be that if people wanted to read letters, opinions, responses, news, they’d have to buy a newspaper or magazine. Now it’s free on Facebook.

  5. Pete says:

    I think music streaming services is a cool idea, it’s just like Netflix or Hulu – almost everyone has them already so music is logically to follow. But that said. I think the music streaming services don’t pay artists fairly right now, my hope is that one day they will. That one day streaming music and PAYING real money for the service will pay artists closer to, or the same as if they bought a cd. Maybe I am naive to think that though. There will always be a small percentage of people who buy cd’s still probably, but until the streaming services can pay artists fairly, artists are taking a hit financially while at the same time perhaps unintentionally promoting the “feeling” or idea of free music by putting their music on spotify. Thing is, most indie musicians probably WOULD rather have people listen to their album for free and in hopes they will buy it after. That’s putting a lot of trust in the consumer I know….and that goes back to what you said about how much society values art in the first place. It’s kindof a try before you buy model. But the problem is of course: most people are just trying and not buying. Anyway, you’re a badass musician and I’m a huge fan Ben. Thanks for posting that.

  6. In no other field are people expected to work for free or for as little proportionately as musicians and artists generally. Can you imagine telling a painter, “I want you to paint my house, I won’t pay you anything but people will see your work and hire you (to paint their houses for free).” This is analogous to the digital world we now find ourselves in. Many young folks are completely disconnected from who and how music is actually made and thus see the concept of paying for it as absurd. I have long said, if you want access to unlimited music, free of charge – learn to play an instrument!

    • ross costa says:

      re: your painter comment….if i had a dime for every time someone offered me a non-paying gig but said ‘you’ll get really good publicity from it’ over the past 45 years i’d be drivin’ a caddy ! well, drivin’ a ’65 buick sportwagon ain’t so bad !

      • mark sheldon says:

        I would agree that all musicians be paid fairly for their art, included performances and recorded. As a photographer working much of the time in the music field, I’m asked the same question you get weekly…mostly by musicians. Needless to say, I’m not excited to work for free, credit or publicity anymore than a musician is. Not many of us are getting rich from this..but there needs to be some fair compensation for all parties.

  7. Glenn White says:

    Regarding streaming, income, and reaching/gaining fans, this was released yesterday. I know that it’s difficult to find much in common between Taylor Swift and music that is, well, just plain better and more interesting, but it makes the point that streaming is best looked at as a means of advertising (like a billboard, which costs money, but doesn’t generate any revenue in and of itself): http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/11/27/166007471/episode-419-taylor-swift-helium-a-jelly-like-mass-and-the-price-of-gas

  8. The greatest irony is that if you look at who IS actually making money on this issue it turns out to be those who keep installing fear of governmental censorship into the young, internet-driven generation. Google has been a master at it, telling us that we need to have a “free” internet so they can profit from the content that everyone happily throws their way for free.
    I removed myself from Spotify as soon as I understood their disgusting policies and only if the suppliers withdraw will the interest for it wane altogether. The consumers will not. If you can only find Taylor Swift on Spotify, then people who are looking for creative, new music will go elsewhere, or we’ll end up with a world listening to Taylor Swift. Why is it so hot in here and are those guys carrying huge forks?

  9. Morty says:

    The problem is trying to get consumers to “actively” pay for something that they can easily get for free, and changing people’s attitudes about that, at this point, seems like a pipe dream. The solution, is to make payment “passive,” i.e., built into the system. The best way to do this is to build a content surcharge into internet access — almost everyone pays to get onto the internet at some point through their ISP. This surcharge would go into a pool, that would be distributed to participating content creators based on the extent to which their content is consumed on the internet. Lots of details to work out, obviously — differential types of consumption (streaming vs. download), different types of products (movies vs. songs, etc.) — but I think this model would work. Thoughts?

    • Jonas says:

      Super discussion Ben, great playing, huge fan here — and nice to run into you the other day! I just moved back from Switzerland. They have a solid system of payment based internet, radio, television, and that does actually work. Musicians are compensated for radio play, television appearances, internet streaming, and it seems to actually work. What’s good about it is if you can prove that you don’t have a radio, TV, and don’t use the internet then you are exempt from paying the fee…needless to say that doesn’t really affect many these days. I think a system like that would work well here, as we are evidently moving away from ‘on the air’ to on a cable. It also seems to work like PBS universally, where radio is mostly commercial free and supported by that fee everyone pays. Who can we talk to and where can we start a petition?

      By the way, we can’t stop Spotify. Just not possible. Hate that I’m saying this but at the same time we can’t try and hold on to values that were in place before the rampage of on line possibilities happened. It’s just going to continue and breed other things that are similar. But if we start a campaign to require a flat fee for internet / radio / TV for everyone it could really work…

  10. This is definitely an important discussion to be having right now, as the musical profession is undergoing massive structural shifts. However I’m not convinced that a hard-line defense of sound recordings as intellectual property is constructive. The legitimacy of intellectual property seems to me to be a moot point when the phenomenon of internet piracy and free streaming of music is so widespread and mainstream. A legislative regulatory approach that would have any chance of success in combating these issues would have to be incredibly large scale and would inevitably raise major civil liberties concerns. I think that instead of combating piracy we need to look forward towards new business models for the professional musician.

    I do not agree with the contention that the professional musician cannot exist without the sale of recorded music for two major reasons. The first is live performance. The fundamental aspect of being a musician is performing music live, and that will not go away. In recent years there have been artists who don’t perform live or are horrible performers and simply make their living by crafting albums but I don’t think this is the core of being a professional musician. I make the vast majority of my income as a professional musician from live performance and the money I make from CD sales largely goes towards funding the next recording The real function of recordings in my career is musical outreach to get shows booked, get people out to my shows and keep people excited about my music for the next time I’m in town.

    The second reason I think musicians can be (and already are, in some cases)successful independent of record sales is the rise of crowd-sourcing through websites like kickstarter, artistdirect, indiegogo, etc. In the past, composers were able to survive as full time music creators by finding a rich patron who would support them in order for them to spend their time practicing their art. Through sites like Kickstarter the patron model is making a comeback but this time through grassroots patronage from fans. Thus, a group of dedicated fans can fund projects in advance, essentially supporting the creative process even more directly than they would by buying a CD after the fact. I am very encouraged by this model because I think it actually re-orders our priorities as artists toward what we should really be valuing–our individual creativity. Through this model musicians are paid to create now rather than to sell something they created years ago.

    Anyway, those are my current thoughts on the subject. I’d be happy to hear/read others.

  11. Greg Gordon says:

    Thanks for telling it like it is. The only long-term solution I see to the question of compensation for creators is to go to the only beneficiaries of all that free content — the ISP’s — and demand that they pay their share for the content that drives the demand for their services. We are essentially subsidizing these megalithic corporations when we put content online. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a streaming service or just emailing mp3’s straight to fans, the ISP’s get paid no matter what. Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon are making a good portion of the money that used to be spent on records; the PRO’s new mission should be collecting it for artists.

  12. Rick Hopper says:

    Live performance?- The road kills musicians. Before recorded music- The Archduke subsidized Mozart. And he only performed for the royal court. ISPs are making all the money; they should pay a little something. But they have a lot more money and therefore a lot more political clout than musicians. What can we do? The Band once famously sang- “If they don’t pay what we like, then we have to go out on strike.” King Harvest has surely come.

  13. Pete Robbins says:

    It’s not reasonable to think that next-generation musicians are going to keep pouring money into making albums if the only way to recoup that investment (and pay your bills, etc.) is through performance. There has to be another revenue stream, and it has to be tied to recordings so they’re not complete cash sinkholes, and the arguments above for ISPs paying into a pool for the artists sound pretty compelling to me.

  14. miles says:

    The web is changing everything. Yo make money anyway you can; obviously live gigs are the thing now. musicians woill generally never make the money they used to in the heyday of albums – thats just gone like the horse and buggy. And downloading… Pandora….Youtube ….. free always works for the consumer, alas.
    But maybe it will bring back local performance based music like in the Alan Lomax days. It wasn’t a great living then, just like now. Unless you get viral.

  15. Fraser says:

    “However I’m not convinced that a hard-line defense of sound recordings as intellectual property is constructive. The legitimacy of intellectual property seems to me to be a moot point when the phenomenon of internet piracy and free streaming of music is so widespread and mainstream. ”

    Sound recordings ARE intellectual property, under the law. That doesn’t need to be defended. So are you really saying that people should be allowed to steal things because stopping them is pretty hard?

    Music isn’t free to create, record, produce, manufacture or distribute. There is no justification for making it free to the consumer (on a universal basis) – that is just a ridiculously flawed economic model and it won’t survive.

    There also seems to be a lot of concern about consumer’s rights – but what about the rights of the creators of the content? As far as I’m concerned, the consumer has a right to an easy way to find and BUY really good music on the internet.

    If you give all the music away for nothing, that’s what it will be worth.

  16. Phil Smith says:

    Streaming in a sense is what radio used to be, but unlike radio you can quantify how many people are getting access to the stream, something you couldn’t accurately do with radio. When you think about it that way, then you can then think about how people have been conditioned by the industry i.e. you hear something on the radio and if you want to play it over and over again, you go out and purchase a recording of it. The industry controlled the distribution and the exposure of the music and took a lion share of the profits primarily because they took a lion share of the risk as well.

    We now live in a world where instead of one means of experiencing new music i.e. radio and then radio and TV and to a less extent movies, we have multiple means now to experience new music. It was easier back then to control what and when people heard stuff which makes it easier to make money from it with distributors, dealers, etc. The industry hasn’t created a new model to replace the old one and then there’s the dream of making all of this money because now you can “quantify” who’s listening. Spotify will tank, there’s no way it can survive using a broadcast radio model and at the same time trying to use a distribution model to pay artists.

    It’s time for those artist that want to make money from their art to get up to speed with how to make money from their art using the new forms of distribution available today and reject those models that are unsustainable and that means sticking together and speaking with one voice in a way that a record company of the past would.

  17. Michael Watters says:

    What is being stolen here is not the ‘music’…that cannot be stolen in the classic sense, as the owner [writer, performer, etc.] still has the ‘music’. And it’s not stealing profits, because those have already been paid, or they wouldn’t be profits.

    No…what IS being stolen is potential profits [payments]. So how to control the royalty payments fairly?

    Simple: do away completely with the out-dated and impossible to track royalty system. The SAG members realized that they were being cheating by the movie production companies out of their promised percentages, so they demanded ALL payments up-front. A simple solution. Big salaries for movie stars, etc. Of course, there is still the on-going fight over residual payment rights. That could probably be simplified also.

    Once music hits the internet, it’s out there and gone. It is impossible to control the distribution of online music without controlling the internet itself. That’s a horrifying thought to me. So there should be a way for the artist/writer to get paid up-front by the first entity that puts the music online. This couild work for Spotify, Pandora, etc. but does not address the ripping and distributing of a music CD, for example, by private citizens.

    For that condition, the artist[s] would have to get their money, in total, up front from the publisher/distibutor. There are numerous problems with this approach, to be sure, but I have a very firm belief that the current royalty payment plans have all failed in the digital age, and need to be be completely replaced. They are not working, and they cannot work in the modern digital world.

    A whole new payment paradigm is needed. And pretty quickly…

  18. D Byron says:

    I tend to think of recordings and radio as a poor substitute for live performance. Radio started out that way, and history of Country music in particular is tied to the various radio outlets (like the Carter Family’s stint on border radio stations and Hank William’s daily morning show). The various Petrillo-led musicians strikes of the early twentieth warned us against “canned music”, with the warnings that recorded music would put live musicians out of work. At this point, film had already destroyed Vaudeville. The warnings were true. The strikes lead to the music industry paying royalties to various parties (in particular, vocalists gained more power in the industry whereas they were appendages to the Big Bands). In retrospect, this was compensation for the loss of live income. So in a way, the compensation for recorded music as intellectual property can be seen as a temporary measure. (When these deals were made, the African American presence on radio was quite limited, African American artists had a very weak position in the publishing industry, and there was no black presence presence on the A & R side of our business). For a while money could be made in the record business as packaging (covers) and marketing (advertising and radio/film/tv promotion) was refined, but mainly because the lifespan of our main delivery system, the LP, was limited. Vinyl was fragile, and after a while it would just wear out. I dunno about you, but I’ve bought several copies of the same record over the years. Cassettes were even more fragile, and the sound quality was questionable. When digital media was introduced, it was literally the beginning of the end of recorded music as intellectual property. Those of us who teach know that our students have lived their entire lives with complete legal piracy of recorded music as the norm. The occasional college pirating lawsuits (occasionally the industry sues the student body of a university for pirating music as a lesson) have had no effect. Even music majors at the schools know little about the mechanical and artist royalties. They seem to have as little belief that one gets paid from recorded music as they do in the future of Social Security. The film industry seemed immune for a while only because the files were larger, but that’s long over too. Now through the growth of technology, we are back to a pre-Edison music industry: the only controllable media for the delivery of musical performance is ticketed live performance. And with the average concertgoer possessing HD video capability on their smartphone, even that is not completely controllable.

    • ballison says:

      Hi Don. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t agree with your premise that “recordings and radio are poor substitutes for live performance,” in that I don’t think they are meant to be. I certainly don’t experience them that way. As you know, I spend most of my professional life playing live with my groups. I also derive the bulk of my income from live performance, as do many musicians. However, I enjoy making records as well and see them as viable statements that have both artistic and commercial value. Making a record is a different process than live performance, as you well know. I see the studio as an instrument and don’t try to emulate the feeling of a live concert when I’m recording (in fact, I don’t believe it’s even possible). I don’t buy the notion that we have to choose live music over recorded music. Why can’t we work to ensure that both industries thrive?

      As an aside, to say that “the only controllable media for the delivery of musical performance is ticketed live performance.” is confusing to me. Live performance is not “media”. Live is live, recordings are recordings. They both have value.

      If I”m understanding the rest of your post, you seem to be stating that publishing and performance rights (which are the backbone of all royalties) are either unimportant or negligible because A) many musicians didn’t reap the benefits in the early years because they were taken advantage of, B) the creation of physical media was only ultimately beneficial to manufacturers and marketers, and C) the rapid rise of digital media has made any attempt to monetize recorded music moot because it’s impossible to do so.

      If I am reading you right, let me say that I don’t buy any of these points as rational arguments against the idea of intellectual property or working to ensure that artists’ rights are protected. The fact that many musicians were (and still are) taken advantage of does not make it ok. Nor should we just give up and accept this as an inescapable reality of the music industry. I, for one, am sickened when I see musicians being taken advantage of and have devoted much personal time and energy to work on these issues for the current and future generations.

      WE (music lovers, congress and lawmakers, musicians and their representative councils and organizations) should be doing a better job of informing each other and working to improve the legal landscape as best we can. The fact that our students and young people have come up in this time of upheaval and uncertainty in the recording industry – without any knowledge of how it used to work – is not their fault. And to merely state these facts is neither news to anyone, nor does it help much to move things forward. I believe musicians of our generation have a responsibility to be proactive through education and advocacy.

      Let’s not roll over quite yet.

  19. Jonas says:

    more generally speaking, and obvious: anyone watch a movie without the music, just dialogue? and anyone walk into a restaurant and not pay for their food? anyone ever go get an oil change and not pay for it?

    I think we should start this directly: everyone pays a specific ‘consumer tax’ — covers internet, radio, TV, and goes to the artists and people who run these services. That means no fight with big business, in my utopian concept of this system, instead just a fair amount of the change for the people who create what everyone seems to enjoy and consume all the time. let’s do it!!

  20. Let’s not forget about a great group called Future of Music. They are advocating on behalf of our concerns. (I myself have not been diligent about staying in touch with their activities, but this discussion is making me go to their website.)

    • ballison says:

      Hey Joel. Yes! The Future of Music Coalition is a good org. Coincidentally, I’ll be appearing on a panel discussion with Casey Rae, their Deputy Director on Thursday, January 10 at the Jazz Connect Conference in association with APAP, which will take place at the NYC Hilton. You can register for Jazz Connect for free here It promises to be interesting and, I hope provocative.

  21. tim zannes says:

    What a great debate to stumble upon! I think Ben has a cogent point when he suggests not to give up on intellectual property rights just yet. Markets and legal systems have a history of correcting for technological advancements and logistical anomalies that present themselves within a market. Granted, the new technology involved in recording and disseminating music is probably the most daunting advance that any market has had to deal with in regulation of its product in modern times.At the start of this download and share boom, napster and it’s kind were stealing and sharing more files in a day than the number of emails sent during the same amount of hours. That has been reigned in considerably, mostly by legal work. But the sheer volume of the theft and sharing is obviously too large to control with the existing structure and technology of the internet and the devices available to anyone. What few people speak to is the quality of the files that are stolen. MP3 is a very low quality recording platform. My theory for the salvation of really great acoustic music is the gig( as Don Byron suggested)and the emergence of high quality audio markets. In other words , make LP’s, make the highest quality digital recordings and possibly encrypt them in a manner that makes it impossible to share or steal. Encryption is the cornerstone to anti-theft in the brave new world. This suggestion might seem to make the music seem too precious for some, and I agree with that. But I am not suggesting that the music become so involved in the highest end audio that it become only the domain of the uber-rich. Just a magnitude beyond MP-3 level recording and still there for the average Joe or Jane to access. Several great things have come from the digital revolution in music: the demise of the big label strangle hold on recording, and the rise of self-production and distribution that evens the playing field, to a degree, for music like Jazz. There is a possibility for artists to avoid the abuse of the industry mogels that Don mentions through self-promotion. It’s always been a struggle for musicians, especially Jazz musicians. At least now there is some level of control by the musician.

  22. Scott Healy says:

    Just to throw in a comment about Don B’s post above. I’m a little startled by what he’s written.

    Music majors? Agreed that they know little about the biz and the pay structure, as we all did at that age, but that’s where we come in. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked by college students, music majors, comp students, young composers, “how does this union thing work”? or “I don’t understand performance royalties, should I join BMI or ASCAP”? Their experience is what has been called “music as water”, where it just flows from the heaven….or what I like to say, “music just happens”, which is based on a real quote from someone I worked with. They’re pressured to not only compose for free, but to give away the license for anything they play on or have in their catalog. They know it’s wrong, but don’t know what to do.

    I remember being approached in 1983 to give my tracks to a music library, assign my publishing to them, with no advance, only the promise of “back end”….right…I was a practically teenager, and I almost went for it until some old dude warned me not to. He was probably 30. And that wasn’t digital.

    Digital music is NOT the end of intellectual property, just the opposite. And only Judge Bork would insist that the original intent of recorded music was a quick replacement for live music, and therefore should be treated as an ephemeral medium/media.

    Digi technology now gives each artist the power to control his property. They just have to be aware of what they already hold in their hands, and what they should be asking for it.

    Ben puts it well when he says that just because musicians are taken advantage of it doesn’t mean it’s OK. It happens so fast, and frequently musicians don’t know what they’re giving away. It doesn’t take much to show them the ropes.

  23. John Goldsby says:

    Great post, Ben. I’ve read a couple of other pieces recently that relate to the current situation. The first is from Marc Myers at Jazzwax (from his new book) talking about the recording bans of the ’40s and how the development of the 12″ LP (as an attempt from record companies to pay less in mechanicals) contributed to the rise of long-form jazz on record.

    At first glance, it might not seem that the music business in the ’40s has anything to do with the current situation, but I think the situation then relates to the bottom line today — companies, or people trying to save pennies to pay less for the right to hear, sell or distribute music. The situation today is more crass because it’s easier for consumers to cross a nebulous moral line and just take music. It’s also harder to monitor all of the end users of a track of music because the technology for monitoring distribution of music has not kept up — technology has changed so fast that it’s hard for performance rights organizations to monitor the situation.

    GEMA in Germany (where I live) has done a pretty good job of “going digital,” and the GVL (which pays musicians when their recordings are played on the radio) has just switched over from their old system to a new digital registration, monitoring and payout system. They are having growing pains.

    I think Don’s point that live performances can be controlled and radio/internet/TV not is giving up too fast — giving up our musicians’ control that we’ve gained in the digital age. I think digital music can be monitored, tracked and monetized. But lawmakers and PROs need to put systems in place that function in the interest of the artists and content creators. I’m glad there are people like you fighting the good fight.

    The second piece that I read recently that pertains to your post was from Bobby Owsinski writing about Public Domain. Due to the copyright laws changing, no tunes went into the public domain this year. It opens up another part of the discussion: Who owns what and for how long?

    @Theo: The Mona Lisa has no copyright at this point, but I am sure there are rules about who is allowed in the Louvre to photograph her. Then the photograph has a copyright which belongs to the photographer. It’s like a recording of Mozart. The composition is in the public domain, but the recording itself is copyrighted.

  24. Robert Oliver says:

    Reblogged this on Sketchbook: Notes About Music and the Arts and commented:

    In his thoughtful open letter to musicians, Ben Allison tells us that it’s important for us to become “as informed as possible about issues that impact our livelihoods.” We should take seriously the proposal by Pandora to pay even lower royalties to musicians than it does now, and we should also understand the threat posed by well-meaning fans when they tell us that music should be free. But we can’t stop at educating just ourselves – we must also educate others. Members of Congress, our fellow musicians, and our fans must be educated so that all understand that our songs – our ideas – have value not only to those groups but to us as well.

    • ballison says:

      Robert, thank you for your thoughtful reply. In my congressional testimony before the Committee on Energy and Commerce last June ( see http://benallison.com/my-day-testifying-before-congress-performers-rights-and-the-future-of-audio-part-1/ ) I made the argument that, while businesses might strike independent deals that provide royalties to musicians (as in the recent Big Machine / Clear Channel deal) it’s really up to Congress to ensure these rights for all musicians. It’s a question of fairness, a theme that seems to be an important one in our current national dialog. This should not be a piecemeal process that only favors big players and their mega stars (Taylor Swift, in the case of Big Machine). What’s at issue for all musicians, famous and not, is the lack of a performance royalty for terrestrial radio, a right that exists in every other industrialized country. It’s important for musicians to be vocal about their support of such a right as much as they become vocal in opposition to any legislation that would roll back whatever royalty streams we do have.

      As an aside, I really love Congressman John Conyer’s comment in reference to the Internet Radio Fairness Act, where he said, “It should really be called the Paycheck Reduction Act.” Brother John!

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