In the age of music modernization, why are publication & royalty management methods so low-tech?

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In the age of music modernization, why are publication & royalty management methods so low-tech?

Post by circuitbored » Fri Apr 26, 2024 4:52 pm

It's crazy how we're always talking about the effect of modern things like TikTok, Spotify, & Ai on music, but the music industry is still all based on wildly complex, mysterious, and ancient copyright and royalty payment systems that take ages for clearances and payouts while still not being able to report on and manage industry communications in real time.

For a bit of background, I've been running an independent music label for over 20 years. I primarily compose music for film purposes, but also publish music to numerous digital platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Music etc., and I have even, in the past, put out physical releases in stores (Primarily prior to their decimation by music streaming of course). I love doing music for film, it's fairly simple, if a director checks out my library and picks a song I've made, they either hire me to compose music for it, or they license/contract the song for use... Far less complex and expensive than steps I need to take in releasing and promoting music of my own through traditional digital distribution.

I have a lot of songs in my music library that I've created but can't release due to copyright rules, many of them are remixes, or even songs that contain samples that I've attempted to clear with the original artists, and boy is that process frustrating and often fruitless... In order to get cleared, I first need to make the music and contact them with the example work... which means if it's not something they approve of, the work is discarded. I had to figure out a better workflow, where I wouldn't have to waste tons of music production effort in that manner.

I have even at points sought out lawyers that can assist in clearing releases, but every single one I've talked to thus far has an hourly bill rate over $450 (Even at $200 an hour it's hard to justify the costs) and there's no guarantee that after that huge investment that a clearance will result. I'm not really complaining here though, as I can always just self produce and release music that does not use samples at all, which I frequently do, but sometimes it just feels right and inspiring to collaborate with others, and to even sample others that I really respect, as people I would collaborate with if I could do so officially. The people that listen to my music often expect vocal music, and I'm not really interested at this point in being a singer or rapper myself, so in order to bridge the gap, sampling is often necessary in my line of music work to create the right music vibe.

Right now, YouTube is one of the few places where musicians can publish unauthorized remixes. Unfortunately though, it's not really a great music collaboration platform, if you do something similar to the above, the original music rights owner can take over, claim, and control and royalties for each publication using their work, so technically that means if we do remixing of this kind, even on a non-profit basis, it can be taken down at any time. This has really been the only way that music producers can collaborate with others they don't officially know. Luckily I developed a method where the instrumental music I produce for remixing is 100% my original work, and I can release it independently of the remix.

Where I get most frustrated these days is in not being able to publish these remixes anywhere other than on YouTube, and it's often because other platforms don't have any reliable method set up to administer royalties and manage copyright registration on music works... As a developer, it's bewildered me for ages now how the ancient infrastructure of the music industry has not been modernized to support a faster, more efficient, and more simple way of managing copyright handling and royalty payments.

If you ask really integrated (actively working on publishing music) producers about the current state of the Industry, many will tell you that the system is broken... In publishing a single song to digital platforms these days there are far too many steps, many disparate platforms that information needs to be registered on, huge costs to promote, and many other problems that make the process of making music unfortunately seem like the easiest part of being a musician. Coupled with the entire process of promoting each music release individually on social media every time, many musicians simply give up on the process of formally releasing music and just give their music away for free, or stick to smaller platforms like BandCamp, where reach and sales can become a prohibitive and limiting barrier to artist growth.

It's bewildering how long the traditional music publication model dictated by the industry has lasted citing all the steps and complexity there is involved in publishing and registering releases each time... Especially when the platforms that sell and stream music (like Apple Music & Spotify for example) are mostly real time and immediate in how they work and log statistical information. I'd be very interested in hearing a justification for why the dated method of building royalty data, and paying upon it takes months to years even currently, when many of those systems host online enrollment. I am also confused as to how the music Industry has supported copyright protection that works for celebrity and signed artists, but still has not managed to develop a better system of annotation, communication, and collaboration for all artists in order to more easily facilitate communication and collaboration on remix and sample-based projects BEFORE they turn into copyright lawsuits.

In many ways, the current copyright system works one way, the same way it has for decades, mostly in favor of gatekeeping collaboration for more popular artists signed to major labels out of the hands of collaboration with Independent musicians. If a major artist samples an Independent musician at this point, there is little recourse for them unless they pick up a lot of money and file a lawsuit, which is unlikely to happen, as Independent musicians often don't sell music to break even on their music work and production these days, much less for that kind of legal activity. Just to find out who owns accurate rights to music requires searching multiple sources, which often aren't accurate or detailed to help, much less inclusive of information for artists that don't belong to the organizations searched within.

The music royalty system has for ages now been slow to adapt and change on how it works... Instead of simply being able to publish music and earn a return, streaming and sales sites incrementally report data to distributors, and most distributors pay artists on Intervals, similar to how payments worked prior to the invention of the internet. Royalties (for music performance and plays) also work mysteriously, and pay out in delayed intervals as well (often taking 6-12 months). Many who wonder why being a working (paid) musician is such a prohibitive & illusive career don't know that music deals are often advance loans made based on how much in royalties an artist can potentially generate, which end up trapping most serious artists into indentured work instead of enabling them to thrive... Major labels often make a windfall of money on the most successful artists later, as after all the promotional and performance work is done for releases, they own rights to collect the most royalties, over the artist (who is usually stuck working to repay the label's loans).

Right now, most artists (who want to collaborate with other artists they don't know) are limited to contacting artists they don't know on social media, which frequently doesn't work, as most of the time responses to messages simply go unnoticed and ignored due to the shear nature of distraction and false user ID scams on many of those platforms. So the primary problem for most skilled musicians (that can develop an audience or following for their music) in collaborating is not having a simple path to publishing and promoting their music... It should all be simple and effective. The music production, collaboration, publication, promotion, and royalty model is long overdue for modernization and simplification. A far more simple and modern system to manage music distribution, industry communication and collaboration, and royalties is long overdue.

All the different points we have to navigate in order just to release each track or album are overcomplicated, and they've also been riddled with scams, fraud, fee points, and money leaks. We need to stop just accepting this old and withering music industry model as being legit and innovate a new model that allows us to get back to a focus on making music.

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