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Educational choices

As most of you probably know, I have taught audio, business and gaming students from all over Europe both at SAE and at Abbey Road Institute as well as providing my own online lessons and the one thing that is becoming very clear is that colleges and other educational establishments are finding it harder and harder to attract students. This has got me thinking because although my own lessons have been successful, maybe it is time to rethink what students need - even the idea of them being students is not always how they see themselves, or want to be seen!

Price is, of course, an issue for a lot of people and not simply in the cost of a course but also in the idea of investing in your future while at the same time getting out there and building that future in order to be able to invest - in other words, the very fact that you are performing, recording and/or promoting your work kind of conflicts with the idea of learning about it at the same time. Does it make sense to put your career on hold while you learn? Probably not.

For myself, I come from a generation who did not have access to colleges such as SAE so all of my knowledge and experience comes from what we used to refer to as "earn while you learn". In fact, even now, if I was given the choice to start again as a tea boy in a studio or go to college first and learn the basics, I would still choose the tea boy option simply because the competition for that job forces you to be the best you can be or be unemployed!

All of that was a good few years ago now but it seems like we are coming back around again to the same principles. There is a wealth of information out there on the internet, more than enough for anyone with the desire to learn to not need a formal education - after all, most of you have already been throught the mandatory educational system so why do more when you could be out there earning a few quid? Why, indeed, well.................

The fact remains that while you can research what you think you need to know, you often don't know what it is that you don't know and what you actually do need to know. As I say, I didn't go to college but I did get an education - I had the privilege of working for some of the worlds top artists, engineers, producers and managers, most of whom were kind enough and patient enough to answer a lot of questions and be tolerant enough to forgive the occasional blunder! And all of them set standards that they expected me to live up to. I owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

So I have come to a decision. I won't be offering formal courses as a teacher any more, I will simply be here as a mentor to answer questions and try to help you tie together all the random bits of information you have found online, to give you a perspective or a framework you can use to build from or simply to give you that one piece of information that makes the rest of it make sense and maybe point you in the right direction.

Interested? Find out more by clicking here.

Mobirise

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Where have all the good guys gone?

Well, as predicted, the European Copyright Directive is descending into chaos as the battle continues to rage over Article 13. Despite the fact that the text was finalised on 13th February we are still no nearer to adoption as many labels, publishers and even top industry organisations such as the IFPI are now calling for the cancellation of the directive altogether. On the other hand some PROs, including Germanys GEMA are fully behind the text and the big digital platforms are still in there battling for their own position and trying to protect their profits.

This week I was going to write about all of this and try to clarify the situation but to be honest, I've given up! As with so many EU Directives, corporate and industry lobbying has taken the focus of attention away from the real world where the problems really are and turned it into another quagmire of debate that has lost touch with its original, albeit admirable objectives. At best we will end up with a watered down agreement that doesn't really address the issues as they should be addressed and the whole thing will be an expensive compromise that benefits the big players at the expense of everyone else.

So imagine my pleasure at discovering gotohear.com and finding a truly innovative, creative-centric platform that understands and encompasses the big tech systems such as Blockchain and Crypto Currency but also knows what it takes down here in the trenches to get your music out there and to earn a buck or two in the process. Here is a platform tailor made not only for artists and musicians but also for their fans (and future fans) and industry professionals alike. gotohear.com is a crowd driven music ecosystem that aims to not only fairly reward creators for their work but also to reward their fans for actively supporting them. Right now, they are still in the development phase but there are some serious tech brains in there working alongside industry professionals to create what, to me, is what all of the other digital platforms could have been and should have been from the start. To quote John McClane in Die Hard - who was misquoting Eldridge Cleaver - "If you're not part of the solution, then you must be part of the problem" - gotohear.com is a solution you really should be a part of! Visit the site, join in, get involved and help them get to where we all need them to be - click the donate button and give them $10, they deserve it and you won't regret it. When gotohear.com goes live it will be a game changer, offering rewards for musicians, listeners and promoters alike - a true community where everyone benefits.

Where have all the good guys gone? Well, a few of them are in North Yorkshire making preparations to change the music world forever!

Label Services Deals

OK, I guess most of you have an interest in how to operate as an independent artist these days, either releasing your own music or working with an indie label, or maybe you are an indie label looking for ways to increase your market share and tap into those huge numbers that the majors have posted for last year - Sony, for example, posted streaming music revenues exceeding $2bn in 2018, more than 50% of their total music revenue! (MBW Jan 2019)

This all looks pretty encouraging and there are other reports that indicate that over 80% of digital music revenues worldwide are generated by streaming with download sales at only 20% and falling. So, streaming is the way to go, right?

Well, yes, it is but let's take a look at some other figures coming out of the industry recently. In fact, let's look at what the two highest paying streaming services are doing with their stream rates. Spotify is the market leader in music streaming, with over 29% of the overall market. The stream rate Spotify now pays to content owners is a lowly $0.00331c, down 16% from the recent $0.00397c. Apple Music, with a market share of less than 10%, are similarly guilty of reducing stream rates - down from $0.00783c to $0.00495c, a drop of a pretty massive 36% but still considerably more than Spotify, (something you might want to consider when planning your next marketing campaign). 

And now let's look at the YouTube Content ID rate. Over 48% of total streams in 2018 were generated on YouTube but with a stream rate of a truly miserable $0.00028c that 48% market share accounted for only 7% of the total market value in 2018 whereas Spotify and Apple Music combined only showed just over a 39% market share but generated 74% of market revenue (Trichordist Jan 2019)

So what has all this got to do with label services agreements? Well, I'm sure some of you have come across these and are wondering whether or not to go down that route. Very simply, a label services agreement is very similar to a standard label deal for an artist in that it (usually) involves the service provider offering a services agreement for all of the things you would expect a label to provide to a signed artist - distribution and sales / pressing (sometimes) / marketing and promotion / rights management and data reporting / sync (in some cases) - but not, you will notice, studio time or mastering. As an independent artist or label this is still an attractive offering as it gives you access to all of that high level industry expertise and promotional muscle that you will need whlst retaining master ownership. Some companies out there even offer a degree of investment into the project, too, although this will be based on some serious due diligence before any agreement can be reached and this is often a process that is out of reach of most indies.

Those of you who have attended any of my lectures in the past will know that I do tend to bang on a bit about business plans and these days, I'm afraid, it is more important than ever. Artists, managers and indie labels really do need to take both financial and commercial responsibility for their products and for the huge amount of data administration that the digital age presents us with and, as we have just seen with the shifting landscape of stream rates, financial management is becoming a vital function within any independent project release.

Label services deals range from simple distribution plus some basic promotion, product management and maybe pressing through to full service agreements with investment. Either way, the financial responsibility is on you. In-house business management is now a vital function, something that very few label services providers offer and something that, in fact, you should have under your own control, not theirs!

Want to know more? Drop me a line.

Making the right life choices

I had a very pleasant meeting in London yesterday with someone who really got me thinking about a lot of the problems that young artists, producers and composers face these days and, as we are starting a new year and a lot of you are thinking about the direction you will be taking over the next 12 months, I guess now would be a good time to raise the subject of life choices and how they can be supported.

In my capacity as a guest lecturer for a number of independent audio and music colleges I often face the dilemma of advising students who have paid good money to gain an education but whose expectations are, more often than not, not matched by the real world they are about to enter. As we all know, sadly, a good qualification does not lead to instant employment or to instant career prospects and, in fact, often it can lead to disillusionment.

And in my capacity as a consultant and mentor I find myself helping people who are simply lost in the whole big, bad world of the music business and leading people through the minefields of label deals, publishing contracts, management and all the other business necessities that they find they now face can be daunting for the talented but inexperienced creative mind.

In addition, the business itself is evolving at an alarming rate. I recently heard a label owner describe his company as a "traditional digital label"..... as opposed to what, for Heavens sake? Label services agreements are becoming commonplace - more on that topic very soon! - and the very structure of the industry is changing as labels, publishers and hybrid companies fight for market share or to break into new media markets and market sectors.

So yesterday I met with the charming Kate Craker, an accomplished musician and former studio and label owner who has reinvented herself as a life coach. Our meeting had nothing to do with me needing life coaching myself - though, on reflection, maybe that's not such a bad idea :-) - but was more about how to support upcoming talent. Kate's own life experiences together with her kind and gentle nature give her an understanding and an insight into the issues facing creatives in all areas of the media industry and she struck me as someone who really could make a difference.

Maybe this is not the usual subject matter that you expect from me but I really think it is relelvant these days so don't just take my word for it - check her out for yourselves at Kate Craker Coaching, you won't regret it.

Happy Holidays!

It has been a very eventful year with lots of interesting projects, Flip Entertainment is certainly gaining traction and showing the way forward for a lot of game and music companies and we have finally seen the launch of flipmusic.net with its fantastic catalogue of production music.

In addition I have been working with Futurephonics Studios / Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam giving seminars on the future of 3D audio and VR implementation - and, of course, travelling to Abbey Road Institute Paris for two days of lectures and practical workshops.

I am also very excited to be working with Khandha Rooms studio to help set up their label and publishing business and to be working with thier amazing roster of high quality artists.

There is much more in the pipeline so I want to thank you all for your support over the last 12 months and wish you all a happy and prosperous 2019

More on that pesky Article 13.

As YouTube now seems to be preparing for war with the music industry and the EU it is maybe worth taking a different perspective on the whole issue. It might be a good idea to read the entire proposal before taking a stance on this as there are pro's and con's on both sides but the real issue (as far as YouTube are concerned) centres around the change of onus from the uploader to the online platform to ensure that uploaded content does not breach copyright law.

Currently, in very simple terms, it is the job of the uploader to ensure that he/she is not uploading content that they do not have the rights to. YouTube (and similar platforms) are only required to remove content if they are notified by the original rights owner or if the content contravenes the tracking systems they already have in place. And let's be fair here, YouTube already does a pretty good job of monitoring copyright content. However, with Article 13 the responsibility will now be on the platforms to put control systems in place AND be responsible for the consequences if these systems fail to catch illegal use of copyright content.

Apart from the additional costs involved for all of the platforms, not just in tech but also in legal counsel, administration and reporting, there is the really fundamental issue of identifying where copyright actually resides and how that would be determined by any AI system. In effect, Article 13 is mandating the use of AI and filtering technologies but are those technologies sufficiently advanced enough to handle, for example, a remix with multiple composers / rights owners? There is a danger here of the big players such as YouTube having to play safe and adopting a policy of "when in doubt, block it" which would be bad enough but what about individual websites or smaller systems who may well be sufficiently intimidated to decide not to accept any copyright content at all and thereby avoid the risk of any legal backlash.

Article 13 also states that there should be "adequate reporting on the recognition and use of works...." which, on the face of it, sounds ideal from a rights holders point of view so that, in theory, the ultimate decision on use remains with them. Personally, I wholeheartedly support that proposal but, again, we have additional costs placed on the platforms which they might just decide are too high and start to look for ways of covering them - decreasing the revenue shares they pay out, for example?

And so now we are leading up to the dreaded "B-word" - blockchain technology could well be the answer here and maybe we could say that the EU are being very forward thinking in asuming the blockchain will solve all of these issues but blockchain technologies are nowhere near universal adoption with the PROs or anyone else for that matter and right now looks like being a long time coming................... This is not over!

Click the link for the entire text of the "Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the digital single market"

 Here's a quick tip for anyone who has been infected by the Mac Auto Fixer virus. This irritating virus can be attached to seemingly legitimate installs - I got mine through a Flash Player update on a website I trusted - and there are lots of solutions out there to remove it. Most of these solutions, however, involve you buying another cleaner program and most of these claim to remove it by uninstalling it. Beware! They often don't fully dump it. Basically any unistaller program will remove the main app so use the one you already have (I assume you do have one - if not, get one!) but here's a tip.............. In the Finder window, Option-Click on the Go menu and then select 'Library'. Search through all of the directories and remove anything suspicious that has 'maf' in the filename (unless it is a file you know, of course). There will be a directory with name 'hpmaf' or something similar, all lowercase, and in that will be an app with the name 'maf'. Move the whole directory to the Trash, empty the Trash and restart your Mac. ONLY do this if you are confident of poking around in your systems Library files but trust me, it is the only way to really get rid of this damned thing! You will also need to go through all of your browser preferences and delete any extension that looks suspiciouly like 'maf'. Yes, it is a lot of work but worth the effort.

More on the Spotify move into direct upload 

OK - so, last week I talked about the Spotify move into direct upload for artists and I had reservations about how much value this would have for artists. Well, now we have a bit more visibility on the numbers and again, on the face of it, it looks pretty good but let's think about what this actually means................

First of all, we have to keep in mind that traditonally Spotify has paid 52% of the calculated value of a stream to the majors who then split that 52% with the artist based on the deal that they have in place (a 50/50 split in the case of most established artists, 80/20 in the labels favour in the case of new signings etc.). The same 52% payment is also made to Indie labels and distributors, so, at first glance, the 50/50 split Spotify now offers on direct upload gives independent artists 2% less than they were getting in the past, BUT............... this does not take into account the +/- 15% commission that distributors charge or the yearly fees otherwise charged by aggregators.

The bottom line, therefore, is that independent artists are going to be better off with direct upload and the majors are going to have to rethink there deal structure in the face of direct competition from Spotify itself.

And, in case you are wondering, how come Spotify gets to keep 50% of the calculated value? Well, let's not forget that Spotify has deals with the major PROs to make royalty payments to the rights owners (composers / publishers) and those payments come out of Spotifys 50%. In the past, Spotify was paying percentages out of their remaining 48% share, now they are paying it out of their 50% share. The royalties they pay will not increase but their profit margin has just gone up by 2%. 

All in all, a very positive outlook for independent artists on Spotify, so why am I still sceptical? Well, how does an emerging artist, with no label support, no marketing or promotional support and no other resources to fall back on but themselves grow a big enough fanbase to make a 50/50 deal with Spotify worthwhile? Well, as I have said in the past, getting on Spotify (or iTunes or Amazon or anywhere else online) is relatively easy and straightfoward but that's not the trick - letting people know that you are there is the real issue and this is where the majors still have the upper hand.

Spotify moves into direct upload for artists

Spotify have just announced plans to allow artists to upload music directly to the platform, bypassing the aggregators such as Tunecore, CDBaby, Distrokid etc.

And, in addition, it is going to be a free service!

So, in other words, whereas before, in order to access Spotify you had to pay one-off fees or yearly subscriptions to the aggregators, now you can go direct via the Spotify for Artists platform. Sounds great, right? 

I can think of a few downsides to all of this.......

Firstly, how long do we think Spotify will support a free user-upload platform? My guess is..........not long but once you are hooked in, you'll probably pay to stay.

Secondly, this is pretty much a direct challenge to SoundCloud and anyone with their Pro Unlimited account and that's not healthy.

Personally, my biggest concern here is that unless artists abandon SoundCloud and the aggregators as alternative routes to market, there is a danger of creating an administrative nightmare for the very people who should be focussed on making great music, not managing multiple digital distribution platforms and if they choose to only use Spotify, where will that leave them in the wider world?

EU Copyright Directive gets a review

Seems like this one is not going to go away! Much to the dismay of both artists and composers as well as the technology giants. Although many of us in the music industry are very concerned about the impact of Article 13 of this legislation, we should also be concerned about Article 11 which proposes a 'tax' on shared news items - and as music often forms a part of a news item this 'tax' would seem to contravene internationally recognised fair use policy agreements.

And as for Article 13, well, yes as the owner of any copyright material used on YouTube, this could be a good thing but not if it 'forces' YouTube to reassess their usage policies and that could be very bad news indeed for YouTube influencers and the game and music projects they promote.

The directive comes up for a new vote in January 2019 - Watch this space

Will Apple kill off iTunes?

Despite plenty of rumours over the last year or so, and also despite the fact that Apple Music executive Jimmy Iovine has stated for the record that iTunes download sales "can't last forever" Apple are categorically denying any plans to shut down the iTunes store at the end of March 2019. Iovine has also been quoted in a recent interview that Apple would stop offering music "If I'm honest, it's when people stop buying, it's that simple". 

With Apple Music set to overtake Spotify as the streaming service of choice in the U.S. this year, maybe there will be a rethink and maybe the rumours will turn out to be true - who knows? 

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