Getting Paid

May 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Bud Scoppa



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So you're struggling to make a living doing something you're good at and enjoy, but it's like the Wild West out there, where most of the laws have yet to be written and it appears that nobody is in control. With the assumptions you made when you decided on a career in music as outdated as yesterday's papers, you need a new map to set you off in the right direction — to figure out where the money is. But that map doesn't exist.

The traditional music business model, which is based on the selling of physical product, may be irreparably broken, but at the same time music is everywhere: streams, downloads, ringtones, ringbacks, videogames, music games, video jukeboxes, video on demand, Webcasts, podcasts, widgets and more, as well as the traditional media of radio, TV, movies and — oh yeah — CDs.

In the sixth edition of their reference book, Music, Money and Success, attorneys (and brothers) Jeff and Todd Brabec devote 30 pages simply to laying out the various areas now in play in the constantly expanding digital realm. “In this new world,” they write, “you have a combination of the old rates, concepts and laws applying in some cases, with other areas being subject to the negotiation of completely new rates based upon new business models, laws, negotiations, court decisions and developing industry practices.”

Is your head spinning? Join the club. Not even the best and the brightest have figured it all out.

What haven't changed are the basic components: the song and the recording themselves. But how much revenue can they generate, and for whom? This is where it gets complicated. In new media, recordings — and the songs they contain — can be either downloaded or streamed, with separate licenses and royalty rates for each. Audio works fall under the category of mechanical rights, just as they do in the physical world, while streams, like radio or TV airplay, fall into the area of synchronization rights. Downloads and streams can be either audio-only or audio/visual. Mechanical only applies to audio works; once you put a visual behind a recording, it falls under the synchronization right. And when a copyrighted work is used as a ringtone, in a videogame or in some other nontraditional form, additional layers of complexity come into play.

“Everyone's wondering where the income is coming from and how do I survive?” says author Jeff Brabec. “You've gotta know how the business works to know where it's all coming from. You don't want to make a bad deal, that's for sure.”

“There doesn't seem to be an incredibly high expectation on the part of a lot of bands about the whole ‘get rich’ thing anymore,” says ASCAP's Tom DeSavia, a former A&R executive. “Now, it's, ‘How do I make a living salary? How do I survive?’”

“A musician wanting to ‘make it’ is going to have to completely change their conception of what it means to ‘make it’ in 2009 versus 1995,” artist Amanda Palmer asserted during a panel at SXSW. “Being a superstar is completely diluted nowadays…I'm spending a lot of time connecting with fans, and I don't feel as much of an artist as much as a promoter of Amanda Palmer. All of this instant connection has taken the place of making art. An idea that might have translated into a song before might now go into my blog instead.”

“Looking at young artists, the ones that have vision and drive, and for whom the major-label deal is not the Holy Grail, are going to succeed,” said Michael McDonald of Mick Management during the same panel. “If the definition of success is to make a living, and degrees of how comfortable a living, that needs to be the goal.”

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