Rut Roh: Led Zeppelin’s Free Agency Streaming Service

There’s always been a wrangle between record companies and artist managers over who owns recordings the band creates outside of the “recording commitment” masters that the label pays for.  There’s a misconception out there that if an artist is signed to a label, that label “owns” everything the artist records during the term.

Not true.  The label may have a blocking right over exploitation of records made outside of the artist’s deal during the term, but there almost always comes a time when the artist is free to exploit those outside recordings on their own or through a third party.  Not to mention re-records.

In the middle of what I think is a lot of hot air about Spotify becoming a threat to record companies–almost always a story promoted either by stock analysts who don’t know a trap case from a coke spoon or by overpaid Spotify executives–comes a very interesting story.  According to Digital Music News, Led Zeppelin may be about to launch its own streaming service.

If the stock analysts want a story that actually is disruptive, here’s one.  Led Zeppelin is exactly the kind of band that can maximize free agency (not to mention owning their own label for years albeit one closely affiliated with and probably largely funded by a major label).  Led Zeppelin is also exactly the kind of band that a service like Apple would do well to cozy up to which I’m sure was not lost on people at Apple.  (Spotify wouldn’t know what to do with anyone who wasn’t already a pop or hip hop star, frankly.)

This is exactly the kind of thing that many, many bands from the 60s, 70s and maybe 80s could do very well (assuming they still have enough of the kind of rarities that used to be included as bonus material in CD box sets and are still included in some vinyl releases).  This is also the kind of thing that is simply not a fit for Spotify as that service is the wrong demo and you couldn’t really imagine a John Bonham record on a “Sleep” playlist.

We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of an article I wrote called “Why Free Agency Matters: The Coming Changes in Artist Relations.”  This Led Zeppelin service is exactly the kind of thing we should have more of–a great add-on to a fan club or fan community, completely outside of the big platforms.  One challenge will be overhead, but that’s nothing that a sponsorship couldn’t solve for a band like Led Zep.

Is Tencent a Cautionary Tale for Spotify?

If you’ve ever asked yourself why Spotify has such a large market cap, I’d suggest there are a couple reasons.  (One we can eliminate right away is that the company is actually worth today’s $34,880,000,000 valuation.)

We can discount as a correctable market distortion the fact that Spotify manipulated the SEC into allowing the company to take its private market sale price as an indicator of what its public shares should trade at (discounting that most of the private stock was likely sold by insiders on the private market who had an interest in propping up the valuation).  We can also discount that the “direct public offering” resulted in shares being sold by insiders on the public market who had an interest in propping up the stock price and the implied valuation.

One cannot underestimate the role that Chinese darling Tencent played in the dance that was Spotify’s stock market valuation and resulted in Spotify and Tencent holding 10% of each other, Dot Bomb Style.

The only problem is that while the Peoples Republic of China can command a lot of stuff in their economy (if you can call it that), one thing Xi Jinping (who is General Secretary for Life of the Communist Party of China,  President for Life of the People’s Republic of China, and Chairman for Life of the Central Military Commission) cannot control is the stock market.  And the stock market is sending a signal about Tencent that Spotify would do well to pay attention to given the chunk of Spotify owned by Tencent.  (Check quickly to see if any recordings of the Tibetan Freedom Concert are available on Spotify.)

Tencent is down 17% on the year and dropped a bunch yesterday from its first profit cut   in 13 years because “it did not know when it would get Chinese approval to make money from its most popular game” according to Reuters.

That’s a good reminder of the facts on the ground for Chinese companies–if President for Life Xi Xinping doesn’t want you to make money, it can ruin your whole day.  Read the Tencent earnings call transcript.  And a squeeze on Tencent can also create some international or regional index fund torque that affects other big Chinese companies.

But the tale of the tape tells us that the problems started for Tencent quite some time ago–in January Tencent had a $575 billion market cap compared to $403 billion today, a lopping of some $170 billion–that’s billion with a “B”–off of its market cap.  Which is indicative of the problems with the Chinese economy as a whole–not to mention that there’s a lot of domestic retail investing on margin in China and short selling.

And when the margin calls come in, that stuff is nasty no matter what geographical economy you live in (see The Big Short.)

Tencent 8-16-18

So at the moment, it looks as if Tencent’s shares of Spotify are doing better for Tencent than Spotify’s shares of Tencent are doing for Spotify.

HFA is Getting Blamed Unfairly

 

afriendinneed
A Friend In Need

When you’ve been around as long as the Harry Fox Agency, you’re going to make some enemies, screw some things up, over react and over reach.  You’re also going to do a lot of things right, make some friends and do some good.  But most of all, you’re going to be the whipping boy for your client’s enemies, screwups, overreacting and over reaching.

From one whipping boy to another, that’s just not fair and anyone who has ever tried to do anything really hard with data in the music business knows it.  So pish and pshaw on those who gang up on HFA in the debate on the Music Modernization Act.  Let’s look at the facts.

When HFA developed the first digital download mechanical license in the late 1990s, the current crop of critics were nowhere to be seen.  Was it a perfect solution?  Not entirely, no.  But it did work and business got done and songwriters made money.  We were all feeling our way along the digital precipice and making it up as we went along.

I will go out on a limb here and say that if it weren’t for people like HFA’s Ed Murphy, it’s entirely possible that there would be no “streaming mechanical” at all.  That would be the same Ed Murphy who stepped up and licensed Napster’s effort at a p2p subscription service in 2001.  Again, the current crop of critics were nowhere to be seen.

Here’s another fact that you won’t hear about.  When it came time to mete out justice to a massive infringer record company who had been ripping off Texas singer-songwriters for years and years, it was HFA who stood with us.  Not because they made money, not because there was some pot of gold for them–there wasn’t and they didn’t.

They did it because it was the right thing to do.

They may not be choir boys, but they have their moments.  When we really needed them, they showed up for Texas songwriters.  And that’s how we measure friendship in my part of the world.

HFA is often blamed for the Spotify meltdown which in its own way led directly to the controversial safe harbor in the Music Modernization Act.  You can tell that’s true because the MMA’s proponents never talk about the safe harbor except to say that they negotiated away the rights of all the world’s songwriters in some “grand bargain,” the grandness of which elludes me almost as much as the legitimacy of consent.

The fact that Spotify chose to go forward without all the rights necessary to do business is not HFA’s fault.  It is Spotify’s fault.  If Spotify has an issue with HFA, that’s between them.  Ultimately, Spotify knew what it was doing and I seriously, seriously doubt that HFA told them otherwise.  I won’t believe it without both pictures and tapes.

Another fact is that the clearance problems that Spotify and some other HFA clients have were set in motion well before SESAC’s acquisition of HFA in 2015.   If anything, HFA’s been doing it better and cleaner after the acquisition in my opinion.  So if there is blame to go around, then the blame should go all the way around.

You may hear some pretty nasty comments about HFA now that its parent’s parent company is lobbying for a seat at the table on the Music Modernization Act.  Pay them no mind.  If SESAC and HFA had been dealt in at the beginning of the MMA process–which it sounds like they were not along with a lot of other people who should have been there, too–then there’d be some actual evidence that they were reneging on a commitment instead of no evidence that a commitment was ever made.  If you’re going to bet the farm, don’t take silence as consent.

Bashing HFA won’t fix the failure to include them, and I for one think it’s really unfair.  The solution isn’t dealing them out, the solution is embracing SESAC and HFA by respecting their efforts to make MMA a better bill that will have a greater chance of flourishing.

@alibhamed: Pre-Seed Investing is Not About Check Size

[Interesting post by Ali Hamed about the goals of a pre-seed investment round]

Pre-Seed Investing, in my view, should not be defined by check size. I think a lot of people are tempted to describe a pre-seed investment as a “sub $1M investment,” or a ~$500k investment. And while directionally correct, or associated with seed rounds, likely isn’t their definition.

To me, a pre-seed round is a round of capital used for proving whether or not a product can be valuable to a customer.

One thing that has always bothered me is when seed investors, or pre-seed investors ask super cookie-cutter questions, like:

  • What is your monthly revenue?
  • What is your MoM growth?

To many investors, these are almost formulaic questions that define if they will take a meeting or not.

Read the post on Medium

Justice Department Antitrust Division Starts Terminating Legacy Antitrust Judgments–What Next for ASCAP, BMI and MMA

We’ve noted a few times that there’s a limited benefit to ASCAP and BMI from being involved with the Music Modernization Act (although fans of the bill have been dining out on their support for quite a while).  All of those benefits involve relief from the oppressive government control over songwriters through the ancient consent decrees that now mostly protect the MIC Coalition.

We’ve also pointed out that the new head of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice announced his plan to terminate the some 1,500 consent decrees that the DOJ uses to regulate commerce–more properly the role of the Congress, not the Justice Department.  Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, the head of the Antitrust Division, has already said that he would review the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees, so this isn’t idle speculation.

This week, the AAG Delrahim put that plan in motion.  According to a DOJ press release, the Antitrust Division is terminating 19 consent decrees that are like the PRO consent decrees, more regulatory in nature than enforcement oriented.  Here’s the press release:

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division today filed a motion and supporting papers, seeking to terminate 19 “legacy” judgments in the District Court for the District of Columbia.  Today’s court filing is part of the Antitrust Division’s effort to terminate decades-old antitrust judgments that no longer serve their original purpose.

“Today we have taken an important next step toward eliminating antitrust judgments that no longer protect competition,” said Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, Makan Delrahim.  “Today’s filing is the first of many that we will make in courts around the country in our effort to terminate obsolete judgments.”

In its motion filed today, the Antitrust Division explained that perpetual judgments rarely continue to protect competition, and those that are more than ten years old should be terminated absent compelling circumstances.  Other reasons for terminating the judgments include that essential terms of the judgment have been satisfied, most defendants likely no longer exist, the judgment largely prohibits that which the antitrust laws already prohibit, and market conditions likely have changed.  Each of these reasons suggests the judgments no longer serve to protect competition.

The Antitrust Division announced in April its initiative to terminate legacy antitrust judgments, stating that it would review all such judgments to identify those that no longer serve to protect competition.  In its prior announcement, the Antitrust Division set forth the process by which it would seek the termination of outdated judgments.  It also established a new public website (https://www.justice.gov/atr/JudgmentTermination) to serve as the primary source of information for the public regarding the initiative.

At the time that the Antitrust Division announced the initiative, it posted on its public website the legacy judgments in federal district court in Washington, D.C. and in Alexandria, Virginia.  After a 30-day public comment period, the Antitrust Division concluded that termination of these 19 judgments is appropriate.

Since the announcement of its initiative, the Antitrust Division has posted for public comment judgments in 19 additional federal district courts.  It will continue to post judgments periodically as review of those judgments by Antitrust Division attorneys is completed.

Members of the public are encouraged regularly to check the Antitrust Division’s Judgment Termination page on its website, www.justice.gov/atr/JudgmentTermination, for updates.  Members of the public also may subscribe to the mailing list (https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDOJ/subscriber/new(link is external)) to receive notice of new postings to the website, including judgments that the Division has identified as appropriate for termination.

This is important because the latest version of the Music Modernization Act requires the DOJ to notify Congress if they intend to terminate the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees.  Just the ones that relate to songwriters, no others.

So once again, the Congress–which should be regulating songwriters in the first place if anyone is going to engage in that worthless task–isn’t requiring the DOJ to notify them of any of the hundreds and hundreds of other consent decrees that AAG Delrahim proposes to terminate.

The irony of this amendment should not be overlooked–if the DOJ stops improperly regulating songwriters beyond its enforcement powers, oh, no!  Congress must step in to defend the MIC Coalition’s multi trillion dollar market cap from those pesky anticompetitive songwriters.

Why should Congress butt in where it has been afraid to tread since before World War II?  The same body that “forgot” to raise the statutory mechanical royalty for 70 years?

What should happen is the DOJ should terminate the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees and continue in its oversight role for enforcement of the antitrust laws.  Surely this is not controversial.  We don’t need another amendment to the Music Modernization Act to slow down “modernization.”

 

The Music Modernization Act’s New Burdens for Labels Identifying Unmatched Songs

The Music Modernization Act is definitely the gift that keeps on giving.  It seems like every time I read it, a new toad jumps out from under a rock.

The latest one I found is a new burden the MMA places on all sound recording owners, large and small, to help the digital services comply with their obligation to locate song copyright owners in order for the services to keep the new “reachback” safe harbor also referred to as the “Limitation on Liability”.  This is the retroactive safe harbor given effect on January 1, 2018 regardless of when the bill actually is passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.

Here’s the relevant clause (at pages 100-101 of the House bill):

REQUIREMENTS FOR LIMITATION ON LIABILITY.—The following requirements shall apply on the enactment date and through the end of the period that expires 90 days after the license availability date to digital music providers seeking to avail themselves of the [reachback safe harbor]:

‘(i) No later than 30 calendar days after first making a particular sound recording of a musical work available through its service via one or more covered activities, or 30 calendar days after the enactment date, whichever occurs later, a digital music provider shall engage in good-faith, commercially reasonable efforts to identify and locate each copyright owner of such musical work (or share thereof). Such required matching efforts shall include the following:

(I) Good-faith, commercially reasonable efforts to obtain from the owner of the corresponding sound recording made available through the digital music provider’s service the following information:

(aa) Sound recording name, featured artist, sound recording copyright owner, producer, international standard recording code, and other information commonly used in the industry to identify sound recordings and match them to the musical works they embody.

(bb) Any available musical work ownership information, including each songwriter and publisher name, percentage ownership share, and international standard musical work code.

And yes, that is a double “good-faith, commercially reasonable” predicate–a drafting bugaboo of mine.  I guess it means really, really, really good faith and absolutely positively commercially reasonable since they said it twice.

So what this means is that labels are required to provide to digital services a lot of song ownership information that they may or may not have.  For example, if the label licenses in a sound recording and puts the publishing payments on the licensor (very common practice) the information might be “available” but it is just not available to them.

Note that despite the fact that “good faith” and “commercially reasonable” are repeated twice for emphasis, those concepts modify the efforts of the digital service and not the efforts of the label to respond.  (Not surprising, if you believe as I do that the MMA was largely written by the lobbyists for the services and not the publishers or songwriters.)

At a minimum, the clause should be revised to extend the “good faith” and “commercially reasonable” modifiers to the label’s efforts to provide song information.  Having said it twice, why not three times?

There’s also no procedure for how this request is to be made or responded to, nor is there reimbursement of the costs incurred by the label in complying.  There’s also no limitation on liability for the label if it provides the service what turns out to be incorrect information.

Of course, what should really happen is that the entire paragraph (bb) should simply be struck.  It has long been the practice of record companies to refuse to provide publisher information to digital services and it has long been the practice of digital services to not ask for it.

In all likelihood, the services will engage a third party to do their song research, which is covered in the very next clause:

(II) Employment of one or more bulk electronic matching processes that are available to the digital music provider through a third-party vendor on commercially reasonable terms, but a digital music provider may rely on its own bulk electronic matching process if it has capabilities comparable to or better than those available from a third-party vendor on commercially reasonable terms.

Taking a long look at the clause, it seems reasonable to simply strike the entire clause (I) and keep the labels out of it as has long been the practice, and require the services to either use their own systems or hire a vendor.  And that’s where there should be some criteria for what constitutes a proper vendor.  If there’s going to be any work done by the labels, then–as advertised–the digital services should pay the label’s cost of compliance as part of the assessment and the label should have no liability if they happen to not have the song information “available”–in a commercially reasonable manner.

We all want the MMA to work, but we also all want to avoid unfunded mandates imposed by the federal government that create unintended consequences.

Five Reasons Why Apple Could Succeed as a Music Publisher

Music Business Worldwide reports in a fairly detailed article that Apple is launching a music publishing division–crucially based in both London and the US run by Elena Segal (recently of my old alma mater, Mitchell Silberberg).  This doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple will be competing with publishers to acquire catalogs or for songwriter talent just yet, but that is something worth thinking about.

Personally, I don’t see a catalog buy in Apple’s future.  They don’t need the money or the headache–Apple is in the Benjamin business not the Lincoln business.  If Apple moves into publishing my bet is that it will be strategic and not tactical.

But I could see a world in which Apple leveraged their creative staff and audio recording toolshed to attract developing writers.  Even a $1 million investment in a stable of developing songwriters could go a long way.

Here’s five reasons why Apple has a strategic advantage over almost everyone in getting into the creative side of the business:

1.  History:  Largely due to Steve Jobs’ genius, Apple has always attracted musicians and artists to the company’s products.  When I attended the “Hell Has Frozen Over” launch of iTunes for Windows, even a blind man could see how much the artists who Facetimed with Steve on stage really enjoyed the guy.  Remember that iTunes for Windows launched with a whole bunch of exclusive tracks from top artists–all of whom were happy to participate.  How much happier would they be to actually include Apple in their creative careers?

2.  Trust:  Apple has never been sued by songwriters or artists.  They give a straight count for iTunes.  Not to say they shouldn’t be audited, trust but verify, etc., but on balance most people trust their Apple statement not to be shady.  That is definitely not true for Spotify, or…ahem…others.  Plus, Apple doesn’t hand out stock to lower royalties for everyone.

3.  Fairness:  As an old Apple lawyer once said to me, we decide what’s fair and then we jam it down your throat.  Which sounds harsh, but remember that Apple Music’s long-time honcho Eddie Cue made a huge change in Apple Music’s launch strategy because Taylor Swift tweeted that she thought the free period was too long.  One tweet and that was that.

Eddie Cue

Contrast this exchange with billionaire Daniel Ek’s tone deaf mansplaining to the same Taylor Swift over windowing.

4.  Longevity:  In a time of ups and mostly downs in the music industry, Apple isn’t going anywhere.  There’s no fear that key executives are going to pump and dump their Apple stock on a get-rich-quick scheme that benefits everyone except the creators.  So the long term interests are aligned.

5.  Playlists:  You don’t get the impression that Apple is going to use the 21st century algorithmic equivalent of Top 40 to create a version of George Orwell’s versificator that bears about as much resemblance to a Ponzi scheme as it does to a listening experience.  Apple smartly engaged Zane Lowe & Co to keep the human element in a kind of global Radio One.  Artists don’t like to feel that they are simply part of the background music–who can get excited about being on the “Sleep” playlist?  It’s like asking artists if they’d like to sign to Muzak.

I personally find the idea of Apple in the creative side of publishing very attractive because it allows Apple to distinguish itself on values that many creators find compelling:  Transparency, integrity and trustworthiness.

Frankly, we could all do well to promote those values in our business instead of passing laws that try to make the indelible sleaze disappear.