Current Editorial

July 12th 2007

EDITORIAL: TROUBADOUR

I’m sitting here tonight feeling frustrated by the US Court of Appeals decision rejecting the requested stay of the looming CRB royalty rates set to take affect on July 15th.

I have loved every moment of it the experience of sitting as a member of the SaveNetRadio coalition. Being immersed in politics at a grassroots level and seeing the power of the people in action is personally empowering to me. I’ve met people that I would never have crossed paths with had it not been for SaveNetRadio and for that I am always thankful. They have offered me an insight into the inner workings of this business and its politics that has both educated and fascinated me.

I was invited to sit on the SaveNetRadio coalition as a director of the Roots Music Association to be a representative voice for artists. To say yes to the opportunity to do so was a no-brainer for me…I’ve wittnessed first hand the day to day struggles they experience, as well as the turmoil and vices that this business seems to readily cultivate for those who give it’s breath. 

Its been a tough go at times to keep hammering the message and voices of independent artists at a level where we’re talking about billions of revenue dollars and high level politics. There are many times I’ve sat there listening to the intelligent and passionate conversation between highly educated, productive and successful businessmen and women feeling as if I were one little tiny voice from Whoville attempting to catch the attention of Horton. The coaltion members have been wonderfully supportive of my contributions and extremely inclusive when I offer my own passionate contributions to the matters at hand.

I advocated to the best of my ability on behalf of independent artists. Artists that end up paying out of their own pockets to travel half way across the country to play their hearts out for six people only to have the venue refuse to pay them at the end of the night. Artists who pay thousands of dollars to put out a cd then can’t afford the ‘promotional budget’ needed to have corporate radio give it airtime. Artists who believe in and follow their creative vision with sometimes blinded passion and pay the price often times with the loss of their marriages, children or health. Sometimes all three and more. Artists that not only deserve royalty payments for their creative efforts but appreciative value for the contributions their music makes to the lives of others. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without music and I’m sure everyone else who reads this feels the same way. 

My frustration lies tonight in the hope that somehow I’ve managed to  contribute enough to make my voice heard enough and is coupled with the additional hope that someone out there somewhere was listening.  

As I struggle tonight to find the right words as to why I’m so passionate about the right for independent music to be heard as always its a song that is able to express the emotion far more adequately than I ever could.

Instead of spending hours on a rant about why independent music is culturally vital and why we need to advocate for those who make this wonderful music that touches not only our lives but our hearts and souls I’m going to encourage you to find and listen with an open heart to Doug Lang’s Troubadour.

It’ll say everything I’m wanting to and more…if it touches your heart the way it does mine then continue to call and add your voice to the masses until all of us here in Whoville create enough noise that the right people listen to our pleas and take action. It’s music like this that makes every ounce of  passion we’ve got left important enough to be expressed.

TROUBADOUR

Just got a new demo of this song from Magne and Jarl in Norway.
They put their own music to it. Funny thing is that their melody
is nearly a shadow to mine. I guess the lyrics did their job. There’s
still work to be done, but you can get a feel for the song and the
process that goes into its development. This is a song (and story)
about the end of my nights making a living from music. I didn’t
know it at the time, but it was also the beginning of something.
(I posted this blog before, but bumped it up top to go with the
new demo I just uploaded). 

Nine years of workin’ the bar rooms
Agents who don’t give a damn
The 2 a.m. chicks, the 4 a.m. fix
The 6 a.m. poached egg and ham
The drive from Nanaimo to Duncan
Worry lines creasin’ my brow
Sick to my gut I ask myself what
In hell am I gonna do now

I don’t even know if they were B-rooms. That’s what my agent
called them. I called them toilets, because that’s what they smelled like.
I worked up and down Vancouver Island in all kinds of bars, lounges.
Some where they listened, some where they didn’t. Most places had
a dozen or so regulars, which is a nice way of saying alcoholics. The
kind of folks who, five minutes after you rocked out on Hey Goodlookin’
would stagger up to the stage and say, “Hey, buddy, could you play
Hey Goodlookin’ for me?” It took about that long for the echo of
your performance to reach their brain. They’d buy you a drink. I always
said rum & coke, and had a deal with the bartender where he’d save
the rum and give me the drink money later.

I could’ve been a contender
I had the songs and the voice
But I stepped on the toes of a couple of those
Who could’ve offered a choice
I never could bide by the system
The gig it was rigged from the start
Each dollar you make is a dollar they take
And they tell you to sing from the heart

So goodbye to all of the toilets
The agent who don’t give a damn
The 2 a.m. chicks, the 4 a.m. fix
The 6 a.m. poached egg and ham
Drivin’ Nanaimo to Duncan
Worry lines deep in my brow
Light me a butt and ask myself what
In the hell am I gonna do now

I was going pretty good there for a while. Playing six nights,
even putting on Sunday night concerts in smaller places
where folks were willing to pay a higher pop for a show.
I lugged my own sound system around. My agent would ask me
every week if I’d learned how to work that Rhythm Ace yet, but
I didn’t want to use that metronomic gadgetry. Stubborn, I
suppose, but I hated having a machine dictate the tempo
and feel of a song. Of course, the agent got his cut no matter
what. Seemed like just when I had the rent together, I needed
to get the car fixed, or something went wrong with the P.A.,
or a friend was selling his guitar and I had to have it. I was
a friendly pawnbroker, though, and sold two guitars back to
friends – same price – once they’d gotten work again.

I quit on a cold Sunday morning
Packed my suitcase and P.A.
Broke a hinge on the door of Room 234
Spit gravel as I drove away
Threw the room key out of the window
Lit a joint on the Malahat route
Inhaled to the core, drove two miles before
I let any of it back out

I did quit the business on a bitterly cold Sunday morning in
Duncan, after finishing out at a hotel there that went by a rude
nickname. They had a guy playing in the pub and me in the
lounge. Late on Saturday night, around 2:00 a.m., we both had
to find the hotel manager in order to get paid. We found him.
He was drunk, upstairs somewhere putting a move on a hotel guest.
We finally got him downstairs into his office, and he told us he’d
give us half of what we were due. He said we both let him down.
I told him I was going to separate his head from his neck if he
didn’t pay me right now, and he got my drift. The other boy? The
manager asked him if he’d perform a certain favour to make up
for his lacklustre performance in the lounge, a favour which would
require the boy to be on his knees. We both grabbed the guy and
flipped open the cashbox, took what was owed and split. I’d
already loaded my car with all my stuff, and I spun out of there
knowing I was done, kaputzka. 

Broken strings on a guitar
Didn’t we shake, Sugaree
Think of my boy in Sointula
I wonder if he thinks of me
What’s it for, why do we do it
What is the scene coming to
Fold up my tent, the money’s all spent
And the rent is a week overdue

It’s true, you know, you can go out on the road for two weeks,
come home somehow without enough money for the rent. There
is a kind of loneliness to living in hotel rooms that can get
expensive. People make mistakes out of loneliness. You abuse
your body some, and you definitely run your soul down to empty
at times. When I got home, I got sick. Bronchial pneumonia.
Anti-biotics didn’t help, so I eventually went on a lemon juice
and cayenne pepper fast. Musicians don’t usually have medical
plans, so you need to find help somehow. My friend Annie from
the racetrack used to come by and visit after the horseraces were
done for the night at the track nearby. It got so she’d place some
bets for me, too. Won $240 once on a quinella, before I knew
what a quinella was. When I was all done the fast, Annie made
me garlic soup. I think she saved my life that time with the soup. 

Goodbye to all of the toilets
The agent who don’t give a damn
The 2 a.m. chicks, the 4 a.m. fix
The 6 a.m. poached egg and ham
Drivin’ Nanaimo to Duncan
Worry lines deep in my brow
Light me a butt and ask myself what
In hell am I gonna now

It took me a while, but eventually I realized it was the business
that I was allergic to, not the music. A little over four years ago
I started playing again, writing again. On my own terms, for
people who love music enough to listen to it, who seem to know
the value of the troubadour tradition. There are legions of us,
all grown up with no place to go, waiting to play in your living
room, in your community hall. 
 

Bless those whose hearts have ears.

PREVIOUS EDITORIAL 

The RIAA: How Far Is Too Far?
Revisited and Exposed

As we revisit the topic nearly 5 years later, the verdict? Overwhelmingly, the verdict is way too far. Completely way over the top “too far.” The RIAA has gone unchecked for far too long with absolutely no oversight, and the time is now long overdue that the government steps in and does some investigating of this unscrupulous special interest group.

To pick up where I left off (The RIAA: How Far Is Too Far? July 2002), let me once again just reiterate that the RIAA is the well funded Washington, DC based lobbying arm of record labels that works for the special interests of the labels and not the artists, contrary to what they’d like you to believe through their highly dubious claims. The RIAA won round one in 2002, and these performance royalty fees were imposed on internet webcasters and satellite radio providers, however arbitration stepped in, and compromises in fees were reached that were a bit more tolerable for the webcasters. It should be noted that these fees are not imposed on terrestrial radio stations, which are exempt because, inexplicably, when they play a song, it’s considered “free advertising” for the label/artist/song! That arrangement smacks of just another form of payola to me, but that’s a different argument for a different day.

Of course everyone wants to see the artists fairly get their due- something that they’ve never gotten from the labels, and the result of initiating these fees was that there needed to be an entity created to collect and distribute these “artist performance” royalties. The artists themselves wanted to see an entirely independent organization put in place for this purpose, however much to their chagrin, things didn’t turn out that way. The RIAA strong-armed their way in and created SoundExchange as the entity that would collect and distribute these royalty fees.

We’ve already seen the result of the RIAA’s crusade that put the original free file sharing sites like Napster, Grokster and Morpheus out of business. We now have paid download sites controlled by the major labels with limited content. And while the artists are now getting paid for downloads of their music, after the corporations that own the services and the labels take their percentage cut, the artist is left with a very small percentage from the downloaded sales of their music- really no different than the small cut they get off the sale of a physical CD. Considering the RIAA claimed it was all this “illegal” downloading that was causing music sales to plummet, ironically even years after successfully shutting down all of the major file sharing sites, the major labels have seen no significant gains in overall music sales.

So why would anyone think the RIAA associated SoundExchange would be any different? It’s not. The royalties collected by SoundExchange first go to pay the administrative costs of SoundExchange, which also includes paying the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) litigation costs they initiated. After that money’s deducted from the collected royalties, then the next 50% of the remaining money goes to the sound recording copyright owner (SRCO), which in the vast majority of cases is the record label. A SRCO is whoever owns the exclusive right under the U.S. Copyright Act to perform publicly by means of a digital audio transmission on a given copyrighted sound recording or who has the right to license the public performance of a given copyrighted sound recording by means of a digital audio transmission. The simple translation is, whoever owns the “master” of a song is the SRCO, which, particularly in the case of major labels, is rarely the artist and is usually the label. After the label (or SRCO) gets their 50% cut, then the artist gets 45% of the remaining royalties, with the last remaining 5% going to any backing musicians/vocalists.

Next, as far as disbursement of these royalties go, the following information on the SoundExchange website (SoundExchange Unpaid Artists) raises some very interesting questions. SoundExchange stipulates that all featured artists that are due royalties for the digital transmission of their recordings pursuant to the copyright laws between February 1,1996 and March 31, 2000, and that were first distributed by SoundExchange in November of 2001, stood to lose those royalties if they hadn’t registered with SoundExchange by December 15, 2006. Hmmm…so SoundExchange is supposedly collecting these performance royalties on behalf of all the artists they so nobly claim deserve to be paid, but then deny them any royalty payments collected on their behalf if these artists choose not to be associated with SoundExchange, given SoundExchange’s dubious association with the RIAA? Then in December of 2006, SoundExchange added an update stating that those artists could still register with SoundExchange and file for their royalties. However, those royalty payments would be coming out of a reserve that was being set up by SoundExchange out of 30% of total undistributed royalty money, and those payments would be disbursed on a “first come, first serve” basis. So any of those artists seeking their royalties after that 30% reserve is exhausted, get nothing. Now the big question is, if SoundExchange is collecting these royalties on behalf of the artists, that money should be set-aside in some type of escrow account to be paid as artists file to collect their royalties, so then where is the other 70% of the royalty money that was collected on behalf of these artists?

At the bottom of that page is a link to all the artists that stand to lose their royalties- several pages worth. Within a few seconds of just beginning to scroll down the list, I immediately saw about a half dozen names of those who were deceased- some of who have been gone for quite some time. So now comes the burning question. As far as any deceased artists go, the performance royalties would go to their estates. However, many a recording contract was signed prior to the digital age, so “digital transmission” is a right an artist didn’t sign over to a label. So if the artist didn’t sign over digital rights, and a label didn’t get those rights signed over by the artist’s estate, then while the label does owns the masters- they don’t own the digital transmission rights. In those cases then, the label has no claim to the 50% SRCO royalty fee, so where does that 50% SRCO fee collected by SoundExchange go?

The next question is, since all webcasters must pay this statutory performance royalty fee, what about the hundreds, if not thousands, of webcasters who don’t play SoundExchange affiliated artists and music, or those who only play a very small percentage? So where is all of the excess unclaimed money going that’s collected by SoundExchange from webcasters for digital transmissions of music by artists that are not affiliated with SoundExchange? Obviously it’s not going to the artists or even the rightful SRCOs.

Getting back to the recent developments of the March 2, 2006 CRB decision regarding these web and satellite station performance royalty fees. These royalties were originally to be revised every two years through an arbitration proceeding. However, the first arbitration proceeding proved quite long and expensive, and produced a result that no party was happy with. So Congress changed the rules last year, created a new government board called the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), and now those royalty fees will be adjusted once every five years. The Board has three permanent Judges who will hear cases having to do with various compulsory licenses.

Since these royalties were originally supposed to be reviewed and possibly revised every two years, the current agreement expired at the end of 2005. Web and satellite station providers continued paying the original fees during 2006 to present. And now the crux of the problem is that the CRB completely ignored arguments put forth by various webcasters and simply endorsed the RIAA associated SoundExchange’s proposals which increased the fees by 30% (the increase to be paid retroactive for 2006), and would double the fees by 2010. The fees are also based “per song, per listener,” regardless of a webcaster’s revenue. With the exception of the largest webcasters (ie: Yahoo, AOL), the vast majority actually loses money annually. Webcasters that generate no revenue face a designated minimum flat fee of $500. Webcast sites like Pandora or Live365 who encompass thousands of non-revenue generating streams, potentially face paying the minimum $500 fee for each stream, that will add up to millions of dollars just in the retroactive fees that would effectively put them out of business. At this point, exactly who will owe what is somewhat speculative, since first, no one has clearly established the definitions and differences between a “channel,” and a “stream,” and what impact any distinction would potentially have, and second, all other details except the proposed fees in the CRB’s decision remain “secret” and are still undisclosed as of yet. And they call this democracy?

This interestingly coincides with a couple of other things currently happening in the industry. The first is the better-known petition that was filed for the merger of the Sirius and XM satellite providers. Both have fallen short of subscriber expectations and have been losing money hand over fist, so in order to stop the bleeding they figured it best to join forces instead of battling each other before the blood loss ultimately killed them both. But the merger faces anti-trust scrutiny- in other words, the creation of a potential monopoly with no competition. Both Sirius’ and XM’s main argument to support their proposed merger, was that their competition came from not only terrestrial radio, but also internet radio, downloading and other technology such as iPods. It should be duly noted that both the RIAA and the National American Broadcasters (NAB) organization that represents radio broadcasters, are vehemently opposed to the merger. Their best hope of fending off the further erosion of terrestrial radio and competition from satellite radio is the “divide and conquer” method, and they want to keep it that way. Could it possibly be that this latest move by the RIAA associated SoundExchange is actually a veiled attempt to wipe out as many webstations as possible, in order to remove the main contention of Sirius and XM that internet radio is a main competitor, in order to kill any chance of the merger taking place?

A second less noticed development was announced in the midst of all this hoopla. Wal-Mart, the RIAA’s favorite retailer of choice, announced it has begun selling affordable HD digital radio receivers that will retail for under $190, in conjunction with HD Digital Radio Alliance and a 250 million dollar marketing campaign. HD (hybrid digital) channels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HD_Radio) use a single frequency that’s split (a digital signal piggybacked onto a conventional analog broadcast signal) so that a single frequency can broadcast multiple formats. At present, those alternate format HD channels are streamed though the websites of the primary stations as well as HD digital radio receivers. It should also be noted that because these HD stations’ digital transmissions are piggybacked onto conventional broadcast signals, the HD channels are accessible for free to the listener, however keep in mind that these channels are still programmed by the same people that own and program the majority of conventional terrestrial stations, primarily Clear Channel, CBS Radio (formerly Infinity), Cox and Entercom. What I haven’t seen addressed is whether or not the CRB’s decision affects these players and HD stations. After all, digital transmission is digital transmission, and it will indeed be very interesting to see how the HD technology is addressed…or not.

Edison Media Research just released the results of their National Study of Country Music Listeners at CRS-38 (edisonresearch.com). These are some of their findings:

“The Internet continues to surge as a platform for music discovery, with 40% of those surveyed naming the web as the primary place they go to hear music unavailable on the radio. MP3 players and downloadable music files also grew dramatically as an outlet for music discovery, from 16% to 26% over the past year. Also, over 20% of the Country partisans surveyed “often” or “sometimes” learned about new music from social networking sites, such as MySpace. Over 60% of these Country partisans indicated that they had listened to their favorite Country radio station over the Internet. ‘Music Discovery continues to be important for all Country radio partisans–young and old,’ noted Edison Vice President Tom Webster, ‘but the Internet and downloaded files are rapidly catching up to CDs as the preferred alternative channels with younger demographics. With so many listeners turning to the Internet as their entry portal for music information and discovery, it is more vital than ever for Country Radio Broadcasters to understand that their web sites are an integral part of their brand.’”

The Digital Media Association (DiMA) http://www.digmedia.org/content/release.cfm?id=34&content=news also recently released the results of a more general music listening survey that didn’t focus on a particular genre, and came back with similar findings:

“Nearly 60 percent of consumers report that they are listening to more music since they started using an online service (Internet radio, subscription music services, and pay-per-download music services, including AOL Radio, Yahoo! Music, iTunes, Rhapsody, Zune, Urge, Napster, Pandora, Live365 and others). The vast majority of online music service users report that enjoying music over the Internet has expanded their musical tastes, allowing them to discover new artists and explore new music genres. About 25 percent reported having discovered a lot of new artists, while more than 60 percent of consumers surveyed say they have discovered some new artists. Nearly 7 in 10 online music consumers are enjoying new genres of music since listening to online music services. The survey also found that listening to and purchasing music over the Internet increases concert attendance. The survey reports that about half of digital music fans are spending more than $200 per year on music, and nearly 30 percent are spending more than $300. “Prior to the digital age, someone who purchased six CDs per year – valued at just over $100 – was considered a significant music consumer. These findings demonstrate that real music fans – and today’s music tastemakers – are online,” said DiMA Executive Director Jonathan Potter.”

TCB, like many other websites, use webcast sites like Live365 to create webstations that reflects the content of their website. When TCB was started 7 years ago, our goal was to educate, promote and expose listeners to the abundance of great music that was being made, but that wasn’t being heard on conventional terrestrial radio. The webcast technology wasn’t available to us back then, and we had to tackle our goals through written word, trying our best to introduce these artists and direct listeners on how to find their music, hopefully sparking enough interest to encourage people to check out these artists and their music- all without having the luxury of sound. When the technology became available to us, we jumped at the chance to use it. Now we could introduce listeners to these artists and their music by letting the listener actually hear what we’d been trying to convey with words. And we were able to introduce even more artists, as there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to write a review for each one, and so we could simply add them into the webstation’s rotation- where the opportunity to actually hear the music more often speaks louder than words. And by all accounts, it did- and did so successfully.

TCB generates no income to offset our operational costs- ie: our website and webstation fees. A percentage of our webstation fee includes a percentage of the performance royalty fees that Live365 pays. If each of Live365’s thousands of streams are each deemed a “channel,” then Live365 will be responsible for paying the minimum of $500 for each stream- in addition to the retroactive 2006 fee for each one. If these announced fee hikes stand, Live365 will have two choices. They’ll either be forced to shut down, or they’ll have to pass the new fees onto the owners of their individual streams. If the fee is passed on, that would mean that along with many others, TCB potentially faces $1000 in fees just to keep the station running until the end of the year. Since we generate no revenue, we certainly can’t afford the new fee and now also face the potential of having to shut down our webstation.

If we lose internet radio- everyone loses. We lose yet another piece of our freedom of speech. We lose yet another piece of our freedom of choice. We lose yet another outlet for education. Free enterprise is one thing, but it’s no longer free enterprise- or a democracy- when he with the most money can simply buy and dictate government policy, regardless of whether the result carries a negative impact for the majority. Wake up America- how much longer are you going to sit back and let corporate lobbyists and various special interest groups run your lives and erode our overall quality of life? Is our government being run “by the people, for the people,” or is our government now merely just another employee of Corporate America?

Please don’t let yourselves be fooled. Just as some politicians have been preying on and exploiting people’s fears to pursue their personal agendas for the past several years, the RIAA and the RIAA associated SoundExchange are preying on and exploiting people’s sympathy in regard to artists getting rightly paid for their work. The RIAA is funded by and lobbies on behalf of the labels, which for decades have a long history of notoriously ripping off their artists at every opportunity. Their real purpose and motives are far less honorable than they try to make it sound. Their latest lobbying effort is not by any means helping the artists, it only serves to hurt them- by silencing all but a select corporately picked few, and ultimately reducing the sales of music overall which will only result in the majority of artists making even less money. Their latest lobbying effort only serves to hurt the listener/consumer by restricting their choices in what they choose to listen to and purchase. Their latest lobbying effort only serves to hurt internet radio and it’s webcasters, most of whom don’t make a cent off of what they do- they do it out of a passion for the music and to provide listeners a wealth of artists, music and variety that isn’t heard anywhere else. Webcasters pay a fee that’s supposed to be going to the artists for their work (a fee that terrestrial radio does not pay), a fee that, for the most part, doesn’t seem to be getting into the pockets of the artists, but rather the pockets of SoundExchange and the RIAA. Their latest lobbying effort for exorbitant fee hikes only serves to further line their own pockets and the pockets of their biggest label contributors.

The participants in this CRB decision have 15 days from March 2 in which to petition for a re-hearing on the matter. That petition is well underway. Just as the FCC disregarded massive public outcry and opposition to expanding deregulation a couple of years ago and passed the measure anyway, the CRB may very well do the same. However, just as with that FCC ruling, Congress took note of the massive public opposition and ordered an immediate injunction against it going into effect. During this past week, Congress has heard the public outcry on this CRB decision and many have already voiced their own displeasure over it. If the CRB refuses to reconsider their decision, Congress can once again block a dubious and unfair decision. Strength comes in numbers and it’s time to make your voice heard. Bill Goldsmith of Paradise Radio and Kurt Hanson of the Radio And Internet Newsletter are at the forefront of battling this issue, and we at TCB encourage you to visit their sites to educate yourself on the issue and it’s far reaching ramifications, and find out how you can make your voice be heard: http://www.saveourinternetradio.com (Bill Goldsmith, Paradise), Radio And Internet Newsletter (RAIN): http://www.SaveTheStreams.org and http://www.kurthanson.com.

If you truly value the music and your freedom of choice the internet provides, making your voice heard on this issue only takes a few minutes. We strongly encourage you to take that few minutes of your time to prevent them from disappearing as quickly as that same few minutes.

©AnnMarie Harrington, TCB March 2007

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