This site is a blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
Posts Tagged ‘cover songs on youtube’
Dave Grohl talked at SXSW about definitions of music business success and why artist independence is critical to surviving in the current marketplace. Also, technology leaders discussed how skillful data management will continue to be a key strategy for music industry leaders. And music publisher Matt Pincus stressed that YouTube needs to work harder to pay songwriters.
Dave Grohl, on Why Musicians “Come First”
Dave Grohl reiterated the importance of artists to the music business in his much-buzzed-about SXSW keynote speech, reported the Los Angeles Times. He took the focus off the many business troubles of the music industry and put it back on important issues musicians need to focus on in order to personally define and achieve success: “I am the musician … and I come first.”
He shared his own struggles with his former band Nirvana and current band the Foo Fighters – how he has sometimes lost the philosophy of “artist independence” and has been almost destroyed by the “guilt” of success. After the release of Nevermind in 1991, which turned rebellion against mainstream music into Top 40-worthy hits, Grohl said he eventually learned lessons that brought him back to his punk-rock roots in Washington, D.C.
Grohl also celebrated his fans and shared his favorite music while encouraging artists to give into the “DIY” movement and nurture their uniqueness: “Who’s to say what’s a good voice and not a good voice? The Voice? Imagine Bob Dylan standing there singing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in front of Christina Aguilera. ‘I think you sound a little nasally and sharp.’ It’s your voice. Cherish it, respect it.”
He added that he finally discovered his own “voice” while traveling to Chicago with his family. A cousin introduced him to Black Flag, the Ramones, Buzzcocks, Descendents and the Minutemen, then took him to his first-ever gig, Naked Raygun at the Cubby Bear. He said it was “the most ferocious noise – bodies were flying everywhere … I was in heaven and it was our secret … I was no longer one of you. I was one of us.”
But it was at a “Rock Against Reagan” show in 1983 in Washington, D.C. while watching Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys that solidified his passion for music: “I was free. I wanted to incite a riot, or an emotion, or to save someone’s life to inspire them to write a book or pick up an instrument … I wanted to be someone’s Naked Raygun.”
Grohl attributed Nirvana’s explosive success in 1991 to either timing or the many young people tired of the pop acts that were dominating the charts. But he also said that the band’s “reluctant stardom,” which continues to be perpetuated by the media was a fallacy; even Kurt Cobain wanted to be “the biggest band in the world.”
Grohl recalled being amused by sharing the top of the Billboard charts with bands like Roxette and Phil Collins, and how that kind of success continues to confuse artists: “It was beyond everyone. It made absolutely no sense. It was simply unimaginable. It was the type of hopeless, shallow aspirations that we have been conditioned to reject, ultimately relieving us of any intention other than to just be ourselves.” And ultimately, that quest for Nirvana band members to be themselves produced the more stripped-down, rawer In Utero, which became their cry of independence.
Still, he and Nirvana band mates struggled to process its success: “How do you process going from being one of us to one of them? Guilt. Guilt is cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It’s a black wall. It’s a thief.”
It was Cobain’s death that reminded him to stop perpetuating the concept of the “guilty pleasure” and stop living by the industry’s definitions of success. He said Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is one of his favorite songs, and criticized Pitchfork’s numeric formulas for determining “the value of the song.”
The first Foo Fighters album was created by his own label Roswell Records, so he could own the album and determine exactly where it went and who heard it: “We own the album … and we’ll license it to you for a little while, but you have got to give it back because it is mine.”
The lesson learned from Grohl’s career that he wanted all the artists performing at SXSW to take to heart seemed to be to live in a “bubble” and make that space their own: “At 13 years old, I realized I could start my own band. I could write my own song, I could record my own record. I could book my own shows. I could write and publish my own fanzine. I could silk-screen my own T-shirt. I could do all this myself. There was no right or wrong, because it was all mine.”
The entire transcript of Grohl’s speech can be found in Rolling Stone.
“Data” is the New Music Business
Data-centric services could totally empower the music industry. This possibility was reiterated by interviews published in The Guardian this past week with Alex Vlassopulos, vice president, commercial at Omnifone and Vevo’s senior vice president Nic Jones.
Vlassopulos said that as music in the cloud strengthens as a business model and social media continues to personally connect consumers and artists, the music industry is finally getting the hang of new technology and getting more people to buy into subscription music services, especially through mobile.
However, he stated that global music licensing is complicated and will likely continue to be a challenge: “Global music licensing is a complicated beast involving dozens of licenses from labels, publishers and collection societies for a single track.” But he added, he feels that these complications are worth navigating in order to make more music accessible to global audiences: “In short, there is a huge amount of work required to license music on a global scale. Given the vast volume of tracks created by millions of musicians to enrich our lives, it’s a small price to pay.”
And in the digital world, according to Vlassopulos, data will be the future of music: “In the digital media world, music is data and therefore data is the future of music. I am not saying physical music will no longer exist, but digital music consumption will continue to grow. Cloud-based subscription services … will soon be the prevalent distribution method.”
He made some additional predictions: “The bundling of music with mobile and internet data tariffs will really drive subscription music growth in both western and emerging markets … In addition, by analysing user data, the digital music ecosystem is gaining a deeper understanding of consumers and the evolving music marketplace. This enables service providers to more accurately target marketing campaigns as well as fine tune recommendation, service functionality, curation and much more. Ultimately, data analytics will help drive more paying subscribers and increase revenue.”
Vevo’s Nic Jones reiterated the importance of data going forward, but claimed that music service users will want to know more than just artists’ music and a large volume of tracks as they buy into subscription services: “People will want to see content about how a band started, where they got together, which clubs they go to …Intelligent, data-centric services could herald the rebirth of the music industry.”
In a speech given at the MediaGuardian Changing Media Summit on March 21, Jones said that Vevo’s success is proof that music fans want to see a wide range of content in the new music industry. They want to see build-your-own music discovery platforms as well as curated content.
He expressed, “Data is useless unless you can turn it into information and do something with it, but people still want the opportunity to be curated by more than algorithms … the crucial point is that it is people wanting interaction … discovery is what most people who love music are all about.”
Jones said that Vevo is adapting as it accepts that the streaming model will not disappear, espousing Vlassopulos’ notion that experimenting with different models is essential for music tech companies in the current marketplace. Still, the goal of innovation will be to find a business that can be mass marketed: “Spotify is doing a great job but is not mass market yet, and it’s too early to say that those listening patterns are reflective of the whole market. Music subscriptions need to become mass market.”
Why YouTube Should Pay Songwriters and Publishers More
YouTube needs to work a little harder at paying songwriters and publishers, explained founder/CEO of SONGS Music Publishing Matt Pincus in a guest post on Billboard. As Pincus said, because songs like the “Harlem Shake” and agreements covering UGC content and Vevo videos have recently completely transformed so many aspects of the music industry for the first time in years, YouTube has officially become “the mainstream music business” and should thus be paying artists and publishers more appropriately.
As he pointed out, there are billions of streams of music, whether a popular a capella version of a hit song or a short musical parody being watched by millions, yet no money is changing hands, even though a Multi-Channel Network (MCN) is distributing the videos.
Pincus clarified what MCNs do and why they should be sharing the wealth: “MCNs like Maker Studios and Fullscreen Media are aggregators of original content on YouTube. There are hundreds of them currently operating, garnering tens of billions of views a month. With backing from Google, Silicon Valley venture capital firms or large media companies, MCNs are distributing hundreds of hours of music related content and selling tens of millions of dollars of advertising, with almost none of it going to songwriters and music publishers.”
As Pincus pointed out, MCNs act similarly to record labels by signing video creators to deals that give the MCN the right to produce, market and distribute content via YouTube. MCNs are snatching up content so quickly that they distribute almost any YouTube video that gets seen by a large audience. Even the media is starting to refer to them as “the next Cable Television,” yet they are paying nowhere near what cable TV pays songwriters, etc. each year. And this could mean legal battles ahead.
Pincus went on to explain the difficulty artists and publishers will have trying to flag their unlicensed content on YouTube, since YouTube does not and will not flag MCN content, and most content can only be found by time-consuming manual searches for individual videos.
Similarly, Pincus stated that MCNs have not been great at actively pursuing licenses for broadcast music: “Maker Studios signed a deal with only one major music publisher two weeks ago … Fullscreen Media, another leading MCN, has agreements with only two of the majors. Neither MCN has licensed more than a handful of independent publishers, and the terms of their agreements with majors have not been extended to the trade.”
Pincus concluded, “Until then, herein lies the irony of the YouTube landscape: If a 6 year old kid sings a song and puts it on YouTube, the writer gets paid. If she’s any good and actually obtains an audience, an MCN like Maker Studios — with $35 million in VC funding from Time Warner, the Murdoch family and others – will sign her. Then, the money stops flowing to the writer, whether the video stops streaming or not.”
YouTube, Maker Studio and Fullscreen media were unresponsive.
The growth of the digital landscape in the past 15 years was directly addressed last week as BMI’s Del Bryant wrote an open letter to the music industry about Sony/ATV and EMI’s withdrawn catalogs. And the retailer Rough Trade announced its latest plans to combine physical albums and downloads. Finally, Universal signed a licensing deal with two major online video networks.
BMI, on New Digital Rights and Royalty Agreements
President and CEO of BMI Del Bryant wrote an “open letter to the music industry” last week that explained why Sony/ATV and EMI had recently withdrawn digital catalogs and clarified new royalty processing agreements. The Sony/ATV and EMI catalogs were removed from the BMI repertoire “only for certain digital uses” on January 1. The withdrawal was only of shares of compositions owned or controlled by Sony/ATV and EMI. Bryant’s letter originally appeared on the Billboard website February 11.
The letter addressed the need for major music companies and others to continue to adapt to the music industry as it continues to change in order to bring maximum revenue to songwriters, composers, publishers, artists and labels: “It is a dynamic time in our industry; it is a time of experimentation and transformation of many of the models which have generated revenue for recorded music and for music publishing, impacting songwriters, composers, publishers, artists and labels alike. Throughout BMI’s nearly 75 years of representing writers and publishers, we have seen many challenges and opportunities to secure reliable and fair compensation for the creators of music. We have navigated through changing markets and the development of new outlets for the performance of music and created solutions which add value to the marketplace.”
He also explained why changes in EMI and Sony’s contracts necessitated the withdrawal of catalogs from the BMI repertoire and what the licensing process will look like for licenses going forward: “BMI will continue to license the Sony/ATV and EMI repertoires across most digital platforms and services … As a result, in some cases the same licensee will have to secure both a blanket license for shares of songs represented by BMI and a separate license from Sony/ATV and EMI for their respective shares of publicly-performed musical works.”
And Bryant assured other publishers that his company would still support their digital needs: “BMI will continue to license on behalf of our other major and independent publishers for all shares of all works in our repertoire for all digital uses.”
Additionally, he stated that publishers want to go down a path similar to Sony/ATV will be able to modify their existing agreements once their contracts near expiration. The names of publishers who withdraw will be posted in the New Media area of BMI.com.
The new agreement between Sony/ATV, EMI and BMI – which has the rights organization offering royalty processing and distribution services to the publisher – is the first agreement of its kind for BMI: “These agreements are BMI’s first entry into offering these types of administrative services and we believe this is one of many opportunities for our organization to provide additional value to our affiliates in today’s dynamic market.”
Rough Trade Launching New Sales Initiatives
The Guardian announced that it would be forging a new partnership with the UK-based brick-and-mortar music store Rough Trade in order to boost music sales and merge the digital and physical retail worlds. The website announced the “Tracks of the Week” music service on February 11, offering up six new exclusive music tracks each week hand-picked by experts at Rough Trade and The Guardian, delivered directly to users’ in-boxes.
Record stores worldwide have been experiencing a major decline in the past 15 years. However, Rough Trade has been continuing to thrive in its two locations – the original branch in Ladbroke Grove, open since 1976 and Rough Trade East just off Brick Lane – thanks to a quality retail experience, knowledgeable staff and an eclectic selection of vinyl and CDs.
Rough Trade sales were up 8 percent in the last quarter, and the company has made plans to open its first U.S. store in Brooklyn. Rough Trade co-owner Stephen Godfroy said in January that despite an ailing UK music business, his business is “the best it’s ever been.”
Music fans that sign up for The Tracks of the Week service will get six new surprise tracks each Friday that will cover a range of genres and will frequently feature records that cannot be found anywhere else.
Godfroy said the service will help bring some of the wonder of old school in-store music discovery to the digital world: “We’re delighted to offer, in partnership with the Guardian, a music service that offers genuine digital value and excitement for the music lover. Not knowing what you’re going to receive each week replicates the thrilling sense of adventure felt in our stores, providing customers a priceless moment of trusted discovery, surprise and joy.”
Universal Will Work with Major YouTube Players
Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) inked licensing deals with Fullscreen and Maker Studios, companies that collectively garner 4 billion video views each month on YouTube. In each case, the deal will allow video creators that work with these video companies to use Universal catalog songs, either as covers or as soundtracks and samples, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The revenue for publishers will likely be small at first, at millions of dollars per year. However, this could grow significantly depending on how often songs are used and how popular the attached videos become.
These agreements display that rights holders are diversifying the way they make money, tapping into a medium with billions of viewers. Universal’s deal with Fullscreen and Maker immediately connects it to a higher-than-average advertising rate, because advertisers will typically pay a premium to ensure that ads are attached to these videos, which often have better production values as well as more interesting content.
Chairman and Chief Executive of UMPG Zach Horowitz said, “This is a groundbreaking arrangement that encourages the use of our music … We hope it serves as a template for all other multi-channel networks.”
The agreement also helps settle the score between major YouTube networks and music publishers, who have been concerned about user-generated videos that use copyrighted music but do not pay royalties.
Until now, Universal as well as other music publishers have not been efficiently making money from user-generated YouTube covers. Thanks to legal settlements and a variety of private agreements, YouTube gives publishers the option to take down a video featuring a cover song or place an ad against it. Most publishers choose to place an ad, which then gives them 15% of net advertising revenue for master recordings and 50% for covers.
However, cover songs have been hard to locate when churned out in huge quantities, as Google’s technology for song identification is imperfect and many publishers cannot afford the time and resources needed to search for songs on the 72 hours of video that go up on YouTube every minute.
Fullscreen founder George Strompolos admitted, “It hasn’t been easy for publishers to locate all those covers in order to begin monetizing them … Once publishers have found those covers and allowed ads to be placed against them, those videos have usually peaked.” Strompolos worked at Google and co-created YouTube’s Partner Program in 2007, which allows approximately 1 million YouTube creators to share their generated video ad revenue.
He added, “With us, publishers start monetizing covers from the very first view.” This means they are not put on the defensive, left with the task of identifying covers of their own songs.
Direct deals with companies like Fullscreen and Maker will hopefully help publishers collect more easily. The agreements could also leverage deals with other large YouTube networks.
Strompolos also said that Fullscreen will give publishers additional benefits like a higher split of revenue than the average “take” in order to create true partnerships: “Ultimately, we’re saying that this cover video is not possible without them, so we want to treat them like a true partner by giving them a larger than typical split.”
Fullscreen works with over 700 aspiring musicians and signed an agreement similar to the one with Universal with Warner/Chappell Music in late 2012 that gives video creators access to Warner’s catalog. Both Fullscreen and Maker are leading the way to support YouTube as it creates better methods for monetizing social video.
Maker, along with over 5,000 other YouTube channels, have 140 million subscribers. The California-based company produces a variety of music shows and personalities in house, including “Epic Rap Battles,” The Gregory Brohters, Mike Tomkins and others.
Maker’s CEO Courtney Holt said, “We have a network of creative people who have developed their own voices, but who also want to pay homage to the work that’s inspired them … [The deals with Universal and others allow] them to do that and still stay on the right side of the music industry.”
David Choi is a singer, songwriter and producer. Originally from L.A., he grew up playing violin and piano and came into singing and songwriting when he was in high school. His music has been played on major channels like NBC, FOX, VH1, MTV, A&E, E!, Travel Channel, Style, PBS, Food Network and the Disney Channel. He has also worked on creative projects with companies like Kelloggs, Starburst, the American Cancer Society and Samsung. David was chosen in 2004 by David Bowie as the grand prize winner in his Mash-up contest. Shortly after, he won the USA Weekend Magazine John Lennon Songwriting Contest for teens and appeared in USA Weekend alongside Usher.
David Choi is an amazing example of a DIY artist that has used YouTube annotations, playlists and embedded links to connect to existing fans and continue to turn new people onto his music. In fact, on YouTube, he has amassed over 884,000 subscribers and has had over 95,000,000 YouTube upload video views. In 2008, he produced and released his first album, Only You, followed in 2010 by his second album By My Side.
I sat down and talked to David about his success in the music business as an artist and songwriter, why he has been so successful at marketing his music through YouTube and some advice he has for artists that want to connect with fans and build their careers.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to me, David. How did you get into the music business? And how did you build such a following using YouTube?
I grew up playing violin and piano. I was forced to play and actually hated it. But then I discovered songwriting in high school. This kid brought in a CD and said, “I created this music.” And it had never clicked in my mind before that you could actually create something from your own mind. That’s how it started. I started when I was 16 and started interning with music companies – the whole thing a lot of people in the industry do and have done. About six years ago, when I was 19, I got signed to Warner/Chapell as a staff writer, which I got through a workshop with ASCAP. I just put in my stuff and got selected out of 2,000 people throughout the United States along with about 15 other people. I got really lucky.
I started posting to YouTube in about 2006, and I kept posting. In my second year with Warner/Chapell, I posted a YouTube video just for fun. I wrote the song in about 15 minutes. It got featured on the home page somehow a couple weeks after I put it up. I wasn’t expecting anything, and I wasn’t even pursuing a career as an artist. I was strictly a songwriter and producer. About a week after my video was featured, it already had half a million views. And that’s kind of what got the ball rolling. I didn’t even start doing shows until 2009. Everything just started growing, and life took me in a little bit of a different direction than I intended. I’m still doing the producing thing but am focusing on the artist thing for now. In conjunction, I’ve been trying to do a lot of things with YouTube and other social media.
Let’s talk about that. Over the years, a lot of people have been featured on the home page of YouTube. And that didn’t wind up leading to a career, as it has for you. It seems like YouTube is where you’ve exploded. I notice you do really interesting things there with playlists and annotations, like the feature on your new album. Is there advice you can give people who want to market themselves on YouTube?
To be honest, I think a lot of the success I’m having through YouTube is because I started early. I’m not saying it’s too late for other people, because there are plenty of people that are rising to the top. There are some people who have only been on for a year and are just growing like crazy. YouTube definitely has changed from what it was when I first started. In 2006 it was more about, “Oh, wow. This person is making a video from their house. It’s so unpolished and unprofessional.” But the landscape on YouTube is changing, and now everyone is getting HD cameras. It will still work to not have polished videos, but it seems like the trend now is that everything is much more polished, because above all, YouTube is a video site. It was never really a music site; it was always a video site.
As far as advice for people that want to use YouTube well goes, I think consistency is very important. You have to be persistent.
How often do you post videos at this point?
I don’t really post as much as I would tell people to, because I’ve just been doing it for so long and am a little tired of it. I think I’ve been posting about one every 10 days or so. But I’ve been doing that for five years, so there have been periods of three months where I haven’t posted anything. That’s really bad. You should never do that. But I guess it’s a little more understandable for me since I’ve been doing it for such a long time.
I think if you’re just starting off, you should definitely do it every week. Another thing that seems to work is recording a cover of one of the more recent songs that came out and posting it, because people will be searching for that. It’s all about views and reaching an audience. And there are a lot of people searching for the new music that comes out. So, if they see your cover up there, they can listen to it and make their judgments about whether it’s good or bad. And if they like it, they might become a fan. They might check out some of your other covers or see if you have any originals. That’s the direction I took it. I did covers and hoped people would check out my originals.
I agree. I’ve found covers are a very good way to combat consumer fatigue. I don’t know about you, but when somebody says they’re a musician, I kind of roll my eyes. It’s gotten that bad sometimes. When somebody is bringing me something I’m somewhat familiar with, I’m more likely to give it a chance.
Yeah. That makes sense. Definitely.
How did you select the covers you chose?
I just looked at the top charts on iTunes and chose something in the Top 10. For me, personally, my selections were based on which songs I liked. And I really liked oldies, so I did a lot of covers of oldies. The label didn’t like that so much at the time.
Labels used to crack down a lot more on YouTube covers. Lately I haven’t heard of anyone getting into real trouble for it, other than a wrist slap – a take-down notice or an infringement notice.
Nobody has been sued yet on YouTube for doing a cover. But there have been channels that have been suspended. I actually got suspended before because I got three strikes for doing a cover of “What a Wonderful World,” which I did twice. Nowadays, there are things being worked out with labels and publishing companies. I’ve seen a little bit of progress happening. Really, you can’t stop it. People want to share music. And of course there are two sides to the story, and I completely understand both. There’s the business side, and then there’s the whole creative idea of being able to share music because it brings joy to people’s lives. My viewpoint is that we should find a solution and find a way to monetize everything.
And I think people are starting to chip away at it. For example, Sony emailed me, and they said they are getting into the YouTube thing too. The truth is, YouTube is very powerful; everyone is on it. But that’s a whole other topic.
I notice you’re also really big on collaboration. Has that contributed to getting a lot of fans and viewers?
I would say that collaborating is definitely another tool to expand your fan base. It’s a great way to get a new audience, in a way similar to doing covers. It’s about drawing a different crowd. Of course there are some politics involved. There are issues like, “How much am I going to promote this person, and how much are they going to promote me?” But aside from that, generally collaborations help mix their fans with yours and your fans with theirs, depending on how much you and the other artists promote.
You have to throw a little caution to the wind when getting into business with someone new and hope that they will at least provide an equal output of effort so you’re not just getting someone who is leeching off your brand equity.
Yeah. The way you worded it makes it sound like a business. And it kind of is. At the same time, most people started YouTube because it was something they did for fun or because they were bored. It didn’t used to be a business, and most people didn’t go into it thinking it was a business. Maybe they do now, because it’s a partner program. And now people get excited when they find out they could possibly make money from it. But when I was first getting into it in 2006, everyone that was also getting into it thought it was just all for fun. Now there’s actually a business model you can follow with it.
Do you get performance royalties checks from the stuff on YouTube? Do you see any income from the videos you post?
I guess it could be considered a performance royalty, although you don’t get paid per view. It’s similar to AdSense. You definitely don’t make as much money through these ads as you would through a commercial on TV. In terms of the amount of money you can make on your original content – it’s probably around $1,000 per million views.
If you think about TV, and if it was working the same way as YouTube, an ad that played on a TV show that gets 2 million viewers in a night would make $2,000. Mainstream media charges tens of thousands of dollars for commercial placements on a TV show that gets 2 million viewers, whereas on YouTube, you get $2,000. That’s why the industry is not happy. I don’t know if mainstream media is asking for too much money or if YouTube is undervaluing people’s content. That’s also another subject.
But is YouTube a good source of income? For some people it is. For musicians, I wouldn’t say it would be a main source. But it will help you get people to your shows and it will help drive album sales. And people share videos. So, it helps with exposure as well.
On the new release, you used links and annotations within video really well. Can you explain exactly what you did on that album promo?
It’s an interactive CD basically. I decided to do it because I know people are going to steal my music anyway. So, I made it available on YouTube with some voiceovers telling people what they were listening to and where they can get it. So, if they don’t want to hear a version with my voiceover, they can get the album on iTunes. It was basically a way for me to make it easy for people to listen to my music and for people like you to embed it in blogs. A musician that loves YouTube would love it if you embedded their videos. You’re just sharing it. It’s expected that the videos will be shared.
Do you have any parting words of advice for artists or songwriters?
If you’re a musician, and you don’t have videos on YouTube, you have to do it. It’s free advertising. If I look at myself as an example from a third person perspective, I think it’s funny that someone who had no ambition to be an artist and travel around the world performing, through the power of YouTube, was forced in that direction. I think that alone right there is enough reason for all people that want to do music to be on YouTube. People are using it already, it’s free advertising, and for me, it’s the biggest promotional tool – more than Facebook, Twitter, anything else.
This interview was originally published in August, 2011. You can check out David Choi’s latest album, Forever and Ever, along with new videos and more on the official David Choi official website or hear all his music on his YouTube channel. Below is his song “By My Side,” an example of how he uses annotations in his YouTube videos to promote his music.
Last week, older artists and songwriters as well as analysts and legal experts discussed why induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and potential copyright amendments are keys to their continued success in the modern music industry. Also, RightsFlow was acquired by Google to help manage YouTube licensing.
Legendary Artists Look Towards Cleveland to Lengthen their Careers
How can older, established bands and solo artists compete with younger up-and-comers in today’s music business? The answer lies in being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Not only does recognition by the Hall of Fame bring immortality to many legendary artists, but it also could mean more sales and a bigger paycheck.
Many older bands and artists have been hit in today’s ever-shifting music industry, with sales dwindling and music fans gravitating towards younger acts. The net worth of the music industry is half of what it was ten years ago. To counteract this, every fall, managers and record labels fight to get their oldest artists nominated in hopes of them getting officially acknowledged as the “royalty of rock.”
Rewards for those that score a place can be huge. Weekly record sales for artists that are inducted typically jump between 40 and 60 percent in the few weeks after selection, says David Bakula, a senior VP at Nielsen SoundScan. A Grammy might help an artist sell more of a particular album, but Hall of Fame induction usually means more sales across an entire catalog.
However, the path to getting recognition in the Museum is not an easy and can take many years. And controversy has historically accompanied the process of selection. It starts with a nominating committee of 30 music critics, entertainment lawyers and recording executives who narrow the playing field down to 15 worthy artists. Then another committee consisting of 500 people that includes past winners chooses just five inductees. Artists cannot qualify for a spot until 25 years after their first recording, which means today, artists that started releasing music in the 1980s and earlier are eligible.
According to artists and others who have participated in and witnessed the induction procedure, there is a lot of backstage lobbying, and most of them are not even sure how acts get chosen during the first step. As an example, the Bee Gees were ignored 11 times before finally making it in 1997. And in spite of 27 studio albums and 45 years of non-stop touring, superstar Alice Cooper was rejected 16 times, finally being invited to join the ranks in 2011. As Cooper said, “I used to think when you got in, you’d understand how it worked, and how you get nominated – there would be a secret handshake, and there’d be a dossier about Area 51 and the president’s assassination.” However, nothing was revealed to him.
Rhino Records, in control of Cooper’s back catalog capitalized on his induction by running 30-second spots on TV during the induction ceremony and making Alice Cooper compilations, boxed sets and deluxe editions available both online and at physical retailers. As a result, in 2011, the number of young people attending his concerts increased significantly, and sales of his entire collection rose from 75,000 to 115,000 from 2010, to 2011.
And not only do record sales increase for inducted artists, but new, career-reviving opportunities appear. In 2009, now 74-year-old Wanda Jackson, “the queen of rockabilly” was inducted and got to collaborate on an album with Jack White as a result. Suddenly she was appearing everywhere, making television appearances and opening for Adele during her 2011 tour.
Labels benefit also, when awareness of some of their back catalogs is increased and people start buying older albums.
Those being inducted in 2012 are Guns N’ Roses, the Beastie Boys, Donovan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Laura Nyro and the Faces. The official induction ceremony will take place in April, 2012.
“Funkytown” Songwriter is Leading the Copyright Fight
The emergence of a long-existing provision in U.S. Copyright Law could cause a battle between Minneapolis-based songwriter Steven Greenberg and the music industry. And this battle could cause other songwriters and artists to start a war. Greenberg was responsible for writing the 1980 hit “Funkytown,” which led to huge sales for Mouth to Mouth, the record by Lipps Inc.
Since the ‘80s, his song has been used in TV shows, films, commercials and stage productions. Greenberg also gets paid for the song being institutionalized in several museums around the world. While “Funkytown” has not been played as much as the most-played song in history – which is “Yesterday,” by the Beatles, at 7 million recorded performances – its performances are approaching two million.
While Greenberg has refused to discuss finances publicly, the royalties and licensing fees his song has generated throughout the years have provided a great source of income. However, Universal Music Group, who owns the song’s copyright, has made even more money on “Funkytown.” The label has taken most of the funds generated by the song.
A 1976 amendment to the Copyright Act could cause revenues to shift. The amendment allows song authors to take back ownership of the song’s copyright 35 years after its creation, and it applies to every recording released since January 1, 1978. And Greenberg is the first songwriter in the country to file a “termination of transfer” notice with the U.S. Copyright office. If he is granted the transfer, the copyright will revert from Universal to him in 2015.
Greenberg said, “I’ll then own my own copyright and I’ll be able to negotiate with anyone I want, therefore giving me a much, much better royalty rate, licensing, you name it … I just get a much better deal all the way around.”
If more artists take advantage of this provision, it could mean another massive blow for the music industry, which continues to reel from the digitalization of the marketplace. As Greenberg’s attorney, Ken Abdo said, “If you can imagine having the vault of the catalog of major hit songs from 1978 on – and there are many – start reverting to the authors, that’s going to eviscerate the economic core of many of these record companies.”
Experts believe that labels and publishers will fight, arguing songwriters are employees of their record companies, making everything they produce their employers’ intellectual property. Obviously, artists will maintain they are independent contractors who deserve to ultimately own everything they create.
If artists win this battle, in an increasingly DIY-favorable environment, many will take control of the sale and marketing of their music. However, others like Greenberg may allow their labels to continue to handle their song’s copyright with a renegotiated contract. Greenberg predicted an entirely new music business: “I think companies are going to pop up all around the country if this thing happens, and there already are companies [that administer artists’ copyright] … [These new companies] will do it for a lot less, and who knows, maybe they’ll do it better.”
Abdo also stated that music fans could be impacted when songwriters pursue this copyright transfer: “This potentially changes the entire economic environment for the purchase of music.” However, the full impact on every piece of the puzzle will remain unknown until Greenberg and other artists take their cases to court.
YouTube and RightsFlow Merge
The popular online video site YouTube acquired the New York-based royalties company RightsFlow on December 9 in order to help it identify the owners of music people use in posted videos. The deal was made to help YouTube better manage its relationship with content owners, who are not typically asked by video creators before their music is used for free.
RightsFlow is in control of a database of over 30 million songs and helps ensure artists get paid royalties when these songs are used. YouTube already has a Content ID system that identifies songs uploaded by its users, but until acquiring RightsFlow, it did not have a mechanism that could find the songs’ rights holders. Content owners will now be able to decide to take down videos that use their music, or leave them up and collect a share of ad revenue.
In a blog post, YouTube product manager David King said, “We’ve already invested tens of millions of dollars in content management technology … We want to keep pushing things forward.” He added that by acquiring RightsFlow, the company is enabling the chance for more music to be available on YouTube and for the platform to be a better way to launch new artists.
Official terms of the deal were not released.
(And if you are looking to get your cover songs licensed legally by Limelight/RightsFlow, you can link directly through the main page of the Musician Coaching site.)
It’s hardly a secret that covering other people’s music and placing your cover versions around the internet can be a good way of getting people to notice you and your original music. The first time I remember seeing this phenomenon work in a big way was when Marie Digby covered Rhianna’s “Umbrella” some time in 2007. Said video has been viewed more than seventeen million times to date. This cover version would lead to the song peaking at #10 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 singles and several synch placements and late night talk show appearances. It quite literally put her on the map.
Now clearly I’m not suggesting that you going out and doing a bang up job of covering The Devil Went Down To Georgia with your Kazoo orchestra will lead you to fame and fortune, far from it. Still it can be an inexpensive way of getting some attention for your music.
Well – I walked down 42nd street yesterday and I think it told me everything I needed to know about our culture.
Christ – no wonder the film industry felt the need to up the ante with the resurgence of 3D movies. You would have to appear to be throwing shit at people to get them to pay attention to you or your brand. EVERYTHING was an ad for something. The whole place was drenched in neon signage telling me that I smell and without the help of expensive products, that I was destined never to date a model and oh by the way – I’m old because I’m not under 22 years of age. I was also reminded that I should be ashamed that I don’t have 3% body fat – but here – have a 3,000 calorie blooming onion and a Cinnabonn – the “normal” people in our ads eat six of each daily and they are thin and smiling!
(Seems like a random rant, I know but wait for it)
If this is culture at large – why wouldn’t music and music marketing follow suit and be subject to the same perils and poisons? My MySpace account is full of pretty people’s avatars that want to put some kind of html on my comments page to the tune of 50-60 / week and I’m not even the biggest MySpace user. I get invited to roughly 30 events per week by my 900 Facebook friends of whom I really know maybe 300-400 and of those only about 50-60 very well. Don’t even get me started on my email inbox. I ask myself daily – “Wait- how do I know this person and what are they trying to sell me?”
So, Why Covers?
My own experience with covers – particularly video covers- leads me to believe that people gravitate to them because there is something familiar to hold on to. How bad could it be if I already know something about what I am going to experience? Won’t this song have a better chance of being better than the myriad of potential disappointments that over-saturation often leads to? I am going to guess this is why we have 31 flavors of every successful product these days – different enough to get you to buy more, similar enough to not trigger your justified sense of consumer neophobia.
They used to say it took seven or eight impressions to make a sale. I have no idea what that number is today when we process so much more information and are treated to advertising signage in front of the Urinals in the mens room (I have no idea if women have similar signage in the ladies room – I think this should comfort you).
So- before I use this rant- er blog post as an excuse to share with you some of the more creative and well executed video covers that converted me from jaded bastard to fan here is a bit of advice in selecting your cover from a practical point of view. By all means if you have creative reasons to pick a certain song ignore this advice but at least hear me out.
In a world after the success of Maria Digby – the video cover idea has become all too common and it has become more difficult to get attention through YouTube searches as more cover tunes and more videos in general continue to pour in to that site. How do you combat this? As usual with me I get on a soapbox about getting found in search so this is sort of SEO related.
The general rule of thumb is to look for a cover that is under-served meaning a song that comes up with relatively few search results but has a high demand. How do you determine this? Well – much like doing keyword research for an Adwords campaign on Google- you can do the same with YouTube. YouTube has a promoted videos tool that allows you to see an estimate of what people are searching for on a monthly basis. Combining this with the pure volume of search results that come up for a song in a regular query and the number of overall views on the top 3-5 results of that query and you should be able to get a sense if there is an under-served demand for a particular song to cover. One thing I can suggest is – STOP COVERING LEONARD COHEN’S HALLELUJAH. Even Leonard Cohen wants you to stop.
Anyway – if you select the right song, correctly tag it and maybe even add a drop of promoted ads (yep – while I can’t confirm it I believe Google and YouTube reward you in your “organic” search if you spend a bit of cash with them) you could be come up on the first page or even top 3 search results for that song name and be found by anyone looking for that song on YouTube. If the original is a song that makes sense for your audience or even if you just do a compelling enough version you may wind up with fans who may have otherwise been too jaded to risk their most precious commodity on you and your music – their attention.
*** Yes – you do have to procure a synch license from the publisher of the original song to do this legally. I am not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice but I can tell you I have not heard of anyone getting worse than a take down notice for such a use.***
Here are some covers that made me fans of the original music made by each of these artists:
Jay Wasco – “Heart of Gold”
The Civil Wars – “Dance me to the end of Love”
Gavin Castleton “Sledgehammer”