An Op-ed by Richard Stumpf, Founder & CEO of Atlas Music Publishing
“God helps them that help themselves.” (Benjamin Franklin) I’d heard this quote a few times, but never was it more meaningful to me as when our river guide said it to the four of us on the raft during my first class 5 run in Colorado back in 1998. Things became very clear. I was pretty nervous, unsure of what exactly was ahead and while I may have wanted to turn around, that was just not possible. The river doesn’t allow that. We were all vested members in this raft and each needed to do everything in our power to work together as a team to get to the bottom. For not to would mean we would flip and catastrophe for all. But if we did, it’d be one of the best experiences of our lives. It was.
I’ve been part of many conversations about the future of music. Whether it was when I took a leap from EMI Records to join a digital download company in the late 90’s or now as a publisher working to navigate the world of streaming, I’ve always been one to lean forward and embrace the future. We can’t fight the rapids and believe we can go backwards, but we can put in the work as a group from different sectors to navigate the best way forward.
It starts with getting past the fear, understanding there is no going back, and embracing the positives of the future in a productive way.
So, rather than focus on rate issues that have been rehashed many times by many people, I’d like to focus on the opportunities that this new world can bring us from a publisher / writer perspective. Suffice it to say, I, like all who rep creators, know the rates are not where they need to be and am very much an active participant in helping get that right. “Right,” for me, means any digital service takes a reasonable distribution fee and the balance is split equally between master side and publishing side, all subject to a reasonable floor per stream. I’ve written about this before, so will leave it to prior writings to explain this opinion in more detail.
Some positives for the writer / publishing community to focus on as we utilize streaming.
Mechanicals become a perpetual, verses one-time event. Every stream results in payment, verses listens to a physical album, which result in no added payment. Let’s build off of this.
The listener base is amplified beyond what was once imaginable. The ease of trying music out results in new fans. That’s not an opinion, that’s fact.
Writers can be the stars. Spotify has shown that they are listening to us. Check out their “Meet the Songwriters” playlist. It’s completely centered around the writers of the songs. There is no reason we as publishers should not be promoting our writers on a B2C level with tools like this. Why not have a “Toby Gad Hits” playlist. Get the fans to understand and appreciate the geniuses behind the music. This will only get better and better as the services begin to face forward writer data, which they intend to do.
Speaking of Spotify, they get a lot of slack for bad data. But, remember, they hired HFA, considered the data keeper of all pub info, to get their data issues right. We as an industry have bad and fragmented data, so by extension they do too. The good news is they settled with NMPA and are in process of paying out the unmatched songs with a “best practices” guarantee as part of the settlement.
Enhanced profiles on Spotify are available to publishers now, which allow more professional architecture of playlists and sharing those playlists B2B. Why not use this tool to add a level of depth to the relationships we have with music supervisors. The ones I spoke to love the idea of having dynamic, publisher created, themed playlists at their disposal as they hit the gym or go about their day.
Lastly, while the DOJ’s decision is largely seen as negative, mainly due to hanging onto those now useless consent decrees and insisting on 100% licensing, there is a silver lining. Yes, they have no clue about copyright and even went so far to ignore the recommendations of the copyright office, but there was one important line in that decision that should be considered positive. They state very clearly that they don’t believe they’ve in anyway fixed anything and that legislation should take a hard look at copyright in the current environment. Translation, this was very complicated to review and the entire system needs a serious overhaul. There is a very real opportunity to flip copyright law on its head and have publishing side right and master side rights treated equally under law and in a willing buyer / willing seller market. This would be an enormous win all around.
So, before you pick up the phone to yell and scream at the streaming companies, consider first that the majority of rates you likely want to complain about have been determined by federal judges or were negotiated by labels, some of whom seem to have taken some equity in the streaming companies. Therefore, the complaint is largely with the government and some overreaching labels. Instead, I’d advise creating a productive relationship with their marketing and creative folks that allows you to get creative, promote better, and increase the monetization. Troy Carter was a fantastic addition to Spotify and a real signal to our community that getting this right is important. It is a symbiotic relationship. If one fails, we all fail – the raft flips.
So please, put your head down and get an oar in. Alternatively, please get off the raft and let those of us who embrace, not deny, the future row.
About Richard Stumpf:
Richard is a 23 year music industry vet who has worked on the label, new media, management, production and publishing sides of the business. He is a NARAS Trustee, co-chair of the NARAS NY Chapter Advocacy Committee, NMPA – IPAC Board Member, AIMP Board Member, A2IM member, and a regular speaker at industry events.