Goodbye (hopefully) to geo-tagging

Putting an end to the so-called geo-blocking has been a priority for the European Commission, as it is trying to create a single market for digital services in the 28 member countries. In terms of music streaming services till now, however, there were always different prices for individual markets in the Europen Union.

The European Parliament is preparing a law that will ideally not allow different attitudes towards consumers in individual countries anymore. MEPs voted earlier this year to ban online service providers from addressing consumers differently depending on where they live, and expanded a bill in which to include the music streaming services, such as Spotify and iTunes.[1] The vote simply means that the European Parliament can start negotiations with EU member states to reach a common understanding for a proposal that can later potentially become a law. The proposal also concerns e-commerce websites such as Amazon and eBay, who also sell physical copies of musical pieces and prohibits for the services provided at certain locations by them to automatically redirect customers to websites for that particular country without their consent.[2]

In the field of music industry, it was agreed to include copyrighted content into the law. This will eventually mean, should the law pass, that streaming music services such as the above mentioned will not be able to prevent a Bulgarian consumer, for example, from buying a cheaper subscription in say Spain. However, a common opinion in the music industry suggests that extending the prohibition of geo-tagging to copyrighted content can also have the opposite effect, in terms of rising prices in places where the fees for these services were lower.

According to the new proposal, consumers will be able to buy goods online, even if the retailer does not deliver to their country. Merchants will not be forced to deliver their goods everywhere, so an Italian who buys a music festival ticket from a German website will have to arrange the delivery or take the product themselves. In addition, this could mean that consumers will be able to take advantage of better rates for music festivals when buying tickets from other countries before they are redirected to the local version of the website.

It is too early to say if this will be more beneficial than what was done so far, but it is definitely a long expected, and I believe, positive step towards the right path that we need to follow. After all, the removal of the barriers for authors’ entry to the European market, as well as the creation of conditions for easy and convenient access to legal digital content for users, are in the interest of all the parties involved. The main difficulty so far, as with any revision of copyright, is in the balance: to ensure a stimulating environment for artists and, at the same time, a broad access to content for consumers.

[1] https://indahl.com/2017/02/geo-tagging-will-end-in-2018-in-the-eu/

[2] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-225_en.htm

Coincidence or copyright infringement in the curious case of Ed Sheeran’s work

As you all probably know, last year Ed Sheeran was accused that his song Thinking Out Loud was copied from Marvin Gaye’s song Let’s Get It On. According to Ed Townsend[1], co-writer of Gaye’s song, Sheeran quite literally borrowed the harmony, melody and rhythm for his own composition. Previously the same year, two musicians from California, Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard who wrote Matt Cardle’s song Amazing, accused Sheeran of illegally taking inspiration from them for another one of his works, Photograph.[2]

As I am a singer-songwriter, the real question to me here is: did Ed deliberately steal both Gaye and Cardle songs’ melodic lines or could this all be just pure coincidence? In the case of Thinking Out Loud, the accusations are not justifiable, in my opinion. When listening to both Ed’s and Marvin’s songs, I only find resemblance in the beat/rhythm. The melodic line itself is quite different. According to Sheeran’s interview with Daily Telegraph[3], he wrote the song with his colleague Amy Wadge and was inspired by his relationship with Athina Andrelos, but did not mention Let’s Get It On being any sort of inspiration for his work.

The case of Photograph, however, is something completely different to me. The song does indeed have a great resemblance with Matt Cardle’s in both the melodic line and the rhythm, especially in the chorus. In fact, the writers claimed the two songs share 39 identical notes[4]Photograph has over 335,048,007 views on YouTube[5]. In turn, Matt Cardle’s song has over 3,982,102 views there.[6] It is however extremely strange that Cardle has distanced himself from the lawsuit.

In general, borrowing a melodic sequence could be done even unwillingly. Sometimes the composer could have heard a melody they did not even remember, and hardly know who the author or performer even is. At some point during the creation of a song, the memory of the song that was previously heard can reappear. Some musicians even prefer not to listen to music similar to their style, so that it does not influence their conscience. Another theory for unconscious resemblance is for a composer to start a melody and simply finish it in the most logical and harmonious way. No one knows with certainty exactly how and why music influences our consciousness, neither why some songs are liked a lot by listeners and become worldwide selling hits. In most laws, world standards recognize plagiarism in the existence of 8 consecutive identical tones in two songs. But what happens when the case is about, for example, 6 identical tones, which is almost the same in terms of hearing? Does this qualify as copyright infringement or is it just a moral reproach for the plagiarist? What if this is done due to a medical condition? Laws cannot give answer to such question. From an artist’s perspective, however, why would anyone settle a lawsuit if they are innocent.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/10/ed-sheeran-sued-allegedly-copying-marvin-gaye-lets-get-it-on-thinking-out-loud

[2] http://metro.co.uk/2017/04/11/ed-sheeran-settles-20million-lawsuit-with-matt-cardle-songwriters-over-hit-track-photograph-6567676/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking_Out_Loud#cite_note-10

[4] https://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Lawsuit_filed_against_Ed_Sheeran_for_his_single_Photograph

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSDgHBxUbVQ

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWtP_1lyghM

Online concerts: a growing opportunity for musicians to gain proceeds

It comes as no surprise that listeners nowadays do not buy a lot of physical copies, or download a lot of music. Most people prefer to either go to a concert or listen to songs through online platforms. New technologies certainly give the chance to fans to more easily than ever get in touch with their favorite singers, musicians and artists.

Even though it is true that vast amount of content is freely available (thank you Internet and social media), it is also true that the rise of virtual donations is proof that some fans are still willing to give money for other kinds of communication opportunities with their preferred artists.

YouNow[1] is one such live broadcasting application created by a New York-based company six years ago, that has already reached millions of registered users, as well as dozens of artists who earn while singing, telling jokes and showing their other talents. Another platform of the kind is Live.ly, launched last year by Musical.ly[2]. For many people, these kinds of platforms are a way to feel connected to musicians in a more real way. It also means that fans can directly participate in the process of making of music. This is actually beneficial for both parties, also because artists can get immediate feedback and thus identify users’ preferences quickly.

One third of the funds generated by these apps, being in-app purchases, naturally go to Apple’s or Alphabet’s online stores (as per their standard terms and conditions). The other part of the proceeds, however, goes to the content creators themselves. On Live.ly fans can contribute any sum from 5 cents to $50. Funnily enough, this is done through buying emojis and gifting them to stars, while in return they call out the fan’s name.[3]

While such platforms provoke diverse opinions in the music business and may not sound serious enough to established singers and musicians, they actually represent a way for artists to easily make money, whilst promoting themselves. One very strong plus for them here is that the conditions for their remmuneration are much more clear, than when it comes to some of the already known and successful streaming platforms. We all remember the Taylor Swift-Apple case. Musician Brent Morgan claims to be making $10,000 per month on YouNow, thanks to which he managed to sign a contract with a record label last year.[4] Apps such as the above mentioned can very well turn to be a real challenge for YouTube for example, where popular artists publish their videos and earn advertising and sponsorship revenue, but have not so far communicated to their fans live on the website.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YouNow

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical.ly

[3] http://www.businessinsider.com/musically-and-lively-apps-make-money-for-star-creators-2016-11

[4] http://www.tubefilter.com/2016/05/11/brent-morgan-younow/

Will over personalisation of music services online lead to automation of consumer’s choice and musician’s artistry?

The music industry is increasingly using data analysis to help its services meet the demands of the ever more capricious listeners. Nowadays algorithms can not only help discover talents and promote songs and videos, but can also enormously assist for the composition of musical works. Streaming services are gradually moving to hyper personalization. By monitoring consumer preferences, all platforms offer their users to listen to other artists, relating to their taste. Such an example is Spotify’s Discover Weekly Playlist with its recommendations, while Apple Music has chosen to use people to create playlists.

From the point of view of a rising artist, however, there is also the negative side of the matter. Such ways of proposing content could lead to playlists that are not diverse enough, by often offering the same songs on multiple occasions. It is commonly believed that the use of artificial intelligence in the current situation will bring better analysis and probably even technology to predict consumer’s tastes. When these are combined with the information provided by the device of the user, such as location, time and activity, music services could probably find and propose the right track for each moment of the day. Will the user or the ‘smart assistant’ of the device be the one to choose the content at the end of the day? The role of artificial intelligence is already getting bigger, compared to about 10 years ago when such ways of music consumption were not possible. Record companies are often using chatbots now – computer programs that communicate with users to promote new albums and tours. Some musicians are even using such bots to ‘communicate’ with fans.

On the bright side, finding new artists will become easier. This, however, seems more like something which will be useful to record labels, and not so much to the musicians. It begs the question what chance would unknown works to the public stand, if they are to be automatically suggested to users. Moreover, can this lead to a long-term success for the artists themselves…

While new ways of making business in the industry are constantly evolving, technologies used by the creators of musical works are also. It is really great that all listeners nowadays have the chance and needed sources to discover music that they like. It is even possible that some songs or artists would never reach vast popularity otherwise. Unfortunately, current market situation more often leads to pieces that are basically created by some software, rather than a real person. At a certain point audiences will inevitably ask for more genuine content, and one that they can freely choose (and not just be led to believe that they did). After all, one would wonder if it is not art that counts. Otherwise, why would we even want to search for the content, if anyone can create it themselves. It seems that the once-upon-a-time universal language, that music used to communicate its message through, is largely being replaced by predetermined artistry and essentially all the same content.

Could the presense of Tidal stimulate piracy?

Music streaming services are not new on the market. However, Tidal uses a different approach, being all artists-owned. In 2014, the music streaming platform Tidal was launched by the company Aspiro. The latter was then acquired in 2015 by Jay Z[1] and 15 more music artists (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Jack White, Arcade Fire, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, deadmau5, Jason Aldean, J. Cole and Madonna), who are co-owners and stakeholders.[2]

Unlike Spotify and Apple Music, Tidal aimes almost entirely towards actual audiophiles looking for the highest sound quality possible. However, the problem is that it is too expensive to use: it costs twice as much as a subscription on Spotify or Apple Music. On the one hand, this is great for artists whose works are present on the platform as it directly translates to more royalties paid.

On the other hand, what streaming services have shown us is that sound quality is generally not of paramount importance for music streaming users. According to a recent study by MusicWatch[3], only a small proportion of music fans would pay to listen to music with better sound quality. More than 7,700 music listeners who enjoy free streaming service were asked what would make them pay for it. Only 6% of them considered this would be the CD-like sound.

Tidal, however, was based on the opposite presumption. It bet that fans would pay more for better sound quality. Currently, this strategy has not been successful. The premium service costs $19.99 per month, but the platform also offers a subscription for $9.99 a month[4], with the sound quality of MP3s. At the same time, the service did not manage to significantly increase its user base till now. Probably this is the reason why 33% of it was just sold in March this year to the company Sprint.[5] So what does the service offer that others do not? Both Spotify and Apple Music offer music with MP3 audio quality, with millions of consumers paying for the service. Both platforms cost $9.99 a month. In addition, Spotify offers a free service that includes ads.

Given that most people listen to music from their smartphones nowadays, it is an extremely high lath and somehow unrealistic to lay the foundations of a streaming platform in the music business, hoping that users will look for sound from a recording studio. Moreover, it is publicly known that all such services are experimenting with an extremely high quality studio sound that will however require a change in the audio jacks of phones.

Back to the study quoted above, the factor that can mostly affect the decision of the people (39% of the surveyed) and make them pay a monthly fee is the full control over listening, or the ability to choose any artist, album, or song they want to hear at any time. In this sense, exclusivity of a certain artist or album on the Tidal, or any other such service for that matter, is proving to be very risky. Not just for stakeholders and artists, but also for the future of the music business. In an oversaturated market, where the music is readily available 24/7, it could easily annoy and frustrate users. Which in its turn could lead to piracy.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/14/business/media/jay-z-buys-the-music-streaming-firm-aspiro.html

[2] http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6509498/jay-z-tidal-launch-artist-stakeholders

[3] http://www.musicwatchinc.com/blog/many-u-s-music-streaming-consumers-willing-to-pay-more-for-better-sound-quality/

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-32125293

[5] https://venturebeat.com/2017/01/23/jay-zs-music-streaming-service-tidal-sells-33-stake-to-sprint/