I haven’t exactly been shy about my feelings on the IRFA, and I haven’t been particularly kind, either. My big issue is that it has been positioned as a move for the longterm health of the digital music industry, and that artists and labels should be willing to take a short-term hit for the long-term growth potential.
I don’t argue that growth of the digital music industry is necessary. I also believe that real advances in the digital space will open up more opportunity for artists than they’ve had in a long time.
My issue with the bill lies with musicians and rights-holders being asked to make the immediate sacrifice for the long-term health of the music tech community. Most of the musicians I know can’t afford health insurance and are facing real-world concerns over their actual immediate health. Now they’re being asked to make a sacrifice to support an industry that may help them later — an industry that is part of a current tech boom seeing corporate acquisitions in the billions of dollars with millions of investment for many companies.
If musicians make the sacrifice now and build this major industry in the future, they gain market share but give up the market. They are becoming investors in this brave new world but don’t see compensation now or control of that market in the future.
There needs to be more balance. Rather than simply lowering rates, I’d love to see a little creativity in the solution. For streaming the key metric is plays, but for many online models the metric that matters is page or ad views. Perhaps we could explore a lower compulsory rate for companies who share a portion of ad revenue directly with rights-holders and musicians. Or ask services to give artists and rights-holders the ability to lower their own rate with a direct deal that gives them control over an in-stream purchase button.
I’m not saying these are the answers, but this is the kind of conversation we should be having. To position a bill around health and fairness it needs to consider the health and fairness of all involved. I do believe that a strong digital music industry serves the long-term good of of artists, but since the industry has begun the digital shift most artists have seen pretty significant drop in income. With that perspective, it’s reasonable that some immediate relief is needed for musicians to truly believe that access models will succeed where others have failed.
A healthy digital industry is good for musicians and labels. But without sustainable income for artists and a stabilization of the music industry that digital future will never happen.
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