It’s safe to assume that the music industry isn’t exactly what it used to be anymore. Money’s made through the selling of physical copies (CDs, vinyl) and of course through digital downloads (primarily through iTunes), but streaming services are starting to butt their way into the proceedings. Spotify’s net worth is above $8 billion after nine years of clawing its way to the top of the racket, which arguably puts it up there above the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in terms of relevance, and other services like Pandora aren’t too far behind.
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Regardless of where the music is coming from, music lawyers will always be necessary to give artists, record labels, and independent imprints a voice and make sure the money is going to the right places. People like Kendall Minter, a New York-born copyright lawyer and college professor, are the people who grease those particular wheels. Minter sits on the Board of SoundExchange, the organization that deals with intellectual property (IP) licenses and distributing royalty money, and watchLOUD managed to get a hold of him and ask him a couple of questions about the business, how streaming fits into the equation, and how the pendulum of fortune seems to be coming back around for independent artists. His latest book, Understanding and Negotiating 360 Degree Ancillary Rights Deals, is available for purchase on Amazon.
WatchLOUD: How did you find yourself in the field of music copyright law?
KM: Music, intellectual rights, and copyright law are a niche of the overall music and entertainment law services that I practice and provide, but I have a passion for publishing, which is the exploitation of musical copyright. I teach at Georgia State University and have for a number of years and did the same at Benjamin Cardoza Law School in New York a while back. The reality is everything starts with the song in the music industry, and if there’s no song, then there’s no music business.
It’s the creation of the song that starts with the artists and the songwriters and the producers, and from there it goes over to the record companies and various music distributors who are really responsible for exploiting it, promoting, marketing, and merchandising it and taking it to the public, but behind the scenes, there’s a thing called music publishing, which is how those copyrights are protected and monetized. With a hit song that’s properly protected and monetized to its full potential, it feeds generations of folks. You still have families/estates, like Michael Jackson’s, for example. Because of the success of his career and his song catalogue, his kids, his mother, his family, for the next generation or two, will be able to benefit from his output and his copyrights.
Copyrights, trademarks and intellectual property (IP) are really the underpinning of the music business and without them, there wouldn’t be a business to build on top of.
WL: It’s common knowledge that streaming services barely pay artists pennies on the dollar.
KM: You’re correct, but keep in mind that with streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, IHeartradio, and Tidal, they pay on what’s called a pay-play rate. So what happens is every time your song is streamed and reported correctly, it garners a fraction of a penny, Just like YouTube with views, you literally have to have hundreds of thousands of views to add up, and I can tell you as someone who has a bird’s-eye view sitting on the Board of Sound Exchange, popular songs that are streamed throughout the internet literally make tens of thousands of dollars on a quarterly basis or a monthly basis off the popularity of those songs in the public, and streaming is becoming more prevalent.
People aren’t spending money like they used to on CDs; even digital downloads on iTunes are declining slowly now, so people are going to the streams because they can pay nothing, or they can pay $5, $10, or $20/month and have access to an entire catalogue; so as we go forward, more consumers are leaning toward streaming and it’s going to become a more important and prevalent part of the music industry for survival, and therefore people need to understand these nuances behind the scenes that may not be so glamorous but are critical to the survival of our business.