Criticism of SAC’s Music File Sharing Compensation Proposal

Saw this article in today’s National Post that criticizes SAC’s recent proposal for compensation for music sharing monetization, deemed by the author to mean a “song tax”:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Debunking the song tax

National Post Published: Monday, February 25, 2008

You probably read about the proposal put forward last week by the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) for a $5 monthly tax to be applied to all “internet subscriptions” and distributed to songwriters as compensation for illegal music sharing. As a sensible human being, your reaction was either rage, laughter or some combination of the two. But let us put on a sober face for a moment and enumerate everything we can think of that is wrong with this pitch:

-It would penalize those who engage in no legally dubious filesharing to begin with. Some internet users don’t care for music and may not have media files of any kind on their computer. Others have only music they obtained legitimately — whether purchased from a recognized online vendor like iTunes, downloaded from an artist who offered it free or copied from older media for personal use. Those legitimate online vendors, by the way, would immediately lose the Canadian market, crippling the hopes of musicians who believe that internet sales are a better path to viability for the recording industry.

-Some users may not download much Canadian music, or indeed any, yet the Songwriters Association proposes to reward only “Canadian music creators” with revenue from Canadian internet users. The anticipated income would be in the neighbourhood of a billion dollars annually; this is curious, considering that in 1999, before record sales began to slump, the total value of all recorded music (from any country) sold in Canada was only $1.3-billion.

-The proposal uses statistical figures from biased sources (citing a Canadian Recording Industry Association “news article” in estimating overall nationwide filesharing) and spectacularly tortures figures from independent ones.

-There is no suggestion that the decline in legitimate sales of recorded music over the past 10 years, whose severity is itself controversial, has been caused by anything but illegal filesharing. The possibility that the music industry might be the victim of suicidal marketing choices, or that popular music might simply be in a fallow period, is never considered.

-Higher prices for internet access in Canada would worsen the “digital divide” between rich and poor. Canadians already pay large amounts for bandwidth — according to the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the UN, access costs twice as much per bit here as in the U.S. and easily 10 times as much as in Japan and Korea.

-A special tax on internet access for songwriters would inevitably be followed by demands for similar taxes in the interests of motion picture producers, authors and visual artists. The songwriters’ demand for the seizure of $60 a year can only be considered modest if one denies the obvious — that as groups with equally legitimate claims came forward, it would soon become $120, or $200, or $500.

-One of those groups might well be non-songwriting performers on music recordings, who enjoy certain moral and royalty rights under some regimes. What, after all, is so sacred about the traditional legal balance of royalty rights that weighs so strongly in the favour of the songwriter at the expense of other contributors? Who contributed more to the first hit version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine — was it Marvin Gaye, or the writers (Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)? You can reasonably argue either side. But then you have to consider the unheralded sidemen who played those thrilling strings, or the backup singers, or the studio engineer who stuck a microphone in front of Mr. Gaye’s mouth. The apportionment of credit entrenched in 20th-century music law is quite arbitrary, and has led to abusive practices at times, such as when powerful producers or managers bullied artists into giving them false songwriting credits.

-Remarkably, the proponents of the internet tax for songwriters seem not to have considered the possibility of widespread tax avoidance. They want $5-a-month tax on “internet subscriptions,” but what defines an “internet subscription”? If four people in my household have access to a wireless network, but there is only one bill, do we owe $5, or $20? How can internet cafes and public libraries bill their customers? What about users who let passersby piggyback wirelessly on their laptops as a matter of courtesy? Couldn’t any large group join together to buy one wide-band “subscription” from an ISP to beat the tax?

-How is the money to be distributed? SAC hallucinates an ultra-powerful, bias-free “collective” that “would track internet and wireless file sharing activity on a census basis. Virtually all sharing on the internet and wireless devices would be tracked,” they promise, and “Creators and rights-holders will be paid with a level of speed and accuracy never before possible.” Will this happen before or after pigs fly? And are you comfortable letting Eddie Schwartz and Randy Bachman monitor all the filesharing activity on your PC, or would you immediately click on the encryption option that peer-to-peer sharing applications already offer as a matter of course?

We know what choice we would make.

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Don’t Give Up the Ghost: Singer-Songwriter Amanda Finally Takes the Spotlight

By STUART HUSBAND – More by this author » Last updated at 16:36pm on 16th February 2008


She turned James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ into a mega-seller and has written hits for the likes of Beyoncé and Whitney Houston. But success as a singer has always been elusive for Amanda Ghost. She tells Stuart Husband why she’s finally ready to take the spotlight…

Amanda Ghost is telling a story about a recent trip in a New York cab.

“I was on my way to see the music producer Mark Ronson,” she says, “but I had this bad back.

“When the driver suddenly slammed on the brakes I literally screamed with pain, and suddenly I couldn’t stop screaming.

“Everything came out – that I was thousands of miles away from my newborn daughter; that I needed to keep working despite a slipped disc – all the highs and lows of the past nine years.

Amanda Ghost has written hits for Whitney Houston and Shakira. Now the 33-year-old is ready to take the spotlight for herself with new album, Blood on the Line

“It was incredibly emotional,” she says, “and as I sat there sobbing, the cabbie actually apologised, which is unheard of.’

Amanda has burst into the room like a force of nature, apologising for being late (her daughter Gia has been “playing up”), casting self-deprecating looks in the mirror (“God, I’m such a mess”), and enthusing about the clothes for the photo shoot (“So glam!”).

It’s a tribute to the 33-year-old’s vivacity that she has made it through a decade that’s been every bit as turbulent as she’s hinted.

She was tipped for a stellar singing career back in 2000, when she was plucked from Enfield-born obscurity by Warner Brothers’ Andrew Wickham, the man who signed Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris.

He claimed Amanda was better than both. She was fÍted accordingly, until her debut album, Ghost Stories (released in the U.S. only) failed to sell in huge quantities.

She was then left in hellish limbo, with Warners refusing to release a follow-up and trying to morph her into a Pink/Avril Lavigne hybrid.

“I think the reason it failed was because I wanted to do too much,” shrugs Amanda.

“I could write in any genre – pop, jazz, country, reggae – and I put them all on the album. The chairman of Warners said that I had a great voice but I couldn’t write hits.”

An ironic remark, considering what came next. Amanda had signed a separate songwriting contract with Warners, and in 2004 was asked to polish up a somewhat maudlin ballad.

Amanda with James Blunt after scooping their Ivor Novello awards in London in 2006

The song was James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’, which went on to top the charts in Britain, the U.S., Canada and virtually any other place where soulful young men moon after hopelessly unattainable women.

Her co-writing credit brought her Grammy nominations and two Ivor Novello awards, and, with her writing partner Ian Dench, Amanda has since gone on to provide huge hits for Beyoncé (‘Beautiful Liar’, the duet with Shakira, which went to number one around the world) and the latest American Idol winner Jordin Sparks (‘Tattoo’, which has given Amanda her third US top ten song in 18 months).

As well as working with boy wonder Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse’s producer, the in-demand Ghost has been asked to provide songs for Whitney Houston’s much-anticipated comeback album, and has been collaborating with musical legends Jay-Z, Mariah Carey and Lionel Richie.

All of which means that it’s a more propitious time for Amanda herself to venture back into the spotlight.

Her new album, Blood on the Line, provides a low-key acoustic showcase for her earthy, soulful voice to tackle a few of the songs she’s written for other people over the years (including ‘Time Machine’, penned for her best friend Boy George).

Later in the year she’ll be on the judging panel of a new American reality TV show that’s a sort of American Idol for aspiring songwriters.

Amanda credits Boy George with honing her own songwriting skills. She met him when she was 19 and working on the door of London’s then legendary nightspot, Mud Club.

“I was a fashion student, dabbling in journalism and pretending I didn’t want to get into music,” she recalls.

“I mean, I’d been singing and writing songs since I was eight; I’d sing them to my friends in the playground, and they’d go, ‘You didn’t write that!’ and I’d go, ‘Yes, I did!'”

Boy George took her under his wing. “What he gave me was an invaluable musical education.

“I was a pop kid at the time, and he introduced me to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and David Bowie.”

(Mitchell has since become a friend, and credits Amanda’s song ‘Blood on the Line’ with reinvigorating her own faith in music.)

“George,” Amanda adds, “knows more about music than anyone I’ve met.”

The main thing he taught her about songwriting, she says, was to concentrate on simplicity and directness.

“Bob Marley said that the greatest songs can be hummed by a three-year-old, and it’s true.

“George would be saying, ‘Your voice and melodies are great but your lyrics are shit,’ and I’d go, ‘But they’re from my heart!'” she grins.

“He also taught me that it’s about two per cent talent and 98 per cent graft.

“I don’t think of myself as a professional songwriter – I hate them; they come in and write the ‘moon-in-June’ stuff and don’t add anything.

“To me, if I’m writing with someone, it’s important that their voice comes out in the song, otherwise there’s no point.”

This seems an appropriate moment to bring up ‘You’re Beautiful’, a song that’s become the ‘Lady in Red’ of its generation.

For Amanda, its legacy is more ambiguous: it’s set her up for life, but Blunt was curiously reluctant to acknowledge her as co-writer until he was forced to by the Ivor Novello triumph, hence her mix of pride and dismissal now.

“It changed everything for me,” she admits. “Until then I was a struggling artist.

“It took James Blunt three years of hard work to write, whereas for me it was ten minutes of polishing up the chorus at a kitchen table in LA when I was bored.

“I didn’t think it was very good,” she says with a smile.

“I said to my publisher, ‘Take my name off it.’ Thank God they talked me out of it. It’s a really childlike song, that’s why it did so well, but a lot of people still don’t realise he didn’t write it by himself.

“Everyone says, ‘Do you hate him, does he hate you?'” she continues breezily, “and we don’t.

“But there’s a lot of vitriol towards him, maybe because he got so successful so quickly with a song that’s so loathed.”

Amanda has always been grounded, a trait she attributes to her family – her father is Trinidadian, her mother Spanish, and she has two sisters, who are both bringing up families in New York.

But you get the feeling that success, now it’s finally come, is all the sweeter, not only because she’s a mother herself (her partner, Gregor Cameron, is a TV producer; they live in Notting Hill, London, and are planning an April ‘flamenco wedding’ in her mother’s native Seville), but also because her new-found clout is happening on her terms.

“Being an artist, for me, isn’t about being famous,” she says firmly.

“Growing up with George, I got a crash course in how awful full-on fame can be.

“I’m doing this album because a lot of people have been asking me to do it, but I’m just as interested in my songs and my label and nurturing artists, bringing raw talent to fruition.

“The first time round, I wasn’t ready. I signed for £1 million and I was on the cover of a Sunday magazine before I’d sold a record.

“Immediately, everyone wanted to shoot me down. You have to earn it, and f****** hell have I earnt it,” she cackles.

“I’ve been plugging away for nine years, and I know everyone hates Madonna now, but one thing she taught me as a young, aspirational girl was that a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

And Amanda Ghost strides off with the exuberant air of someone for whom those words have been triumphantly vindicated.

The Secrets of Songwriters – Review & Quotes

Just finished an interesting read that goes one-on-one with some of the leading songwriters: The Secrets of Songwriting: Leading Songwriters Reveal How to Find Inspiration & Success.

The author, Susan Tucker, interviews a baker’s dozen of songwriters (one being Canadian Carolyn Dawn Johnson) and each offers some insight and pearls of wisdom into the craft and the business of songwriting. It’s well worth the read and it is available here.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from each of the songwriters interviewed, be they insightful, inspirational or insane 🙂

  1. Brett Beavers – “Songwriting has always been the woman I must try to make fall in love with me, over and over again. But it’s the chase that makes me feel most alive.”
  2. Jason Blume – “Let’s face it: Every writer is not going to make the top of the charts. Does that mean they are failures? Not in my book. As far as I’m concerned, the failure is the one who was so afraid of failing that they never pursued what was in their heart, and never had a chance.”
  3. Chuck Cannon – “I’m not listening for song ideas; I’m listening for soul ideas. I’m listening for understanding on a broader level.”
  4. Bob DiPiero – “I think rewriting is the cog that makes the wheel turn around. Once you get something out there, you really focus on it. But not as I’m originally trying to put something out. Overanalyzing something, especially in the initial stages of writing, can be the death of a song. Let it go by, you can always come back and change it.”
  5. Stewart Harris – “Believe in yourself. That’s the most important, because on the days that nobody cuts your songs, and nobody will give you a writer’s deal, nobody’s listening to your songs, you have to have the belief in yourself to get out of bed, and to go walk out there, and take a deep breath, and go after it.”
  6. Carolyn Dawn Johnson – “Never hang on to your last song. Never believe it’s the last song you’re going to write. There’s always a better one coming.”
  7. Gretchen Peters – “I think your song is the most perfect right before you start writing it, because you have this beautiful vision of it in your mind, and you haven’t screwed it up yet.”
  8. Hugh Prestwood – “With every song I write, I go through this period where I think, ‘This is the greatest song I’ve ever written.’ Then, ‘This is a piece of crap.’ Then, ‘This is great; no, it’s a piece of crap. Now it’s great.’
  9. Mike Reid – “[Finding it hard to write the second verse is a] very common problem, when you get that incredible chorus, and you get a first verse that is just honking. I’ve found two things for writers to look at when they get stuck. First, you may discover the verse you have is not the first vers, it’s the second verse. And the other is, because you’re looking for the great line, step back and ask yourself, ‘What is the story?’ Life must be the protagonist.”
  10. Steve Seskin – “One of the things I’ve maintained all these years is that you can mix art and commerce, but don’t mix them in the creation. Don’t let the commerce poison the art.”
  11. Allen Shamblin – “I really trust that the subconscious mind is going to deliver and, in a way, I try to work around the conscious mind because, when we’re writing, and thinking about it, we’re filtering so much. So, when I write, I try to bypass my conscious mind as much as possible, especially when I’m writing by myself. I’ll pick up the guitar and start singing nonsense.”
  12. Tia Sillers – “God, when you’re high you feel sexy, and immortal, and creative, godlike. The muse isn’t with me; I am the muse.”
  13. Craig Wiseman – “One of the greatest insights I ever made was getting humble enough to realize I’m not special. I’m just an average guy, and if I feel it, and I think it, and I do it, then I’m virtually guaranteed that everybody has felt the same thing.”

May the Muse be with you… but only if you’re working hard enough for that Muse to find you…

Find and Share Free Sound Effects and Loops

Found this wonderful site through a posting in the newsgroup (thanks to the author, Ricky Hunt, for the find). Soundsnap is a “free online sound library and community for sound designers and producers. People can upload sounds and share them with the world.” From the site’s FAQ:
Who is Soundsnap for?
Soundsnap is mainly for Sound designers/recordists and music producers, filmmakers, web designer’s and video game developers. It can also be useful to hobbyists for their home videos, people looking for ringtones and anyone else that needs sounds.
Why did you create Soundsnap?
People are moving from sample CD’s and sound effects libraries to looking for sounds online. Everything is becoming digital and free. There was no one online offering a huge library of free material that was really high quality. Before Soundsnap, most sites were either paid sites or they had a lot of junk.

Any tool that assists in the creative songwriting process is greatly appreciated. A grateful acknowledgement to the site’s creator, Tasos Frantzolas, a young sound designer living in Athens, Greece, on making this tool available… I encourage you to check it out and may the Muse be with you…

The Rights of Creators

Bill Freeman, writer and chair of the Creators’ Copyright Coalition published the following article in today’s National Post. As an unpublished songwriter, I can appreciate that I would, one day hopefully, be in a position to reap the benefits of a successful song – something that I’ve created… As an ISP customer and media “downloader”, I’m not so sure how much I support the proposed SAC levy (see below for link), but it does seem to be the most feasible “tariff” system to ensure, in music as media anyway, that songwriters are compensated… It does not need to be $5.00/mo. however… $1 or even 50 cents would be a good place to start… You tell me…

New bill next week to bring copyright law into Internet age

Financial Post
: Yet again, the Canadian government will begin the difficult task of revising our copyright law when new legislation is tabled in Parliament next week. The effort is bound to be controversial. There are strong and influential interests on every side. Some user groups will argue for the free distribution of all content that appears on the Internet. Corporate interests, on the other hand, will argue for strong controls and restrictions on the distribution of all copyright material.

Creators occupy the middle ground somewhere between these two extremes. We want to protect our work, but we also want it widely distributed. Creators depend on their copyrights to grant us the right to earn money from our works, but we also need access to other creators’ works. Perhaps more than anyone, we understand that a balance between the interests of users and copyright owners is essential.

Canadians should take an interest in the new copyright legislation. Our information society is increasingly driven by the economic sector reliant on copyright. In 2001, some 131,000 creators in Canada spent the majority of their time working at their art. This does not include the thousands who depend on creators for work in the film, television, publishing, visual arts and music industries, and it does not include those in the computer software industry whose work is also protected by copyright.

Every professional creator in this country is an independent entrepreneur. Most of us work alone and find it difficult to promote and protect our work. Our environment seems to change every day. The Internet is providing new opportunities to deliver our creations to our audience, but inadequate legislation is making it difficult to protect our work in this new technological world.

Musicians are the canary in the mine, showing what can happen when copyright legislation gives inadequate protection. Today virtually anyone can download music on to a home computer without paying a fee, and almost every recording artist and songwriter has lost substantial income from pirating. This is only the beginning. Soon technology will allow the downloading of feature films the day they are released. Whole libraries of books are already available online. To creators, this provides a new and innovative way of marketing our works, but the content has to have adequate protection or it will be “ripped off ” just like music.

Creators are exploring the Internet as a marketing tool. Again, the musicians are pointing the way. The Songwriters Association of Canada has proposed a system to share music on peer-to-peer networks for a modest fee [read more about the proposal here]. Canadian book publishers are developing electronic publishing programs, and filmmakers are discussing similar projects. For creators, the Internet holds out the promise that they will have more control over their work and hopefully gain more income from it.
Producers and publishers also need copyright protection if they are going to operate in the world of the Internet. It costs money to edit, design, print and market a new book. Feature films today cost millions of dollars. The companies that put up that sort of money expect a return or they will not take the risk.

All of this is making us feel uneasy. The government promises that the new legislation will bring Canadian copyright law into the Internet age, but what will be in the legislation? Here are some major issues worth watching. Moral Rights Unlike the United States, Canada follows the European tradition that grants creators of copyright moral rights in their works, giving them greater control over how their work may be changed or used and how they will be credited for the use of their works. Will moral rights be reaffirmed and strengthened? Pirating How to reduce infringement while allowing a strong public domain? Creators need the right to charge a fee for their work, offer it under collective licenses, distribute it under licenses such as the Creative Commons or give it away. Internet Service Providers Creators support “notice and takedown,” a system already in effect in Europe and the United States. The legislation should give copyright holders the right, within reasonable limits, to require ISPs to take down illegally distributed material . Fair Dealing Creators support the fairdealing provision for the purpose of private study and research, but not of commerce. Educational exemption The Ministers of Education want to exempt all material that can be accessed freely on the Internet if it is not marked “copyright,” and its reproduction clearly prohibited. This is not necessary. Material on the Internet can be handled easily by collective licensing. Educators should not be trying to balance their budgets with an exemption that gives them such extensive free use of copyright works. Licensing Canadian creators and producers have formed licensing agencies like Access Copyright and SOCAN that facilitate the use of content. Such collective licensing agencies, which enable customers to access material and provide income for creators and producers, should be strengthened. Technical Protection Measures Producers and publishers say they need to stop the circumvention of TPMs and prevent the removal of digital rights management information from works. Computer programmers say that being able to circumvent TPMs is fundamental to programming and must not be made illegal.
The sides are shaping up in the copyright debate. Already the blogs are spilling over with impassioned statements supporting or opposing various views. As creators, we hope that the public understands that creators’ works need protection if they are to have the chance to earn a decent living.

Brian Allen’s Music Publishing Seminar at Revolution Audio

Just a short note to say how impressed I was by AMPLUS Productions’ Brian Allen’s presentation at Revolution Audio on the Music Publishing business.

The website bio linked above names Mr. Allen a “music business instructor” and he certainly has a wealth of knowledge. I obviously can’t share 3 hours worth of seminar insights on a blog post other than encourage you to attend a seminar by Brian in person (I think he’ll be doing more at Revolution Audio in the future). Besides, I noticed that it was being recorded in digital video format – so who knows, you may be able to buy it someday soon…

This last seminar also ended Revolution Audio’s Operation Indie Month. Kudos to Revolution Audio and Jason for putting forth this type of program.

May the Muse be with you…

Operation Indie Music at Revolution Audio

I’ve been a little late in advising on this event at Revolution Audio. Here’s the direct link to what remains of Revolution Audio’s January blitz for its Operation Indie Music putsch.

I’ll be attending on January 26/08 for the Who Needs a Music Publisher? seminar put on by Brian Allen of AMPLUS Productions. Here’s the class description:

Class description:

  • Why do you need a Music Publisher?
  • Do Music Publishers actually publish?
  • What do they publish?
  • How to make money while you sleep!
  • Understanding your Rights before you get Left!
  • Why is Music Publishing growing while the rest of the biz is tanking?

This is what I want to do – get my music published… so I’ll be there writing copious notes and hope to see others there…

SAC’s Proposal for Online Music Called ‘Pipe Dream’

From Monday’s Globe and Mail
January 7, 2008 at 3:59 AM EST

A proposal to add a $5 monthly fee to every wireless and Internet account that would allow music consumers access to all recorded music available online has been called a “pipe dream” by the president of the Canadian Record Industry Association, Reuters and Billboard has reported.

The Songwriters Association of Canada claims the plan, which has been presented to CRIA and the Canadian Independent Record Production Association, as well as publishers’ groups, would raise $1-billion a year that would be distributed to artists, labels and publishers. The proposal does not detail how revenue would be collected.

CRIA president Graham Henderson said he has discussed the plan with acting SAC president Eddie Schwartz, Reuters reported, but his organization is reluctant to become involved. “We don’t want to pursue what amounts to a pipe dream that is presented as a quick fix,” he said. “We’ll lose focus on the real issues that will help us resolve the industry’s problems.”

Talk about a pipe dream! Oh well, while “songwriters” are left out of the distribution list (guess songwriters are caught under “publishers”), I’ve got dreams of a money river flowing into my home if I can just get the one hit single published! NOT!

May the Muse (if not the Millions) be with you…

WIRED Magazine – Byrne on Yorke (Radiohead) and the Music “Industry”

David Byrne interviews Thom Yorke and the two silent-e artistes/maverickes enjoy discussing Radiohead’s latest “album”, In Rainbows, direct distribution through the Radiohead website (though no longer available apparently). The WIRED magazine (January 2008 issue) “interview” is short (well, it’s really a conversation with Byrne appearing to contribute more than Yorke) but interesting as it relates to new mechanisms for artists/songwriters to get their work out without record companies/publishers. Of course, it helps when you’re already an international success (like Radiohead).

More interesting, to me, was a follow-up piece by Byrne on Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists – and Megastars. The 6 strategies are outlined in the following chart, ranging from Equity Deal to Self-Distribution…
These aren’t the be-all and end-alls, and a mish mash of options may be appropriate for the music makers. The advice for songwriters from Byrne is clear: “I would personally advise artists to hold on to their publishing rights (well, as much of them as they can). Publishing royalties are how you get paid if someone covers, samples, or licenses your song for a movie or commercial. This, for a songwriter, is your pension plan.”