A lot of the punditry in the music business press these days is obsessed with “rights.” And this extends down into things like contract negotiations between artists and labels, labels and companies, VC’s and companies, etc. Who has master rights? Streaming rights? Sync rights? Publishing? Are rights-holders being compensated fairly?
All good questions. All worth discussing.
But something that artists and creators are missing is: Experiential Rights
Who owns your experience?
An artist in 1970 did. It was hand crafted, from studio to wax and beyond. They knew that given all possible modes of experience, in the end it came down to a needle on the record.
An artist today loses control as soon as they print out of ProTools or Logic and go to mastering. From then on, what was once the experience they created gets down sampled, hybridized and subjected to all manner of devaluing. It becomes a negotiation tool for some, just a file for others, a URL for others, a “package deal” for others. A notch on the business development or marketing belt for others.
All of this ends up creating experiences that in some cases are amazing (think what Apple does) and in some cases is not (think of what Nokia did with Comes With Music, or Sony’s digital offerings).
Here is my message to artists: your fans do not give two shits about your lawyers ability to negotiate control of your content and legal rights. They only care about the experience through which they participate in what you create.
If I was an artist, or I advised artists, I’d tell them to leverage the control of their master rights to participate and be an influencer of the experiential rights around their content. In the end, the onus of representation of what you create isn’t going to be on you, but on who you allow to turn the bits into audio. There are great actors in the space, and there are bad actors in the space.
Who do I consider good actors? The hot one for the moment is turntable.fm. And why are they hot? They turned the bits of music into audio with a social element. They take the content and add value to it through a social participatory model that feeds into the emotional aspects of what makes music powerful: an ambient identity transference. You become your music and get validation from other people confirming and validating what you love. It’s visceral and powerful to see the meter creep toward “Rock Out!”
Value in the music business though is an odd thing: the more value added to the music by the fan directly, the less influence the rights holders have over it, and the more influence the creators of representational systems (i.e., turntable.fm) and rights creators have (i.e., artists going directly on turntable.fm with stuff that their labels don’t own). And rights holders do not like being taken out of the value equation.
Call it Kaplan’s Law: the more value a non-music company adds to the fan/artist relationship, the bigger the threat to those who’s business depends on being between the two.
Its of little surprise that it took two guys in New York to add something of value on top of something that RealNetworks, AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, and EMI created in 2001 (Musicnet, later Medianet, which turntable is built upon). It took 10 years to take MediaNet and make it a transformative and compelling user experience, by a startup that formerly made QR code stickers.
When the media companies participate in the value chain, the products motivation is oriented toward creation of shareholder rather than user value. You can not create a compelling product dictated by 18 month hockey stick projections. They dilute good products into bad, force companies to cut their nose to spite their face, and make not doing deals more profitable than even the legal process to get one done. When riding litigation toward an exit exceeds the value of doing a deal, something is wrong.
To artists: own your experiential rights. Participate in technology and hold your representatives (lawyers, labels and management companies) to the standards you want your content held to once you lose control of it.
To turntable.fm: keep doing what you are doing.
To already wealthy artists (Lars Ulrich, Bono, etc): invest in turntable.fm