Imagine. You’re a foodie in your favorite restaurant and a gal is in the kitchen preparing your favorite meal. When she was little she had an affinity for food and flavors and she lived for the joy it brought her family and friends when she cooked for them.
Her parents witnessed her passion and promise and paid her way though culinary school. When she graduated she sous-cheffed her way around major cities and now, she’s Queen of the kitchen.
When your dinner is ready your waiter retrieves it, floats across the room and places it in front of you. The steam rises. Your mouth waters. The heavenly experience commences. You reap the benefits of the chef's talents, experience and years of practice. Lucky you.
Now, imagine your bill for that dinner is $100 and of that $100, $30 goes to the waiter, $65 goes to the restaurant owner and… $5 goes to the gal in the apron.
Next, imagine you’re online searching for a Mother’s Day gift—a hand knitted sweater perhaps? You finally find it..."Designs by Deborah.” The price? Coincidentally, $100. $30 of which goes to the driver who delivers the parcel to your door, $65 to the company who owns the truck that the driver drives and $5 to Deborah—the woman who knitted the sweater.
Imagine Santa…ok...I won’t go there…but you know what I'm getting at.
These scenarios aren't exactly realistic but they would be right on the money (and proportionately accurate), if they revolved around artistic commodities being delivered in a digital age.
SONA’s Chris Horvath said something to me recently that summed it up perfectly: once there was a young novelist named Joanne Rowling who wrote a little book called Harry Potter—a fantasy series that found its way into the hearts and minds of millions of readers. Rowling lived in poverty for 7 years prior to her book being published. After 500 million in physical sales she was deservedly no longer struggling.
When Harry Potter started being delivered digitally though, book binders, typesetters, printers and many a cashier in brick and mortar stores began losing their jobs. Truth is, innovation is a fact of life. It's sad but understandable that those of us who are put out of work because of technological progress must try to find other sources of income when our services are no longer needed to participate in a process.
It's different though for the teller of a published story—a story that’s still being told or read or listened to and cherished. The problem is when someone downloads Harry Potter, J.K. Rowlings earns a fraction of what she once earned from the sale of a physical copy. The platform from which it’s downloaded, however, thrives. As Chris puts it, the pipeline is worth more than the oil running thru it. YES! Exactly!
This is not unlike the the work of the music maker whose gift enhances lives…ushers us through the gamut of emotions the universe has bestowed…the love quest, the break up, the lullaby. Be it Gaga or Taylor (or my personal new fave new Hamish Anderson—just sayin', GRAMMY voting members!), or the lesser known songwriters behind some of the biggest hits— we desire their gift as much as we did when it was only available on CD. In fact, we listen to more music than ever. But music makers are earning fractions from streaming income, while the streaming service that delivers the music to us (as well as the record label that licenses the master), are doing just fine.
The imbalance of royalty distribution is the result of archaic music licensing laws that are no longer relevant…laws made 70 years prior to the digital business model that's taken over. Maybe we need some new laws??????????
To be fair, every party involved in the process of guidung a song to your ears should be compensated. We’re nothing without each other. The songwriter, the record label, the delivery platform and technology. The chef and the waiter. Santa and the elves.
But to function productively we need an ecosystem in which everyone actively involved receives a fair share of the pie. And everyone has enough. A system in which we can all put our kids through school, and write another or song (or novel) without having to worry about finding a new profession.
So…Imagine the pendulum swinging one day. It’s hard to say exactly how and when it will—no one could have envisioned “digital” in 1970 either. But I'm feeling some movement and if the future is anything like the past in all likelihood it will. Swing, that is. I look forward to it.
You may say I’m a dreamer. but I’m not the only one…
Find out about SONA (Songwriters f N. America): fighting to preserve the value of songs in a new music marketplace.
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