Last Week Despite 001

Signals from the music industrial complex for people that have to deal with it.

Last Week Despite 001
Still from movie The Creator "Donate your likeness", SAG-AFTRA begs to differ

Signals from the music industrial complex for people that have to deal with it.

I'm trying something new with Last Week Despite mainly to sort my thoughts about music business articles that I read anyway. The links that end up here will therefore deal with current news that affects me, as an independent label owner, sometimes more and sometimes less. So basically despite what happened last week, I deem these links to articles in this series relevant to djs, producers, songwriters, singers and remixers that are actively looking into developing a responsible career in music - or just like to be informed about it or to even have a conversation on these topics.

Protect your likeness at all costs

Still from movie The Creator "Donate your likeness"
Still from movie The Creator "Donate your likeness"

Context: The US Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists reached an agreement with movie producers after 148 days of strike recently. Actors wrote in a letter to SAG-AFTRA leadership before they started bargaining with Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP):

We think it is absolutely vital that this negotiation protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI.

Owning and dealing with ‘name and likeness’ rights are an emerging business within the movie industry as well as the music industry thanks to AI scraping / copy mechanisms. The acquirers of name and likeness rights can freely make use of an artist’s / actors brand across various products and media, including film and TV. If the acquirer also owns the music rights to an artist’s catalog they become powerful af. Here comes the news related to music:

The major record companies obviously cannot simply stand by and watch all of this activity play out without taking action. On November 16 the biggest music major of them all has made its own statement announcement in the ‘name and likeness’ space. Universal Music Group has confirmed it is launching a strategic alliance with Authentic Brands Group (ABG) to acquire and actively manage artist brands. "Through this initiative, we will invest in name and likeness rights to create unique opportunities for artists with the goal of greatly expanding their cultural and commercial impact."
Universal Music Group targets ‘name and likeness’ acquisitions in partnership with Authentic Brands Group
UMG challenges Primary Wave et al with new acquisitive partnership…

Mashable mentioned the "donate your likeness" moment in their review of sci-fi movie The Creator:

Billboards encourage people to "donate their likeness" to simulants in order to support AI. The practice is eerily similar to film studios making body scans of extras. Yet any concerns about the likeness donations — and corporations owning said likeness — fall to the wayside to make way for plot-important simulant doppelgängers.

While the actors' union was able to successfully defend itself against AI exploitation, music producers and artists only have the option of defending their interests in individual negotiations with experienced lawyers from the music major when it comes to matters of 'name and likeness'.

Another still from movie The Creator featuring "Donate your likeness"

First signs of regulation are emerging though: No Fakes Act wants to protect actors and singers from unauthorized AI replicas and create rules around likeness laws and how AI-made replicas can be used.

For Google Spotify is bae

Not every platform is the same on Apple and Google, the two meta platforms in the western mobile world. In 2022 I wrote about the legal fight Epic (then Bandcamp owner) had to put up with Google about transaction fees, so they could use Paypal as a payment system rather than Google's Playstore system with a 15% on top of every digital sale tax in favor of Google. Epic won a partial victory in 2022, but the general antitrust implications of Apple and Google charging taxes for every digital music purchase on Bandcamp, regardless of the fact that they are not a functioning part of the Bandcamp ecosystem, remained. Apple and Google just don't like Bandcamp's business model of "let fans pay directly to artists once and let fans stream the purchased music forever and also let them have a direct connection to each other".

The ongoing Epic vs Google trial revealed, that:

Spotify paid a 0 percent commission when users chose to buy subscriptions through Spotify’s own system. If the users picked Google as their payment processor, Spotify handed over 4 percent — dramatically less than Google’s more common 15 percent fee. Google fought to keep the Spotify numbers private during its antitrust fight with Epic, saying they could damage negotiations with other app developers who might want more generous rates. (...) "If we don’t have Spotify working properly across Play services and core services, people will not buy Android phones," Google head of global partnerships Don Harrison testified.
A secret Google deal let Spotify completely bypass Android’s app store fees
Spotify’s “unprecedented” popularity justified the deal.

Google and Apple desperately need music to lure people into their ecosystem, and to achieve that, they make the rules as they see fit. While Spotify was able to close a 0 % tax deal with Google, Bandcamp (Epic) had to file a lawsuit for the same treatment.

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Bandcamp after Songtradr overtake: layoffs, business as usual and feature announcements

Great article that includes the perspective of former employees and union members. Also highlights the bigger battles that Bandcamp is still facing with Apple & Google because they are the lone preventers of mobile digital sales for artists and labels on Bandcamp.

Bandcamp Just Trying To ‘Keep The Lights On’ Following Epic Sale, Layoffs - Aftermath
“I worry that this multinational corporation swooping in to buy Bandcamp and lay off half the staff maybe doesn’t fully understand what Bandcamp was”

The chapter 'Second verse, same as the first' did hit a lot of the business and law related points I'm interested in. My basic gist is simply: The lone preventer of mobile digital sales for artists on Bandcamp is still Apple and the problem is not talked loud enough about it.

As an artist you can't sell a single digital song / album in the Bandcamp iOS App! Fans can LISTEN to the songs in app though. But to purchase a song or an album you have to leave the app, login to the mobile website and pay there, then you can come back to the app and enjoy the music. There is no hint about it in the app - because that would stir legal problems Bandcamp likes to avoid. It's 2024 and that is not the way to conduct a successful mobile music business.

I believe back in 2022 Bandcamp CEO Ethan Diamond looked for a white knight that was able to afford a legal battle with the platform gatekeepers Apple and Google. Bandcamp knew they had a solid business but the problem they and the artists and labels that were on their marketplace had was: as long as the number one purchase lane is a desktop pc/mac with a web browser, they will lose out to a generation that grew up on mobile.

Bandcamp was and still is the best context machine as a music platform, period. Their business model was split between two worlds though: desktop yay - mobile nay.

"If you’re Epic and you win that fight (against Apple and Google), then you're suddenly making bank on iOS and Android,” said senior software engineer Barringer.

He's not wrong. It is also right that ALL artists and their labels would be able to reach a mobile first audience that is willing to support the artists music and BUY it, given the chance to do so. One could only dream if I could run a release campaign with a directlink into the Bandcamp app! It is this perspective that I'm missing strongly in the article by Nathan Grayson because nobody seems to be walking in the shoes of an independent label or artist.

I would even argue that Bandcamp would never had the need to sell their business to anyone given the opportunity to sell digital only music on Apple's iOS app store and Google's Playstore without heavy platform taxes in the first place. 

Meanwhile, Bandcamp/Songtradr announced that public playlists, better discovery and automatic releases are coming in 2024.

Bandcamp Bulletin #001 – Highlights From 2023 & What’s Next
Welcome to the Bandcamp Bulletin, a periodic update on what’s happening at Bandcamp. Here are some highlights from 2023 and a sneak peek at what we’re working on next. Highlights: You can now…

The week when Universal was Amiga

I just leave this here at the end: It is the first time in the history of the Official German Charts that a major label has managed to take the entire top 10 albums. Just like Amiga did so in every week in East-Germany before the wall came down.

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