Monthly Archives: May 2016

Conflicts world music industry with Youtube is complicated


YouTube and the music industry? It’s complicated. YouTube is the biggest music-streaming service in the world by some distance, but it’s also the biggest villain in the eyes of many within the music industry.

This week, British industry body the BPI has attacked YouTube again over the “value gap” (sometimes “value grab” in the US) between the number of songs being streamed on its service, and the money that those streams are being generated for rightsholders and musicians.

There are several key questions that need answering to understand this battle. Why is the music industry so cross with YouTube? Why does YouTube think those arguments are wrong? And what happens next in this latest clash between the worlds of tech and entertainment?

Why is the music industry so cross with YouTube?

The industry’s current war of words with YouTube boils down to that “value gap” – the sharply-growing number of music-video streams on the service not being matched by similar growth in royalties for labels and publishers.

The BPI is citing stats from 2015 to support this: the number of advertising-supported online music video streams (ie YouTube) last year rose by 88%, yet the royalties paid to rightsholders grew by just 0.4% to £24.4m – less than the £25.1m of revenues from sales of vinyl. US body the RIAA recently made the same points based on its figures for 2015.

The industry is cross that YouTube isn’t paying out more in royalties, but also because it believes that Google’s service is hiding behind “safe harbour” legislation to do it. Those are the laws governing online services hosting user-generated content, which spare them from liability for copyrighted content uploaded by those users, as long as they remove it when notified by the rightsholders.

The relevant legislation – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US and the European Union’s copyright directive are the two currently being discussed most – was enacted in 1998 and 2001 respectively.

The music industry is arguing that those laws are outdated: they were designed for the web hosting providers and email services at the time, not the YouTube of 2016 with its billion viewers and huge music catalogue.

This battle isn’t about YouTube being unlicensed: it has struck deals with labels, publishers and collecting societies to share revenues from advertising around their music, paying out more than $3bn so far to the industry.

The anger comes from the perception that because safe harbour protects YouTube from requiring those licences before it makes their music available, it can negotiate from a position of strength in comparison to, say, Spotify – which isn’t protected by safe harbour, so has to negotiate licences before it can put music up.

This leads in to the next thing that’s fuelling the fire: some in the music industry think YouTube’s massive catalogue of free music is making it harder for Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services to persuade music fans to pay for their premium subscriptions.

An estimated 68 million people worldwide were paying for streaming subscriptions at the end of 2015, according to industry body the IFPI. That helped label revenues grow slightly – a big deal after more than a decade of decline – but the argument is that they would be growing faster if YouTube was paying its fair share.

What is YouTube’s defence against those claims?

YouTube’s response to these arguments has evolved over time. They start with that $3bn that it has paid out to the music industry, including the claim that around half of those revenues came from fan uploads rather than official music videos.

That’s due to YouTube’s Content ID technology, which the company says it has spent more than $60m developing. It’s the system by which rightsholders upload reference copies of their music to YouTube, which then compares every new upload against its database to check if it uses copyrighted music.

If it does, the rightsholders can set automatic actions: remove the video; track it but leave it online, or “claim” it so that YouTube can sell advertising around it, and share the revenues with the righsholder – this is where the 50% of that $3bn comes from.

One criticism of YouTube’s safe-harbour protection is that in theory, labels would have to send a takedown notice every single time a video is uploaded using their music without permission – when that becomes millions or even tens of millions of notices, it could be a costly, time-consuming game of whack-a-mole.

YouTube says that in practice, Content ID is automating this process for 99.5% of the videos where a takedown might need to be sent: rather than hiding behind safe harbour, it has spent that $60m developing a way to automate the process and make more money for musicians and the music industry – not least because it helps them earn from user-uploads (mash-ups, wedding dances, Harlem Shake buffoonery, whatever) that they couldn’t in the past.

Recently, YouTube has offered an additional defence to criticism from the music industry, claiming that 80% of music listeners haven’t been buyers – they’ve listened for free through the radio or television, but they haven’t bought albums or downloads.

YouTube’s argument is that these people won’t pay for a streaming subscription, so rather than hampering Spotify and co, its free service is at least making the music industry some money from those people, through ads.

Finally, YouTube is pointing to some of the musicians who have built careers on its service, such as violinist Lindsey Stirling, with her 8 million subscribers and estimated annual earnings of $6m from selling music and touring, as well as YouTube. Those non-YouTube revenues are part of its defence too: the fact that musicians get detailed analytics on where their viewers are, and can add links to iTunes, ticketing websites and their own online stores to videos helps them boost their income.

What happens next?

In the US and Europe, existing safe-harbour legislation is currently being reviewed, which is the main reason these arguments have blown up again in 2016. Both sides are lobbying hard for the laws to come down on their side.

Music rightsholders sense that their arguments may be falling on friendly ears – certainly in Europe – while YouTube’s louder public defence of its status suggests it sees the way that wind is blowing too.

The reality of the matter is that even amid these arguments, YouTube will continue to be a hugely important partner for the music industry: from helping new artists find an audience to being a key plank in the marketing campaigns for the biggest albums from Adele to Radiohead.

You can expect to see YouTube continuing to make efforts to launch artist-friendly features, some higher-profile than others. Its “cards” feature, for example, makes it easier for musicians to direct fans off to buy music, merchandise and tickets.

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Led Zeppelin copyright infringement

Led Zeppelin

Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones are having trouble taking their ‘Stairway to Heaven’ lawsuit seriously, and that includes showing up.  “Defendants and their counsel, as well as Mr. Jones, have refused to confirm that they will appear despite having been subpoenaed and noticed,” attorney Francis Malofiy complained to US District Court judge Gary Klausner.

Malofiy, who represents the estate of 60s band Spirit, has been arguing that Led Zeppelin blatantly ripped off his client to create one of the biggest songs in modern music history.  But that case is now widely regarded as a joke within the industry, especially after earlier examples of the exact same melody started surfacing.  That includes a classical piece written in the early 1600s that sounds nearly identical to the progression used in ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ a discovery that puts the contested melody in the public domain.

In that light, it’s easy to understand why Led Zeppelin isn’t playing along with one of the most frivolous cases in music industry history.  Zeppelin’s attorneys have yet to respond to Digital Music News on the matter, though it’s entirely possible that this case gets tossed based on that critical discovery.

“Defendants are acting as if this is a concert…”

The case was previously moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, where it would be easier to coordinate schedules for the band members.  But Malofiy says it’s becoming nearly impossible to coordinate the schedules of the three surviving Zeppelin members. “Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with the aid of defense counsel, want to dictate the court’s schedule, completely disregarding the difficulties in presenting multiple fact and expert witnesses in a narrow band of time of approximately six hours,” the filing continues.  “The lack of common courtesy from defense counsel is, frankly, astonishing. Defendants are acting as if this is a concert where their celebrity status allows them to decide when they will appear.”

Whether Page and Plant will voluntarily offer their time in a reasonable manner remains to be seen, with Molofiy pushing for a court order to compel their attendance.

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Tips for winning the audition for the voice


Yes, former contestants and winners have gone onto (or continued their) successful music careers, but if you’re doing this to be a star, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Hell, if you’re in music for fame and fortune, you might as well give up now. Music ain’t about that. And people see through false motivations and can sniff out inauthenticity a mile (or iPhone screen) away.

That being said, yes, The Voice has given many musicians’ careers bumps. You still have to be the one to drive your career. And you cannot (and should not ever) rely on others to run your entire career for you. Even if you win the whole damn show, you better surround yourself with people who believe in you, the artist, and want to stick with you for better or worse. Because, yes, right after you place well on the show there will be trophy chasers pounding down your door. You don’t want them. You want a manager that says “I’m not working with you because you were on The Voice, I’m working with you despite it.”

And you definitely can’t expect the labels to help you out.

“In that time, we do so much great shit for these singers, and then they go to a record label that I won’t mention. But they go to a record label that f**ks it up. Record labels are — our business is the worst right now. No one knows what they’re doing.” – Adam Levine

So, with all that said and you still want to audition for the TV SHOW, (yes, it’s a TV show, not meant to make musicians famous, but meant to increase ad buys during said TV SHOW) then here is what you need to do to win your audition.

These points are taken from many conversations I’ve had with former contestants who were bound to secrecy by the show for fear of a $100,000 fine. No joke. So, obviously, I’m not mentioning names here.

Pick The Right Songs

For the open call auditions, they want you to prepare two songs a cappella. No tracks or instruments are allowed. Open calls move quickly because they’re just trying to weed out all of the crap “talent.” For the callbacks/private auditions you can have accompanists (or accompany yourself) and they want you to prepare three songs – at least one song without your instrument (you can sing to a track).

Pick songs that have been popular in the past 5 years. The reason for this is at the callback audition they require it. So you might as well prepare these in advance and hope you get a callback.

And make sure that at least two of your songs are up beat. If you’re going to the open call, make them both up beat. At the callback/private audition, you can have two up beat and one chill tune. But it’s best to keep them all upbeat. However, if you can sing “Hello” like Adele, then go for it.

The casting directors (judges/producers) are looking for authenticity. They’re looking for artists. Not musical theater performers. They are looking for, yes, strong voices, but this doesn’t mean you need to be a belter or have vocal acrobatics. Just show what you do best. Some of the top 10s of previous seasons didn’t sing like Christina Aguilera or Brian McKnight. They sang like themselves. If you sound like Ray Lamontagne, Lorde, Halsey or Norah Jones, great! Pick songs that work in your vocal style and range.

One of the contestants I spoke to said he made the mistake of choosing “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga for the prerecorded track to sing to. He used the karaoke version (which sounds just like the original). He bounced around singing Lady Gaga after he just finished a Coldplay song on acoustic guitar. The judges loved his Coldplay song, but the Lady Gaga threw them and they stopped him and said, we love you, but we’re going to pass because you’re too inconsistent.

You have to have an established understanding of who you are as an artist. Not just a good singer. Home in on your style and your sound. Then show it off.

Dress The Part

It should go without saying, but you should dress like an artist. If you aren’t a working musician, this may seem awkward for you. If you work a 9-5 corporate job with a dress code and hang out with only your non-musical, non-artists friends, this will feel extra uncomfortable. Don’t go in there looking like a soulless corporate hack. They will judge you based on your look long before you open your mouth. Go in dressed like an artist. One that fits your personality. Your sound. Your style. If you don’t have an outfit in your wardrobe now, go shopping. Look up your favorite artists and study their wardrobe. You can use that as inspiration, but of course, make it your own.

Ladies, don’t show up in your tight, short clubbing dress. It’s unoriginal and this isn’t a beauty contest. Dudes, don’t show up in cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. Unoriginal.

Remember, they are looking for artists. Be an artist!

Own The Room

The show isn’t just casting good singers, they are casting good personalities. They are casting characters for their TV SHOW. Ok, I’m done hitting you over the head with that.

When you walk into the room, you want to OWN the room. You’ll have a bit more time at callbacks to shoot the shit with the casting directors/judges and you definitely should. And you want to initiate conversation. Don’t go in polite. Don’t go in like an arrogant asshole either. Go in confident and say something to them right away. It should feel and seem off the cuff. It should fit your personality and showcase what makes you special (aside from your voice of course). If you’re boisterous, be boisterous from the moment you walk in. Crack jokes, talk about what you just experienced in the hall. Be different. Be unique. If you have a dry sense of humor, tell a joke, quietly in the mic that works with your personality and the situation. Make them laugh. If you’re goofy be a goddam goofball. If you’re a tortured artist, then, you get the point. Don’t say the same boring thing everyone else is going to say “uh, thank you for your time.” Bleh!

You want to bring in good vibes with you. Relaxed vibes. You may have those butterflies raging battles on 3 fronts in your belly, but you want to project an air of confidence. It’s almost just as much how you carry yourself as it is how you sound. Of course confidence can’t replace a crappy voice, but it will help.

At callbacks/private auditions there will be mics, stands, keyboard, monitors, cords for you to plug your guitar in. Your gear should work. Triple check it the day of. Replace you batteries in your guitar. Change your strings. Make sure the pre recorded song you have (for callbacks or the private audition) is pulled up on your (charged) iPhone and that your phone is in airplane mode or Do Not Disturb so you don’t get a phone call that interrupts your performance. Don’t Snap the 4 hour waiting process only to drain your phone to its death – unable to play the track you’re supposed to sing to. Maybe bring a battery pack with you just in case.

Know Your Story

If you make it past the open call and past the callbacks, you will be sent to “casting” directly following your callback vocal audition. This is where they will bring you to a room with a camera and a casting director and they will ask you questions about your life. This is for them to find the most interesting people with the most interesting stories. You know all those backstory montage intros before many of the contestants’ blind auditions? These come from the casting session. Make sure you have at least one really interesting thing about your life: Tragedy, things you’ve overcome, interesting family history, current job or volunteer organization. Something that sets you apart. What is your “story.” Because they want to know. And if you don’t have one it will be that much more difficult for them to justify bringing you on the show.

Are you a working musician? What’s the most interesting show you’ve had. Best? Worst? Why are you a musician? What kinds of shows do you play? How long have you been performing?

Is your great uncle John Coltrane? Is your husband Andy Grammer (shoutout to Aijia!). Is your daughter autistic? Do you work 3 jobs to support your family? Are you a teacher? A camp counselor? These are all interesting things to talk about. Come up with the most interesting thing about your life before you get to the casting room and you’ll have a much easier time talking about it and winning over the producers when they watch the tape.

The Private Audition

Most of the working musicians I know have been invited to a private audition (as have I). I believe it happens in every city they hold an open call. The way the producers find musicians to invite to the private auditions is mostly through YouTube. And they aren’t just looking for YouTube stars with millions of plays or subscribers. They’re just looking for good talent. It should go without saying, but if you’re a working musician you need some great videos of you performing on your YouTube channel. It’s also helpful to have a BandCamp profile (easiest way to search for artists in designated locations) and of course a Facebook Page.

How To Rehearse

Now that you have the logistics of your audition worked out, you still need to prep! You should rehearse your songs until you can sing them in your sleep. You should film yourself performing them and critique your video. Setup two cameras (phones), one close on your face and one pulled out to see your entire body. If you’re not a veteran performer, it will take a bit of work to look and feel natural performing. So you’ll need to work extra hard at this.

Don’t fake the performance, though. The judges will be able to tell. Feel the music. Be the music. Get to the core meaning of the song. You should ooze personality when you’re performing. Whatever your personality is.

What’s the old joke? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice practice practice! Same is true for Team Adam!

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