Every business built on gatekeepers eventually fails. At some point some technology comes around, making the entire old school industry obsolete.
It’s a shortsighted model based on greed, ego and false perception of invulnerability.
Take the old school music industry: it was a ticking time bomb of self-destruction waiting to go off. It began with the birth of recorded music. The “artist gatekeepers” with the infrastructure and access to place music on retail shelves decided they would not just charge a fee for the service, but would also require a transference of copyright from the creator to the gatekeeper.
For the “consumer gatekeepers,” they could have chosen to allow more music to be exposed, but they went down the same path as the artist gatekeepers.
It did not need to be this way; the artists could have been allowed to keep their copyrights, and music fans could have had access to discover more music. Try as these two sets of gatekeepers might, their control would be broken. Their over-the-top, greedy mistakes were always on a path of tearing themselves down; it was not a matter of if, it was a matter of when.
Along the way there were lies, theft, piles of money traded, and unnecessary filtering, but the artist and music fan would win. It’s evolution.
The fall came hard and fast. It used to be that as a musician, you had to go to the “artist gatekeeper,” the label, and be one of the anointed few that got the privilege of transferring ownership of what you created to the label so your CDs could end up on store shelves.
In order to get heard, and then hopefully have your music cause a reaction, you had to be one of the even luckier few chosen by the “consumer gatekeepers” to have your music played on commercial radio or MTV, or get written about in Rolling Stone.
Did they think, even a moment, that this control would ever be taken from them?
When eMusic, the first on-line digital store, launched in 1998, the boulder began to careen down the mountain. Within ten years, the entire 80-year-old traditional gatekeeper model had been destroyed.
No longer did you need an A&R person deciding an artist was of “commercial value” to be let into the system.
No longer did you have a retail store buyer subjectively deciding which CDs had enough value to be placed on their shelves.
No longer did MTV have a lock on deciding which music videos got seen.
No longer did commercial radio limit what we all heard to the 15 to 20 songs that they decided to play.
No longer was the general population limited to reading what the editors of Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Spin and others decided to write about.
In the digital world, all artists can be on infinite digital shelves with infinite inventory waiting to be discovered, heard, shared and bought. The general population of the world can decide what does and does not have value, and can share thoughts and preferences in scales never before thought imaginable, networking to one another globally, via social outlets like Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace, and YouTube.
Digital radio stations now have millions of songs available to be programmed based on the listener’s preferences, likes and dislikes.
This entire old school system was based not on serving the artist, but on gatekeepers exploiting artists to let them in. And when you are a gatekeeper, when you think you are the only one with the keys to the kingdom (and only you will ever have them), you do stupid things, immoral things, and create a business where you’re simply a necessary evil.
This mentality extended beyond labels, distributors, retailers, radio stations, MTV and print magazines. It reached into every nook and cranny of the old industry, into entities like ASCAP: the gatekeepers for songwriters to get their money.
Just as it was in the old school industry, there was a time when these gatekeepers reigned supreme in what they did; they, and only they, had systems to track and collect money owed to songwriters for public performances. But then hubris crept in leading to their taking their songwriter members’ money to not only do the job they were hired to do, but also to pay the heads of these organizations exorbitant six and seven figure salaries, spend their members’ money on fleets of cars, expensive dinners, first class airplane tickets, luxury hotels, over the top decadent office space in the most expensive cities in the world (as well as many other travel and expense perks).
They were gatekeepers blocking songwriters from getting their money. Just like the major labels, they were the only ones with the infrastructure to provide the service; if you wanted your songwriter money, you had to go to them. They made their priority maintaining control, not serving. Had they kept this focus, they would now not be in trouble, they would have adapted.
The digital age has made the digital part of what ASCAP and others do a thing of the past. These organizations are not needed to track sales in iTunes or video streams in YouTube, and yet they are fighting and litigating to try to keep songwriters’ money going to themselves to stick in their pockets. They do not really give a damn that 98% of the world’s songwriters don’t get their cut of the money owed to them. There are other entities out in the world now, like TuneCore, that can get songwriters more money, more quickly, with transparency and an audit trail, and yet they fight against this efficiency.
It’s foolish, dumb and wrong.
As a member of ASCAP, we called and asked them for a list of entities that ASCAP licenses to, as well as the rates we should expect to get paid.
They called us up with two lawyers on the phone–lawyers that ASCAP is able to pay from the money it collects from songwriters – and said they could not tell us the rates or whom they were in deals with as it would “violate anti-trust laws”. What I can’t understand is how they can state this while simultaneously issuing a press release about how they entered into a licensing agreement with Netflix.
Further, how can the people that hired them not get told what rates have been negotiated on their behalf? How would anyone know if they were doing their job?
It’s frustrating, but I keep this in mind, the end is inevitable; technology has rendered these entities moot, a thing of the past. The only thing keeping them propped up is that there are artists who do not understand how much money they are owed and where it is. As this information gets out, these organizations will use songwriters’ money in an attempt to sue, legislate and litigate, to stop these same songwriters from getting more of what they earned.
There should be no gatekeepers for musicians, or for anything. It all comes down to serving the musician. This is as it should be. Then entities like TuneCore must create products or services that are of true value to artists or get the hell out of the way.