Confessions of a Serial Songwriter: Calling All Angels

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The other day my husband and I went out to dinner with our next door neighbor. He's always been a genuinely nice guy to whom we've enjoyed living adjacent for several reasons.

  1. He aided and abetted my effort to save a sweet little sparrow that flew into a closed window.

  • He's invited us to his Halloween parties.
  • It's close quarters here in Laurel Canyon and he's out of town a lot. That means it's calm and quiet on the left. Unlike the other crazies who've lived beside us before: the old lady who sicced her vicious dogs on our handyman and the porn producer who tossed dog poo over the fence into our pool. Enough said.
  • Good neighbors are hard to find. It was high time we dined.

    An interesting thing happened after the waitress took our order and we started to make conversation. My neighbor told us he works for...Spotify. I almost choked on my chardonnay.

    My work for the day was done. Or so I thought. But perhaps it wasn't.

    Now...it's not like I place all the blame for the songwriting royalty inequities of late on Spotify. Those of us who are well versed in the detail know that it is archaic government regulation of music licensing rates at the root of our woes. That said...Spotify did agree to disperse over 90% of the 70% of their gross revenue to record labels in exchange for the access to master recordings (leaving about 6% for songwriters and publishers for the licensing of the actual songs).

    To add insult to injury, even these microscopic amounts don't always make their way to our pockets due to the non-transparency of negotiations and distribution.

    My lovely neighbor didn't personally lawyer that deal but I'm pretty sure he isn't privy to the nuance because he said this: somewhere along the line, music creators must have entered into an agreement of their own volition as to how they'd be compensated for streaming.

    Oy.

    I guess sometimes we overlook details, or accept what our boss tells us in order to square having the job we have. Or maybe he sincerely believes it's true. This was like finding out a new yoga buddy is a staunch conservative when you're a bleeding heart liberal. Or to be fair...visa versa.

    With the view of the city to our left and the lights of the valley to our right did I really want to point out that digital streaming services exploit the very group of people who provide them with the creative content that drives their business? Did I want to bring to his attention that lobbyists are spreading disinformation on behalf of these companies--trying to make a case for even lower royalty rates?

    Politely dabbing a napkin to my lips, I tried to disguise my discomfort. I'm so used to reserving my resentment for bozos who knowingly disenfranchise me and my fellow hard working musician friends. I don't think he drank the Kool-Aid, but it appears he is sipping on it.

    With the abundance of mis and disinformation being circulated there's a daunting challenge facing the creative community: how do we dispel the falsities and expose the true economics of the streaming media business to our friends and neighbors? And how do we expect them to comprehend consent decrees, rate courts, and lack of transparency when it's daunting even for us? Who wants to listen to all that un-sexy minutia?

    So I got to thinking...what if there were a sensible approach with which to appeal to the better angels in all of us--angels who might be willing to make up their own minds if given accurate information from a trustworthy source.

    Not unlike the way they say books find us, while pondering the possibilities I came upon an organization called Fair Trade Music. Their philosophy?

    All who inhabit the music landscape - from creators to consumers, and all those in between - must adopt simple, ethical practices that ensure all parties in the music value chain, including songwriters, composers and artists are fairly compensated for the use of their work.

    I like it. Tell me more!

    Music creators must also adopt non-governmental approaches in pursuit of a sustainable environment and fair payment for the use of their work.

    Non-governmental? What do they mean? It sounds like they're talking about those better angels. I'm all ears. Keep going.

    In the past, it has been demonstrated that consumers are willing to make ethical choices when given a simple, understandable option to do so.

    See, I knew it! Please continue...

    In the case of "Fair Trade Coffee," this choice takes place at the point of purchase. Each consumer can choose to be the last link in a "virtuous" value chain by picking a coffee clearly marked "Fair Trade"...

    Okay...feeling pretty zenny...

    ...or they can choose a similar product that is not certified "Fair Trade," and thereby become the final link in an exploitive value chain that largely excludes farmers in favor of distributors.

    That sounds like a prescription for bad karma to me.

    Fair Trade Music would give consumers the clear choice to be the last link in a "virtuous" music value chain by clearly indicating which digital streaming and other music services operate in a fair, transparent and ethical way.

    Hmmm. I can make that choice. Whether it's for coffee or music or jellybeans.

    A 'fair trade' approach based on transparent, easy-to-understand set of ethical business standards that gives consumers a choice at the point of purchase is worth considering.

    Consider it considered. It's civilized and progressive; not preachy, whiney or complicated. Is it realistic? Time will tell. In the meantime I'm going to email the link to my neighbor. I don't want him to quit his job. I just hope his better angel receives it with open wings.

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    Thanks for reading everyone. Please follow me on my Amazon Author's Page so you don't miss the memo for the release of "Confessions of a Serial Songwriter."