The Future of Music

Volume CVII, No. 7/8July, 2007

John Conte and Joel LeFevre

In early May, John Conte and LeFevre attended the 2007 policy conference of the Future of Music Coalition, a think tank dealing with music and technology. Below is their report. If you’re interested in seeing glimpses of the conference, go to and click on “Past Events” from the left-hand sidebar. The conference was not just a corporate feel-good event: each panel included diverse viewpoints, including artist advocates, industry types, members of Congress, manufacturers, and patent attorneys.

Like most pieces of corporate legislation, the name is often misleading. For instance, “The Internet Radio Equality Act” sounds terrific. Who wouldn’t support that?

Well, musicians shouldn’t, for one.

This bill would let the largest Webcasters and satellite radio providers pay half as much to musicians as they do now.

First, a little history.

Right now in the U.S., when a song is played on the radio, the radio station has to pay a fee to the copyright-holder — usually the songwriter. But the musicians themselves don’t get anything.

For instance, as Allegro goes to press, the Billboard number-one song is from the artist Rihanna.

When Rihanna is played on U.S. radio, neither she nor her backup musicians receive any money.

The person — or publisher, or corporation — who wrote Rihanna’s songs gets the payments.

(In Europe, it’s different. European musicians do get paid for radio use. But even when Rihanna is played on radio in Europe, her musicians still don’t get paid, since the U.S. and Europe don’t have reciprocity.)

But if Rihanna is broadcast by a Webcaster or satellite music provider, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires that musicians — not just the songwriters — get paid.

Webcasters and satellite providers are rebelling and are trying to roll back the payments.

The largest players want to eliminate the small competition. They see an opportunity to lower the rates they’ve been paying.

At the same time, the smallest Webcasters warn that they will be forced out of business if they are forced to pay the higher rates of royalties paid by the largest operators.

Musicians who are not working with an artist in Rihanna’s league have discovered the ability to draw audience through small Webcasters and increase their revenue from iTunes and other sites.

At the conference, one musician spoke of making a living without a day job because of additional income from iTunes. Small Webcasters had played his music and given him a worldwide audience.

So the trick seems to be to make the large Webcasters pay their fair share, while still allowing the small Webcasters to exist so they can promote musicians.

But the rallying cry for all Webcasters is: “Cut the rates!”

Never mind that the big players — multimillion dollar corporations — are enormously profitable. They don’t need to cut rates. They need to pay musicians.

More detailed information on the conference and recent copyright rulings is available in the following article: “Future of Music Coalition Policy Day.”


Another interesting panel was on the Save the Net initiative.

Right now, when it comes to email, all Internet users are equal.

Whether you use dialup, broadband, or a fancy T1 connection, your e-mail travels through the Internet at the same rate.

But business and universities who use the highest-speed connections are starting to question this equality.

It is easy to see a scenario where a new “first class” level of Internet user can get fast e-mails, while a new lower tier has to wait ten hours or more for their e-mails.

The Verizon lobbyist who spoke at the conference tried to make concerns about a new fee-based Internet sound like a paranoid neuroses.

Using twisted logic, he accused his critics of trying to take down the Internet, when in fact many regular Internet users are reasonably concerned that higher fees would turn the Internet into an oligarchy.

Watching this was a little like watching a hate radio talk show host at work.

Many Internet users are already on top of this campaign. It has a lot of oomph and will need help to sustain it. The goal is to prevent the telecom and cable barons from permanently changing the Internet. You can find out more by going to


There were additional panels on the state of distribution technology, with some fascinating tidbits that the reader can review on the conference Web site.

We want to note with pleasure that the biggest round of applause in the day came at the end when Patricia Polach, an attorney for the AFM, spoke from the floor. She said that when it comes down to it, if the country doesn’t figure out a way to allow musicians to make a decent living and feed their families, the creative levels of today — which feeds all the new distribution — cannot last.