Music Biz Revolution: Vol. 1

COVID-19 hit us hard and fast in the music industry. Venues and festivals were shut down hour by hour and cancellations rolled in relentlessly. It’s been about a month since my last live show and yet musicians are still waiting for calls back about Job Seeker payments and for legislation to go through for the mysterious Job Keeper subsidy. Its an anxious and stressful time for everyone.

In the midst of it all, I’ve started to see the cracks in our industry and I worry about how broken our system is, or if I just have absolutely no idea how my industry works. I’ve decided to document this time and what I will learn, in the hope that our industry will come out stronger and more supportive when the time comes.

The first things on my agenda are:

  • Contracts
  • Live Stream Licensing

It has come to my attention that the complex nature of our industry means that often I don’t even know what I am as an entity. I am a sole trader, I am an employee, I am a partner, I am a contractor and I am self-employed. All musicians I know work in the same unique ways and yet we all operate our individual businesses differently. As musicians we are often considered artists and yet told to operate as small businesses. And yet, we are often excluded from “music industry” panels, programs, grants and opportunities because we are artists. As a result, I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. These articles are a way for me to share my experiences, but also to ask for information, thoughts and resources to help me, but also to help others. This is also a call to other musicians: would you like to be a part of this movement I’m starting right now rebuild our industry in a way that suits us?

Contracts

When the cancellation of gigs started coming in, it was distressing. Many of these gigs were being cancelled even before the Stage 1 rules had come in about social gatherings and social distancing. Many of us saw venue and events organisers using COVID-19 as an unjustified reason to cancel shows that weren’t selling well. It was with these cancellations that I began to realise how I hardly ever include contractual information in my gig bookings. Gigs are booked in over Facebook messenger threads, in emails, on the phone and in person and there often isn’t any sort of contract exchanged between parties. That means absolutely no cancellation clauses. If I knew more about what to include in an agreement or contract, perhaps I would have been protected when events were being cancelled. At the least, I may have been entitled to a cancellation fee.

I have since sat in on some webinars with arts lawyers to seek to understand more about contracts, about force majeure, about frustration and my obligations as an entity involved in an agreement. As an independent musician, I have only engaged an arts media lawyer on two occasions. Both times I forked out amounts of money I have never forked out before. It is unsustainable and yet it is crucial. My goal is to work with a lawyer to come up with a casual agreement template that I can use whenever I perform when gigs resume. There is a lot to learn in this field.

Live Stream Licensing

Recently, APRA AMCOS published an article about live streaming and the types of licenses one must seek (and purchase) to perform music in a live stream. This is such a convoluted area that I still don’t really understand. I am still unclear on whether I can perform my own music on a live stream over on twitch.tv for example without having to pay a licensing fee, or obtaining a license-back or opt-out. I also learnt today that when I registered my songs with APRA I handed over the rights to these compositions exclusively to APRA. I don’t even know what that means. Should I really be doing this?

Songwriters look forward to each November when a big chunk of royalty payments drops into our bank accounts. These royalties are earned after submitting all our set lists throughout the year of live gigs. As far as I know, my royalties from other uses of my music (radio play, online uses, Spotify streaming etc.) come through at different times throughout the year and this is based on a guess, or estimate, of how often my tracks have been used. It’s so tricky finding every single use of a song and then obtaining money for it, so I can understand this system, but it’s not a totally perfect process is it? People have covered my songs and put them up online without obtaining my permission or a license from APRA. They’ve essentially breached something and I’ve made no money from it, but APRA supposedly takes all those sorts uses into consideration when calculating how many royalties I get. Complicated, right?

My goal is to understand more how APRA AMCOS works. It’s time that I went back and checked out the T&Cs regarding my APRA membership and what rights I’ve signed away. I will probably need to speak with a lawyer about this. It should be noted here that I have called APRA twice in the past week to speak with someone about this and I haven’t gotten through and no one has returned my call after leaving a message.

That’s all for this week. Please note that all these musings are my opinions and in no way factual or true. This is a platform for me to explore the industry I work in to make sense of it all. After all, I am a contributing entity in this industry generating opportunities and money for the sector each year. I am a business. I need to know what’s going on.