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Mills’ Call to action - some thoughts….

Martin Mills has built a great business in Beggers.  He recently made a speech @ Midem where he makes several salient points that from my point of view, are pretty darn even handed and for the most part spot on, with a couple exceptions… here’s a spot on:

The internet has indeed leveled the playing field for us and for our peers. It has enabled us to compete, as a smaller company, at the highest level, as the success of Adele and others has proved. It has allowed us to develop strengths and attractions that the big companies cannot, to counterbalance what they can do that is hard for us. And that has enabled the kind of artists that we want to work with to come to us in confidence, and know that we can deliver for them at least as much as a bigger company can, for their whole career.

He then talks about how their business is a more “cottage” business, and how he thinks that suits the art and artists better than perhaps the large multinational conglomerates can.  For me, it depends on what kind of artist you are, and what your end game is with your art as the main factor for who you want as your partner.  

Start with the end in mind.

He then goes on to talk about how governments, politicians and bureaucrats have failed the creative industries.  Here is one area where we do not agree.  First of all, most politicians and their ilk simply cannot affect real change.  Change of any real magnitude always comes from the private sector.  As illustrated by this quote, that is clearly not happening: 

Rights owners, especially the biggest ones, have certainly made mistakes in their licensing practices. They still do. And I do believe that Universal’s EMI acquisition is designed primarily to give them an unhealthy degree of dominance in such areas vis-a-vis their competitors. I believe their predatory behavior is ill-befitting a market leader. But I don’t believe that the present day music industry is a reluctant licensor.

The last line is another point of contention.  The industry IS a reluctant licenser, by virtue of the fact that it’s so fucking hard to license music.  And, I would also say that it’s a unreasonable licensor.  In a world of micro transactions, the industry is SO far behind, and so resistant to efficiencies (their version of creating efficiency is to maintain ridiculous exec salaries and strip cost out of the middle where all the work is done, further heaping work on an already overworked and understaffed teams at record companies - all while grabbing more rights and asking their people to kill themselves in the name of “the love of music”).

The tech companies have gotten better at the lobbying game than the incumbent content companies and their RIAA lap dog. Most politicians are just concerned with re-election cycles, and protecting their own ass, not the interests of their constituents, and frankly, tech is gonna get better at the lobbying game. We as an industry need to present reasonable solutions to legislators, not whine incessantly about how we are being ripped off.

“He who is not busy living is busy dying”.

And don’t get me started on how the incumbents have been purposefully manipulating every part of the traditional system, from distribution to radio to performing rights.

Mills goes on to describe the interdependencies between music and tech going forward:

Tech companies should be the partners of rights companies, not their masters. And we value them enormously as such, our partnerships with them are fundamental to our business now – as is our content to theirs.

Or more simply, music and tech are forever intertwined going forward. The sooner we embrace this, the better off everyone will be.  If the collective dollars that have been spent suing each other had been put to work innovating with the consumer in mind, think of where we might be?!

Finally, in his closing statement he exclaims:

So that’s why I decided to accept this honor and screw my nerves up to speak today. Because I’m incensed about the discrimination and the lack of understanding with which those like us who spend their lives creating art that brings people joy, can get treated by those in power. I very much hope that we can all be a part of changing that, because unless we do, the ladder we climbed will not be there for those who follow us.

And while no one is arguing that creators should be paid for their art, there are many moving parts to a very complex business that need to addressed.  The sooner we set aside individual interests, stop trying to put the screws to each other, and to the tech community, and agree that music is a vital and valuable part of the human experience, the quicker we can solve the outstanding issues.

The last societal change of this magnitude was Gutenberg, and out of all that disruption came the age of enlightenment.  An age where knowledge and art bloomed like never before in human history… we are there again.

Bet on the art, and the rest will take care of itself.  And the ladder that the last group of leaders may indeed not be there, but replaced by something better, as the human desire for music is simply not going away.

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