Keeping the Music Alive at the FMC

A songwriter earns $0.000000 per illegal stream of their song online. Makes sense, right? I mean, no one’s paying for the song either through ads or through direct purchase of the music, so it’s understandable that the songwriter isn’t earning any revenue. For Eddie Schwartz, the President of the Songwriters Association of Canada, the songwriters that he represent get $0.000035 per stream of said song on Spotify. Round those numbers up to the nearest cent (as Spotify does to calculate revenue) and you get: $0.00 both ways. If you want to try and squeeze some money out of the song streamed on Spotify, it means that, in order for that writer to earn $35, the song has to be streamed one million times. If a song is 3 minutes and 30 seconds long, it would have to be played (non-stop) for 6.66 years for that writer to earn $35. Thirty. Five. Dollars. In Schwartz’s words: “that’s enough to buy the pizza and the wings!”

As depressing as those numbers are, they’re the reality that many musicians and songwriters are living today. Musicians are finding it harder and harder to make a living from selling their music, and are consequently running themselves ragged from constant touring and promotion. The Future of Music Coalition (FMC) is a national nonprofit organization that sets out to educate musicians on the current state of the industry, make sure that they get paid fairly for their work, and create a “diverse musical culture where artists flourish.” This is no easy task. FMC is one of the only organizations of its kind, and was only created 13 years ago, in June of 2000. They hold an annual conference at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., called the Future of Music Summit, in which industry leaders, musicians, journalists, students, and many more, come together to discuss and plan the future of the industry. This year, thanks to a grant from the Honors department, I was lucky enough to attend the conference.

The 2013 Future of Music Summit was almost three times bigger than the version I attended in 2011. The keynote speakers this year were incredibly impressive. They included both Jacqueline Charlesworth, Appointed General Counsel and Associate Register of Copyrights from the U.S. Copyright Office and Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner from the FCC. It was incredible to be able to see these (female!) prestigious officials have open and honest conversations with members of the music industry. I got to watch panels where composers and producers had conversations with the director of the copyright alliance, where the head of Global Content Programming for Google Play got to describe how and why their programming works, and where both freelance and contracted journalists had honest exchanges about the future of music journalism. And that’s just scratching the surface of the panels I attended.

I learned so much from my two days at the conference than I ever could have in the classroom. The music industry program at Northeastern is extraordinary, but there is no comparison to being able to have real conversations with people that are currently at the head of the industry. I got to see musicians who explained just how hard it is for them to thrive at the moment (and give each other tips on how to get free food on tour,) and I got to see members of the U.S. government admit that something needs to change with the current copyright laws. However, not only did the conference-goers get to see the panels that took place in Georgetown, but we got to attend an NPR All Songs Considered Listening Party. The listening party took place at the Gibson Guitar Showroom in downtown DC and it was a perfect ending to an action packed conference. We got to mix and mingle outside of the conference structure, and we got to see how the real NPR show is created, and even got to rate the songs ourselves. I plucked up the courage to say what I really thought about a song that was played (I think my exact quote was “it sounds like the bad end of the Spice Girls mixed with bad Hilary Duff” – the artist shall remain nameless), which sparked a conversation between the crowd, and was a starting point for a chat I got to have with one of the NPR hosts after the party.

I met some incredible people at the conference, including the head of classical programming for NPR, the founder and president of Thirty Tigers, a writer for Bitch Media, and a representative from Pandora. The Future of Music Summit is something that deserves and needs to get more attention as one of the leading conferences in this industry. It is truly pushing the boundaries when it comes to music industry education for every single person involved in the industry, be it a lowly student such as myself or a CEO of a performing rights organization. Every single person involved in this business can learn something from this conference, and can meet people that will make them think about ideas and plans in completely different ways. Although my brain is now filled with the issues that I’m going to face when I graduate, I now have at least a few of the answers with which to solve them.

Aislinn Kane, Music