Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My God, I Need To Stop Reading Badly Written Articles About The Music Biz

I'm starting to get very frustrated with the amount of bad or confusing information regarding IP and copyright law.

Today my PRO ASCAP, sent out it's daily email with links to various 'articles' covering music business issues....and of course there is a completely misinformed one in there.


Masnick does an amazing job of confusing two very different areas of law, IP and mechanical property law. There is also a distinct attempt at defining the burden of proof or lack there of within the issue of plagiarism. In fact the more I think of it, this is about the worst clusterfuck of intellectual property law, mechanical property law and fair use! Let's face it, Masnick is trying to provide a service akin to journalism, which at best would have credibility and at worst be fluff.

The major piece of misinformation is the 1st paragraph "They are in different tempos/keys to make them sound alike." OK it is a poor sentence too. But this was proceeded by "...Satriani had decided to sue Coldplay over it, demanding all profits from its song. There are a number of reasons why this didn't make much sense, but folks in our comments did a fantastic job sniffing out the details."

1. The reader of this blog, somehow know what the burden is of plagiarism.
2. That in changing key or tempo of a musical piece there is enough to prove that there is not an infringement.
3. That if there are other pieces of music with similarities then an infringement did not occur.

Now toss on top of it, what the blog entry is really about, the fact that Coldplay's record company, EMI, requested that the YouTube video be pulled, claiming mechanical right violations. Of course, this leads to fair use.

Let clear a number of things up:

1. Can EMI ask/request that the video in question be pulled? Yes, EMI could ask YouTube to only play Coldplay for the next 10 years! Would YouTube do it? My guess is no but from on company to another they can ask for anything.

2. Is the guy that made the YouTube video violating any laws? Maybe, that is something that could be argued in court. I don't think the video violates any rights and if that is the case he could even sell copies of the video and profit from it. This is what fair use is all about, fair use does not see a difference between non-profit and for profit.

3. Is YouTube violating any rights of the video creator by pulling the video? No, YouTube is a business and is free to pull anything it likes.

4. Is YouTube violating any laws by providing the video to the public? Again maybe, it is something that could be argued. In fact if I'm not mistaking, if the video was free and clear of any infringements, YouTube could copy and sell the video as well. I would really have to look at the agreement between uploaders and YouTube. I do have a feeling that this is limited to a window of time in which the video is uploaded to YouTube and if the video is removed this right probably expires.

5. If a piece of music is in a different key and/or tempo but is similar in other ways to another piece of music does that exclude the first piece from intellectual property violations? NO NO NO NO NO! Tempo and key are relative terms. They are NOT the same as rhythm, harmony or melody. This is as bad as the non-existent 6 second sampling myth.

Alright, now that this is off my shoulders, I can try and get back to actual fact based information on music and rights!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Sky Falls Every Once In A While

I tend to get sucked into news article that predict doom and gloom for the music industry. ASCAP, my PRO, now sends email blast everyday, that is very high on the doom and gloom meeter. Today there was a link to this article. The basics are that everyone in the biz is having second thoughts of a per track economic model. I believe the exact quote is "Death Knell To Artists?" It's interesting that the focus is on the artist and not everyone else involved in the music business, I'd say it's the;
Death Knell to A&R
Death Knell to R.O.R. radio
Death Knell to CD Manufacturers
Death Knell to Over Produced Acts That Don't Tour

But is the sky falling, for the artist?

Hell no! The acts that have had the major's massive advertising dominance should and are crying.

100 years ago with the dawn of radio and 60 years ago with the advent or major manufacturing of vinyl, there were major shifts in how music was sold. The amount of money made was more but the
amount paid to the artist was dispersed to a great many more people.

Music will be fine, musicians will be fine. After all, they write music and there is little that they need to do so. It's everyone else in the business that has their necks on the line. More artist will make more money directly from the fan. I'll even say there will always be the mega artist, fueled by Entertainment Tonight and tabloid-supermarket rags (they can't exist without each other) But more exciting will be the re-emergence of seemingly lost markets, live-regional acts, might just exist again and make more money...probably enough to live well on.

Just don't be fooled, the sky has fallen on the music business before and it always survives.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thoughts on the Looming SAG Strike

Well, if there is one thing noticeable there are a lot more talks about unions, auto workers, door manufacturers and of course entertainment. But let's get to the issue...

New Media. What is it? Let's call a mountain a mountain and call New Media, Internet revenues because that is what this is the Internet and the money that really is already there, though producers are pained to admit. The reason SAG and formerly WGA have been all over this is because they were late to home video revinues. During negotiation in the 80's, unions were asked to wait and see, they did and their members lost money. Now they are being asked to wait and see again and they can't, their membership doesn't want to be late to the table.

As someone who doesn't have a union and does not get any type of residuals on secondary markets, home video or Internet. I believe that SAG, DGA, WGA, AFM and everyone else should get a small piece of the pie or be able to request far larger wages upfront.

The get-around for bigger stars has been to become a producer, regardless of their financial commitment up front. As a negotiation, they receive a producers cut in exchange for their "star power" as well as the SAG/actor's contractual monies.

But there is a bigger issue at hand. There are changes to the business model that are coming. The bell weather signal rang and the studios, distributors, theater owners and retailers know it. The bell rang loud in their music departments. Remember, SONY pictures is also SONY music/Epic/capitol, Warner Bros Film is also Warner Bros. music/Chapel Hill Publishing and so on and so forth. Music as a manufactured commodity is worth net to nothing. This is far removed from even 10 years ago, remeber napster started in 1999, TEN YEARS AGO. This will happen to the DVD market, it is inevitable. Music recorded direct to disc and digital tape first, digital editing, round digital things that you put in players. And the music biz had one thing that the film biz doesn't. Music fans liked holding gatefold artwork! But they gave it up in exchange for price. This will happen to film.

The music biz has yet to regroup into it's obvious new form, live music. The only thing holding it back is that there are too many hanger-ons to the music biz, radio and magazines. Not too long ago, I was listening to an interview with a Rolling Stone critic who actually said his job is too hard now because he doesn't know what is good and that the record companies were a good filter.

OK I'm off on a tangent in a big way.

The point is that there is a money grab here, the revenue stream in growing immensely. I actually watch more Sunday morning political pundit round tables because I can watch one or two live and then the rest streaming (with commercials) I can catch up on that episode of Heroes (with commercials) and it is better faster, for the moment, then their bit torrent rival of the same shows on the free/web arena.

TV is getting close! Films will see their DVD revenue migrate to the Internet sooner than we all may think. It was very sudden for music. And the entertainment unions are smart to figure this all out now than differ for years or decades.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Life and Times of an Indie Film Composer - Part 3 - You Are Not Alone

I should mention that I began this blog mainly for composers but now it's being syndicated to other place. The perspective is fairly slanted and hopefully this entry will alter things a little.

***Indie Film Composers, You are not alone***

I'm not the most social with fellow film composers, it's not that I don't like them personally but I compare other film composers to my buddies at music school...and your not as fun. All the talk about revolutionizing music performance, notation or harmonic philosophy is replaced by royalties, ASCAP and the industry pecking order. I prefer the company of film makers. Someone, who might call up and invite me to a screening at the Egyptian, point out a film I might like at the LA Polish Film Festival or come over with a DVD of some film from Madagascar.

When you socialize mainly with fellow composers and an echo chamber effect results. What once was a little insecurity morphs into GETTING SCREWED!!! And everyone else is getting their due, all that is left to the composers are small scraps and the bones of what once was a ripe carcass of a budget.

This perspective gets more and more twisted and the result is that one becomes more and more bitter. And that is not a good place to be, mentally.

But when you have a more rounded social group within entertainment and especially the indie world you realize; You are not alone. Editors, DPs, Make up artists, Actors, everybody wishes they were making more money and they all think that the other got a little better share of the pie. They know it's not based on reality and they also have the same networks within thier own click that are echo chambers souring the stew.

What about those directors and producers? You say they can't be in the same boat? They are, really! I know filmmakers that are in their mid 30s that live at home with parents, have their spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend support them, I've know film makers that actually were homeless weeks after finishing their film.

I'm not joking, HOMELESS.

Somehow most film composers I know have pretty sweet digs with thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of gear. I've never figured out how they afforded those Genelec monitors on indie budgets! I would guess from the studios I've seen in this town, composers are doing pretty damn well.

What am I missing? Homeless directors and composers with Neve preamps!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Life and Times of an Indie Film Composer - Part 2

I have been mulling over my approach to to defining this crazy life of a indie film composer, I think that I took the wrong angle. My new one is:

What the hell are we doing?

and why?

I thought back to a seminar-ish thing where the key speaker was from Without A Box, if you are a composer and work in indie film and don't know what Without A Box is necessary that you understand what they do and how they work in the world of film festivals. Anyway, at the seminar the man asked many of the audience what their goal was for their film. It was a question that seemed so simple but was indeed very sober ... what do you expect? I would say that many had gone through much of their process with the concept that 1. They finish their film 2. It gets into Sundance 3. They are famous with lots of money. This is obviously far from reality.

So, if the filmmakers loose grip on reality, what does that say about us? Were just as bad if not worse?!?!?!

What was interesting and telling about the seminar was that he broke things down a little bit, in regards to expectations. One goal was to have as many people see your film. I loved this! So, much of the time we are talking about dollars and cents that we loose the actual goal. Getting people to see the film (and hopefully enjoying it!) Does this appeal to you as a composer? Does the idea of people hearing your work matter? I fear what I might hear in response! There were obviously other goals, to make enough money to recoup the costs or enough to make another film.

The means of achieving these goals was film festivals and/or distribution. Festivals are a great way to get your film (and score) out there and get an audience. There is little money in it but you might get travel paid for to attend the screening. And distribution isn't a walk in the park either, lets face it. If your indie lacks star power, legit buzz, and realistic production values on par with the normal theatrical film, a distributor is gong to make a small order run of DVDs. Make sure Netflix has some copies and the rest are shipped to Amazon.

I know I'm supposed to be talking about composers, right? Well, tell me. Is this what you want to be part of? There is very little money in the entire food chain I have shown. Really, if there is a money maker in this scenario please tell me.

I know, it's that distribution deal. How much money do you think distribution companies are offering a direct to DVD film with few bells and whistles. Not much, maybe they turn their $20,000.00 investment into a no money upfront deal with the producers only getting paid after the distributors recoup. Are the distributors making a killing? Well, they have a product that the made 20 copies of, it's available on Amazon? Maybe they've sold a copy or two?

I shouldn't make the picture all that grim but I have to make it at least more realistic than the idea that after scoring an indie it's going to catapult the director to fame. The director, producers and distributors then laugh at you while they roll around in beds piled with $100s.

So, my question is out there, why are composers trolling craigslist for scoring gigs?

I know why I do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Life and Times of an Indie Film Composer - Part 1

As I research Moral Rights, I've decided to write a little on the scope of independent film and the film composer and the difficulties we inherit.

Not too long about I was at a function were film composers presented work to producers. After all of us composers presented our work there was a mixer. While chatting with filmmakers I also talked with a couple of fellow composers. One very talented composer in a kind of joking manner said, "So, you are the guy scoring the independent films." and we talked a little about getting gigs. Another younger and definitely has a future, asked me about a film that I left and why. These discussions reminded me of times that I have added my two cents to the Film Music Pro (FMPro) message board, a rather cynical group, about what is indie film and are our expectations out of line with the reality of that world.

First, one has to understand the difference between indie film and Indie film (big I, little i). The indie film world I know is not. Look at some of the Sundance 2009 dramatic competition films, the ultimate accomplishment for indie films, announced today:

- "Big Fan," directed and written by Robert Siegel (writer of "The Wrestler") with Patton Oswalt, Michael Rapaport
- "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," director-writer John Krasinski ("The Office")
- "Cold Souls," Stars Paul Giamatti,
- "The Greatest," Stars Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon
- "Paper Heart," Stars Michael Cera
- "Push," directed and written by Lee Daniels ("Shadowboxer," producer of "The Woodsman" and "Monster’s Ball")
- "Taking Chance," directed by Ross Katz (co-producer of "In the Bedroom," "Lost in Translation") Stars Kevin Bacon

These are 7 of the 16 films have something already going for them, a star or a track record, I would not be surprised if some have major private backers. These films are big I, Indie films. Keep in mind these are not the 16 premiers that will be announced later this week, I'm sure there will be many more big Indie films in that menu, not just with stars and private backers but films with studios indie arms behind them.

Another stat to wrap every one's head around is there was just over 2,000 dramatic-domestic submissions and only 16 competitive slots (there are some other programs, Midnight and Frontier categories will expand the slots to 10-16 additional films)

OK, what does this all mean? These Indies are NOT the films that the 1,000s of indie film composers are scoring, these are not the films that we compete over that are found on craigslist.


So, if we know what a big I Indie film is what is the little ones...the 9 other films in the Sundance dramatic selection or even more important the 2,000 plus films that didn't get tapped for Sundance. Those are the films that are crewed on craigslist and other sites; these are films that have such a small chance of making a dent in the public arena.

A little about my hobby, orchid growing
When I go out to purchase a new orchid, I do so with the idea, is it worth paying the price for a plant that I will kill. I don't let the plant wow me with its flowers too much. I look to see if the plant is hearty and that it grows in an environment I might understand and can provide for.

So, when I look at scoring a film I look at the film that way too. I look to see if I can do a good job with it and even though I'm excited about it, realistically does it have a chance to survive....

Believe it or not I do not think about money!

I think, is the film shot well? Shot on film? Does the film have style? Is the film written well, have good structure or is it a mess? Are there moments in the film where the production breaks down, the sets look bad and flaws are showing? And believe it or not, do the filmmakers even know what they are up against? If I know the answers to those questions, I know basically what the budget is.

I should mention that I am purposely ignoring low budget horror and comedies. Low budget horror has a market and low budget comedies have their own criteria.

So, who are these people making low budget films, how do I pick the films I work on and survive will be addressed tomorrow.