Several readers have observed this quite eloquently, but let’s summarize: laws around music are complicated, messy, and confusing. If they don’t seem that way to you, you’re either a lawyer or you haven’t done your homework. That said, without question, proposed changes to streaming music licensing fees would be devastating to Internet radio, because not just top 40 music requires license fees — even many indie labels are RIAA members and participate in SoundExchange. But here’s the key: they’d be devastating as proposed. And suddenly, at the eleventh hour, SoundExchange seems to be backpedaling. (Their strategy, evidently: push as hard as possible until the last conceivable moment, then find a deal that works for them — while they retain the upper hand at the bargaining table. Surprise, surprise.)
SoundExchange Tells Congress Webcasters May Keep Streaming [Kurt Hanson / Radio and Internet Newsletter]
A number of SoundExchange’s olive branches have been largely publicity stunts, but this seems real:
1. July 15 is no longer D-Day. SoundExchange promises that, as long as broadcasters are negotiating with them and continue to pay previous rates, they don’t actually have to start coughing up money at the new rates. In other words, instead of the July 15 deadline being the melodramatic “Day the Music Dies,” it’s now more accurately the “Day the Music Tentatively Continues Under a Cloud of Uncertainty While Mysterious Closed-Door Bargaining Sessions Try to Find Some Amicable Solution, or Not, We’re Not Really Sure.”
2. Maybe SoundExchange won’t cripple mega-channel content, after all. The one side of this we hadn’t covered was that the SoundExchange position would require a minimum of US$500 per channel — meaning services like Pandora and Rhapsody would be instantly crippled because they have countless channels, rather than individualized channels in the traditional sense. Think “dog bites off Long Tail.” Supposedly they’re now making headway on this point.
SoundExchange specifically mentioned wanting to protect the interests of college radio and NPR, and anyone else who will keep negotiating with them. And if there’s one thing they love, it seems to be negotiating.
Let’s put it this way: uncertainty is bad for Internet Radio. So even if July 15 isn’t a deadline, after all (yay!), it is absolutely imperative for the business models going forward that SoundExchange and the broadcasters sort this out. As for what this means for musicians, as many of you wisely point out, the majors still dominate music listening and none of this tends to amount to much in the way of actual checks for most music creators. On the other hand, because these services are often looking for ways to monetize content, selling the actual music remains in their best interests, as well. My sense is, somewhere beyond this dark, complex era of negotiations, we may actually start to see a real business ecosystem grow around music listening, one that’s distinct from that of the radio and CD/vinyl album era. In the meantime, negotiations continue.