When it comes to bait-and-switch lobbying, the MIC Coalition recently raced to the head of the pack. Citing everything from innovation to consumer welfare as its primary focus, the tech sector-backed interest group really exists to negatively influence the debate around royalty rates paid to musicians.
Despite amassing a series of high-profile members with significant sway across the world of music and technology, that thin veneer of listener-friendly activism has quickly been stripped away as those organizations attempt to drive down royalty rates, which are due to be renegotiated later this year. Now Amazon has opted to drop the MIC both figuratively and literally, withdrawing from the coalition amid concerns about its real motivations.
Amazon’s comments to Billboard regarding the decision clearly demonstrate these concerns:
“What has become clear to us since MIC went public is that part of the agenda – transparency – is getting lost in the wilder noise surrounding rate-setting.”
~Steve Boom, VP of Digital Music at Amazon
While the company is no stranger to fighting against creatives to further its own ends, as authors would attest, the agenda of the MIC Coalition is evidently more than even this staunchly tech-focused representative can stomach. Moreover, Amazon was undoubtedly the member most likely to be driven by cost reduction. The company’s whole business model is based on undercutting competitors on price, making its exit all the more indicative of MIC’s unseemly approach to artist relations.
For its part, Amazon is something of a side-player in the digital music game. It has a solid archive of digital downloads and a decent streaming service bolted on to its Prime membership, but the goal of the company is to sell everything through those subscriptions. Leaving the MIC Coalition is a positive move, but for musicians the continued presence of formerly artist-friendly organizations like NPR and other traditional radio representatives is more troubling.
The motivations of the players in the MIC Coalition range from misguided to Machiavellian.
NPR, for its part, seems to be torn between the tradition of its culture and its business model. Terrestrial radio is struggling to pay the bills and being forced to pay royalties on the music it uses after decades of riding for free is an unwanted cost, especially as ad revenues continue to decline for radio stations. But NPR is a different animal compared to its peers, publicly-funded and with a requirement to satisfy its audience over advertisers. That means supporting the artists that satisfy the listeners, which is what makes NPR’s presence in the coalition so confusing.
Pandora, meanwhile, has no such excuses. Its business model is going from strength to strength, gaining subscribers and making stock holders very happy in the process. This is not an organization that needs a royalty break, but one that is scheming away with anyone it can to maintain, or even drive down the rates it currently pays. Aligning with other tech sector behemoths like Google and YouTube is merely a marriage of convenience, with NPR’s presence an additional bonus to lend the MIC Coalition some cultural cache. Although Amazon’s exit deals the group a blow, it still has more than enough influence to negatively impact royalties to artists while pretending to work for the consumer.
The news comes on the eve of a potentially pivotal announcement for the digital music market place.
Today is the day that Apple is widely expected to launch a new music service at its World Wide Developers Conference.
The event has a habit of throwing up significant new software announcements, with Apple believed to be taking what was formerly Beats Music and creating a new streaming platform to rival the likes of Spotify and Pandora. Because Apple is thought to favor a lower price point of $8 per month for subscribers, it will be an important player to follow
Musicians will hope the Apple follows Amazon towards a more transparent, supportive structure for developing royalty revenues to artists, rather than the cloak-and-dagger lobbying tactics employed by their rivals in the MIC Coalition.
Meanwhile, if the likes of Google, YouTube, NPR and others continue to position themselves against artists, they risk losing the very thing that their misleading mission statement cites as a driving factor: goodwill from listeners and availability of the very songs that their business models depend on.