Last week at a discussion regarding innovation in content distribution, held at the University of Colorado Law School Boulder, the panel of artists raised the devaluation of music as a common concern.
Even those not directly involved in the industry – and who have to pay for the music they use in movies, TV, or other creative endeavors – confirmed that they see musicians as the most commercially undervalued artists of the digital era.
As if to prove their point, at the same time one of the world’s most recognizable brands was doing its best to avoid paying for music that it felt would boost business with a younger audience.
McDonald’s isn’t a company you’d typically expect to scrimp and save on its marketing budget, but that appears to be what it tried to do with the artists it approached to perform for free at this year’s South by Southwest event. Brooklyn indie-rock act Ex-Cops made the claim on its Facebook page, and the situation has once again thrust the question of how and when we compensate musicians into the limelight.
Artists have been busy arguing the case for fair pay to lawmakers in recent years, and the case was also made more recently from the stage at the Grammys. Despite this pressure, it appears the same point must be made just as forcefully in the boardroom as it is being made in the Capitol.
For some, the band’s claim is seen as whining by those who should be grateful for the attention. Some even take the questionable position that a group of independent artists, who by most accounts simply scratch a living from their music, are being greedy. The same claim dogged Taylor Swift’s withdrawal from Spotify, citing low royalty payments that would have cannibalized her impressive sales of new album 1989.
While the bands are of course at different levels, their underlying point is the same: those who want to use our music don’t value it as highly as they should, so we’re taking control and refusing their deal.
At a time when artists are attempting to fight back against low royalty payments, declining music sales, and the constant drain of piracy on their income streams, it was believed that brand partnerships offer a glimmer of hope for generating new revenue. Of all the potential income sources, the almost one billion dollar marketing budget of a global brand like McDonald’s should not be the one that offers free burgers and the ever-nebulous selling point of “exposure.”
Between the lack of respect for copyright and the low expectations many have of what they should pay for music, the world is in serious danger of devaluing music to the point where new artists will ask themselves why they should perform at all, given such an unappreciative environment. Many seem to think a band should continue to suffer for their art across an entire career, being grateful for any small scrap of attention that is thrown their way, even by a brand that benefits from the association and has a dedicated budget for exactly that objective.
Creativity isn’t just something worth supporting with words, it’s worth supporting with our hard-earned cash, which musicians work equally hard to earn by writing the songs that we all enjoy.
Why, in the world of music, is a fair day’s pay such a controversial thing to ask for?