Accounting for the Uncounted

Or “We Are the long tail, and We are mighty

I’m now well into the last taught term of my MA Music Industries at BCU, and am preparing to write my dissertation. If you know me and/or my writing, you’ll probably already have an inkling that my dissertation is going to be around policy, it’s going to be to do with the representation of musicians’ interests in the digital age, and around Adding Up The Music Industries (in reference to the title of the annual PRS document “Adding Up The Music Industry“).

There are some key organisations who position themselves as the voice of the UK music industry, UK Music, PRS, The Musician’s Union and AIM

>> “This document sets out to define what “the music industry” actually is in 2010, and what we want to achieve.” Fergal Sharkey in Liberating Creativity, AIM (2010)

… who use their research findings to lobby and influence government in the interests of their members, and I’m interested in how they can best represent the interests of their members.

>> Copyright is the currency of creativity. We recommend that Government ensures it has in place a robust copyright framework fit for the digital age. As a priority, Government should swiftly implement the proposals laid out in the Digital Economy Bill which address digital copyright infringement… Liberating Creativity, AIM (2010)

Interestingly the prevailing discourse, the policy influencing voice in these documents (and one can presume the same applies when lobbying our government) tends to be anti-sharing, pro Digital Economy Act, protectionist. This conflicts with my experience as a musician in a band and as a music business in the digital age, who has seen significant economic benefits to the openness of the internet, and to a Pay What You Want approach to music sales. So when the MU magazine drops through my letterbox (I’m a fully paid up member), there’s a feeling of trepidation as I thumb through; a worry that there’ll be something that hinders my career as a musician. Whether it’s an Open Letter To Ed Sheeran telling him that he shouldn’t have said that he’s OK with fans illegally sharing his music, a call for a clampdown, an article supporting the DE Act, or the MU professing that the protection of copyright material should be managed by ISPs to avoid the loss of thousands of jobs…

>> “Our creative industries are facing unsustainable revenue losses due to weak or unenforced copyright laws. This means one thing and one thing only: millions of jobs lost and young talent ignored… While our industry has collapsed […] the ISP industry has more than doubled […] due in large part to infringement of our artistic works. We demand our indisputable right to copyright protection be no longer ignored. ‘Free’ should not come at such a terrible cost.” Musicians’ Union (2011b) The Artists’ Charter

… I’m left asking “Are these people using a different internet to me?” and “If I’m surrounded by music businesses who can see that the internet has contributed to the sustainability of their careers, why is the discourse from our voice, our representatives so far from what we know to have worked?”. It may be more the case that they’re representing the loudest voices, the biggest voices, or as William Glodman wrote, “follow the money“. As an artist who could be said to make up part of “The Long Tail“, that’s a concern, as that’s where most artists live.

In 2011 when I spoke with the MU’s Rachel Brine she confirmed to me that of over 30,000 members, over 23,000 members were paying the lower membership rate; a rate you paid if you were a musician earning under £20,000 per annum. Going by these figures, the majority of musicians (and I suspect, music businesses) fit into this category. Similarly, AIM confirm that…

>> “The UK industry is hugely diverse – 81% of music companies employ less than 5 people.” AIM/UK Music (2010)

If the PRS, UK Music, the MU and the DCMS (The Department of Culture Media and Sport won’t count my earnings, all earned through music/the making of music/music industry consultancy and music education, in their figures because the businesses I work in aren’t grossing more than £79k per annum and therefore aren’t hitting the compulsory VAT threshold.) fail to include me, and the majority of the musicians I know and work with in their figures, then they are less likely to be able to best represent our interests in their policy making.

The experience of the music businesses I work in, and that of the artists and businesses I come into contact with is that the openness of the internet is one of the things that’s enabled the sustainability and growth of the businesses we run. That we’re able to offer our music on a Pay What You Want basis, that the free distribution of digital downloads saves us money on pressing CDs for review, and that a direct to fan relationship has returned more revenue than ever we could have hoped for through the traditional label > distributor > shop model all add up to the open internet being a good thing for music, music businesses and for culture. This view is supported by David Blackburn’s (2004) research paper On-line Piracy and Recorded Music Sales which goes further than this to argue that illegal file sharing has a positive impact on three quarters of artists in bald sales terms.

>> “By percentile (with 1% being lowest selling, 100% the highest selling) we have the break even point at the 75th percentile: that is the bottom 3/4 of artists gain from file-sharing while the top 1/4 lose” Blackburn (2004)

So this brings me to the big question. What I’m I’m trying to address here… what I’m looking to hone into a thesis proposal is:

How can the institutions who are tasked with representing the interests of Musicians in the UK best represent the body of their membership?

Or perhaps it’s more to do with how do we account for the uncounted? Those of us in the long tail are many. How can policy be influenced based on the interests of the many rather than the interests of the few at the top of the tree.

We need YOU!

I’m now researching the literature around this subject and this’s is where I’m looking for help. If you can help me focus my thesis proposal, great. If you know some academic writing I should be including in my literature review, know of organisations who campaign of the side of the enterprising musician who embraces the internet or know someone smart I should talk with, then please do comment below. You can find me on twitter too, @thehuxcapacitor, though I have a feeling that 140 characters may not be the easiest form for discussion on this.

I’m already looking at some of Dr. Martin Cloonan’s writing on policy, David Hesmonghalgh, Mark Deuze… if you know any great, peer-reviewed articles that intersect with the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment below. Or if prefer, you can contact me at rich [at] hope and social [dot] com.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

5 comments

  1. Dave Carter says:

    Hey mate – have you read Digital Music Wars by Patrick Burkart and Tom McCourt? It’s a bit old (2006) but is a ‘proper’ academic take on online distro of recorded music and perhaps worth a look for the bibliography maybe? For an Aus perspective the Australia council put together http://artfacts.australiacouncil.gov.au/music which is a bit naff but the supporting docs (right hand side) may be helpful. In particular ‘Do You Really Expect to Get Paid?’ http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/resources/reports_and_publications/subjects/artists/artist_careers/do_you_really_expect_to_get_paid

  2. Dave Carter says:

    Also maybe worth tracking down a couple of ‘mapping’ studies (thinking you need to demonstrate what the body of membership might look like?) for example Cloonan, M, Frith, S & Williamson, J. (2003). Mapping the music industry in Scotland: A report. Glasgow, Scottish Enterprise and Higgs, P and Cunningham, S. (2008). Creative Industries Mapping: where have we come from and where are we going?. Creative Industries Journal Volume 1 Number 1, 7–30. (also Oz).

  3. It sounds like those who currently represent you are following a standard ‘industry representation’ model: they are paid to lobby government to protect the industry.

    I can’t think of any such organisation that has led innovation. Some advertise to build the market .. for some reason I’m thinking of old food industry ads like “wot no meat?” and “go to work on an egg”.

    So either what you’re looking for is a faster responding representative, in which case it’s about what their motivations are to listen and learn and follow.

    Or you form a new long-tail group for the 99% of you.

    Or you just leave and keep innovating.

    I can’t help thinking that your model is much more original .. I’m sure you’ll know, but for some reason I’m thinking of the village artist & village musician. Did such a thing ever exist? But there’s some punter ownership and some togetherness in what you do, and that feels like community. So .. why worry about representation to government when you have the love and support of those who willingly pay for you to keep doing what you do?

    Slightly off topic, but I think you got me in to reading the article with a promise of being able to contribute and then wanted contributions within very tight boundaries so I thought, blowlocks, here’s my 2p :-)

  4. Dave Carter says:

    Oh, last thought for now, check out Allan Watson’s stuff http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/area.12037/abstract and geography more generally as it crosses over with music. I think you might profitably investigate the economic impact of disruptive technologies on other industries (e.g. railway, print journalism).

  5. Annette says:

    If this is for your dissertation you might want to look at all the relevant policy documents and use discourse analysis to explore the question alongside some interviews with musicians.
    Remember that to produce a scholarly piece of research, you can and should bring your perspective & experience into the motivation for this study, but you should also be more detached. Don’t go into it looking to present a solution but rather investigate the issue. You might not like what you find but you should be prepared to challenge your assumptions or current perspective.

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