Performing Rights: Then and Now

William Velez, a former employee of BMI and ASCAP, touches on the subject of the future of licensing public performance rights in music in the article “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millennium?”. Velez gives a brief summary of the development of music rights organizations and paints a picture of what the future and the 21st-century might hold for performers. Since this article was written 19 years ago, there has been a shift in the mindset among music users and artists. However, some of Velez’s predictions have proven to be insightful and true.

With the development of SESAC, a for-profit licensing organization, Velez emphasizes the arrival of those who resisted such a system. This resistance has especially been apparent in the New Millennium due to the eruption of the Internet. Studies have shown that, since the late 1990s, piracy and illegal downloading activities have reached mind boggling levels, with as much as 95 percent of music being downloaded illegally each year.[1] Even though there are numerous streaming services available to consumers today, the illegal activities are still active due to the human want for lack of cost and convenience.

Velez senses an emerging and imminent threat to the music licensing industry and to artists. This is the threat of convergence of companies to boost profits and realize new economies, which results in reduced profits for artists and a further monopolization of the industry. Velez predicts the effects of this convergence when he states that “home-television monitors may end up serving as appliances for delivering a range of services or functions such as entertainment “on demand”, telephone access, personal computer and internet access, and so on.”[2] This merge within technology is precisely what has occurred in the New Millennium with the creation of streaming services of all types such as Netflix, Pandora, Spotify and many more, all conveniently available on personal devices and televisions.

Spotify has grown to be the “fastest-growing and most popular,”[3] streaming service available. It was created in order to serve as the “middle-ground” between the illegal but free piracy the consumers abused, and the antiquated record label business mindset. Spotify serves as a music library with an enormous and all-encompassing inventory. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that from 2012 to 2017 the number of subscribers has grown from five million to more than 60 million.[4] As a “high-tech service” with “low transactional cost” and “no frills”[5], Spotify fits into the vision Velez holds for the future of a good performing-rights business model.

Velez states that the performing-rights companies have it in their greatest interest to support profitable, “bankable” artists.[6] If true, this mindset could hurt Contemporary Classical music, as throughout recent history such music has not been recognized as highly profitable. However, platforms like Spotify provide an equal opportunity for all music genres to be heard and acknowledged. It is up to the consumers to choose the genre that speaks to them. Therefore, it is safe to say that the available platforms do not disengage Classical music from their inventory. In fact, they support and cherish it fully.

            Velez’s thoughts and predictions in “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millennium?” accurately portray the current state of the Performing-Rights industry today, an impressive accomplishment given that Velez believed that “a ten-year gap in today’s digital environment represents an eternity.”[7] In another ten years, what will this industry look like, how will it evolve, and will it even be recognizable? The world is moving and advancing technologically at an unprecedented rate, and what was new and popular five years ago is no longer necessarily relevant today. Therefore, my belief is that such a fate awaits the streaming services and performing-rights organizations currently available. What will come in its wake are better, more user friendly streaming platforms that evolve around the premise of convenience and speed.

                  Ivana Biliskov

Bibliography:

  1. Kirk, Shana. “Random Access: The 21st Century Audio Library—Dusty Shelves Be Gone!” American Music Teacher 62, no. 5 (2013): 60-63. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43543609.
  2. Pelly, Liz. “The Problem with Muzak: Spotify’s Bid to Remodel an Industry.” The Baffler, no. 37 (2017): 86-95. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/26358588.
  3. Tyler, Neil S. “MUSIC PIRACY AND DIMINISHING REVENUES: HOW COMPULSORY LICENSING FOR INTERACTIVE WEBCASTERS CAN LEAD THE RECORDING INDUSTRY BACK TO PROMINENCE.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 161, no. 7 (2013): 2101-150. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/23527861.
  4. Velez, William. “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millenium?.” Pendagon Press no. 16 (2000): 365-373.

[1] Neil S. Tyler, “MUSIC PIRACY AND DIMINISHING REVENUES: HOW COMPULSORY LICENSING FOR INTERACTIVE WEBCASTERS CAN LEAD THE RECORDING INDUSTRY BACK TO PROMINENCE,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 161, no. 7 (2013): 2103.

http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/23527861.

[2] William Velez, “Performing-Rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the New Millenium?,” Pendagon Press no. 16 (2000): 371.

[3]  Shana Kirk, “Random Access: The 21st Century Audio Library—Dusty Shelves Be Gone!,” American Music Teacher 62, no. 5 (2013): 61.

[4] Liz Pelly, “The Problem with Muzak: Spotify’s Bid to Remodel an Industry,” The Baffler, no. 37 (2017): 89. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/26358588.

[5] Velez, 373.

[6] Velez, 369.

[7] Velez, 369.

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