Maria Schneider: Protecting the Power of Music

The acclaimed composer and bandleader delivers the keynote address at Jazz Connect 2017

 

Maria Schneider

At the 2017 Jazz Connect Conference, held in New York in January and organized by JazzTimes and the Jazz Forward Coalition, the acclaimed composer and bandleader Maria Schneider delivered a keynote address that brought passionate, even fiery clarity to an increasingly complex issue: artists’ declining rights in the age of big data. JT is pleased to reproduce that speech here, in its entirety.

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Those of us who make a life in jazz know the unimaginable joy of creating music with people from all over the world. How fortunate we are to experience, through our work, the universal force for good that music is. I’d like to share three quick stories that illustrate that force.

The first came to me when [multi-instrumentalist and Schneider Orchestra member] Scott Robinson told me about an old man he met in Japan. The man invited Scott into his home to show him his old Victrola that, during World War II, he kept hidden in his basement. not in his basement? Because this man’s lifeline during the war was secretly listening to Louis Armstrong.

The next story happened 18 years ago, when the United States was bombing Belgrade and I was in communication with a young jazz journalist from there. He would write to me, describing the sound of bombs, and then in the next sentence write me about American jazz musicians he loved and hoped to interview. How incredible that music could bridge that painful divide.

Finally, just eight years ago, working in Prague, three older jazz musicians generously took me around their great city. I was so moved to hear them talk of the struggle of living under communism, and of how listening to jazz on the Voice of America was their true beacon of hope.

Music. I dare say it’s the most underutilized resource for peace, progress, child development and diplomacy in the world. Thousands of kids in Venezuela have been inspired and saved through [the music-education program] El Sistema. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Seville, Spain, made up of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians, illustrates through music how beauty and harmony can be found in the most impossible context.

Why am I speaking about the power of music? Because at this moment in history, our livelihoods and the entire culture of music—jazz and more—stand in jeopardy. And so does the power for good that music brings the world.

So, who exactly has put all of this in jeopardy? I see three culprits. First: big data, with their endless appetite for eyeballs and information. Second: our government, buckling under oppressive lobbying from Silicon Valley. Conflicts of interest are everywhere, as Google inserts their people into all three branches of our government.

Third is, sadly, some powerful people within our own industry. A good example is how the three majors [Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group] made Spotify the giant it now is. Together, they handed over 80 percent of the world’s recorded music in exchange for equity. At a recent intellectual-property [IP] conference, counsel for Spotify confirmed that that contract “made” Spotify. He additionally volunteered that, of the 1,200 employees at Spotify, 900 are data analytics scientists, making the streaming service more of a big data company than a music company. What a breach of trust, to trade our music for ads and data. It’s like when the Titanic started sinking, the executives at the majors elbowed their way to the lifeboats, right past the musicians, who just kept on playing. And those musicians are still playing, but are also slowly drowning. And not just those trapped in steerage by their contracts: We’re all drowning, the whole jazz family and beyond—all being sucked down the sinking ship’s vortex, because the majors gave the unsustainable model of streaming a monopoly over how music is distributed.

OK, that’s a little heavy and downright uncomfortable. So let’s perk things up by drilling down on 10 challenges, or better said, 10 “plagues,” I think we face.

The First Plague: Data Lords—you can picture them like locusts

Last May, the U.S. Copyright Office held a roundtable, where I heard Silicon Valley companies and lobbyists wax on about how the Internet “connects the world!” [and fosters] “democratization!”

Indeed, there are fabulous things about the Internet, like when eBird, out of Cornell, helps us map bird migration and home in on needed conservation. Or Samsung, wow. They just announced an ultrasound technology that detects breast cancer based on machine learning.

But on the dark side of the Internet we’ve got terrorist recruitment, fake news, shaming, bullying, bomb-making videos, campaigns of hate, videos of beheadings and child pornography. And as for democratization? How about the impact of big data on our great democracy’s election process? [burst of laughter from audience]

The Second Plague: Decimation of copyright

Can we beam back our founding fathers now?! They so deeply understood that protection of intellectual property through copyright would incentivize creation that they embedded it into the bedrock of the Constitution. It wasn’t an afterthought, like the right to bear arms or even free speech, both of which entered later as amendments in the Bill of Rights. No. Copyright was front and center in our Constitution from the get-go. We must never forget it, and never let our elected leaders forget it.

The Third Plague: “Internet exposure” we can’t control, due to the decimation of copyright by the Locust Data Lords

Have you ever Googled your name together with the word “music” and seen the spreadsheet Google serves up? A veritable buffet of often illegal and unauthorized stuff: torrent sites and foreign sites with no takedown recourse; YouTube stuff put up by God-knows-who. Oh, and just try to do a Google takedown sometime. If you can possibly figure it out, you’ll then find you can’t finish unless you open a Google account and “sign” their terms of use, including limited liability and location of jurisdiction. Now that’s a racket—and they get safe harbor!

The Fourth Plague: Not being allowed to set our own prices

Why are our prices figured on the income of emerging companies? Donna Karan sets her own clothing prices based on her own costs, and subsequently Bloomingdale’s buys what they believe they can sell. Imagine the absurdity if Bloomingdale’s would say: “Hey, Donna, we can only pay 4 cents per dress this year, but the exposure you’re getting is so good!” We, the creators of the music, are financing these companies and their unsustainable dung heap called freemium streaming.

The Fifth Plague: Ad-based freemium streaming

What an insane idea to imagine ads would pay for music. It’s part of big data’s illusion of free, in which the ad cost is sneakily just passed off to us, the consumers, when we pay for whatever it is they’re pushing. Free isn’t free. And as for their subscription model? Giving access to most of the world’s music for a few bucks a month isn’t even close to sustainable.

On that subject, here’s something nobody talks about. Many musicians now fund their own records, and incur all the financial risk. And many artists on the majors who aren’t funding their records are signing 360 deals, which has them essentially paying for their records in other ways. And many independent record companies who are covering recording costs and not forcing 360 deals are suffering losses that are being underwritten by the incredibly good folks at the helm of those labels. I venture to say no jazz or classical record has recouped even the smallest budget through streaming. So if there’s next to no chance of us recouping recording costs through streaming, yet streaming is making CDs and downloads obsolete, how can this not break the backs of music makers and break our independent record companies? That’s a reality the Big Three completely ignore in their recent glowing quarterly reports on streaming.

The Sixth Plague: Big data denying us our own data

How can big data gather valuable data about our fans and not share it with us? I know the value of that data, because I can access every fan who buys my music through ArtistShare. That’s a sustainable model, with total transparency. But Google Play, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube—all the biggest players—hoard our data, exploit it, make billions and steer fans to the artists who most benefit the streaming service. They blame their own “terms of use,” like that’s a decree from God. Well, they should change their terms and allow fans to be the ones to opt in or out of artist contact.

The Seventh Plague: Out-of-date copyright law, namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Google loves this old crusty law, written before Google existed, that gives them immunity as they profit from and even encourage theft using the loopholes of the law. Have you noticed that when you upload something to YouTube, you’re not asked if you have the legal right to do so? You’re asked nothing, and they keep your identity anonymous. Now, on the other hand, if you’re a copyright owner doing a rightful takedown, you have to answer a whole slew of questions and sign, under “penalty of perjury,” that you’re within your right. And there’s no doing it anonymously. YouTube puts your name on a public placeholder with a frown face where the music once was, forever identifying you as the jerk who took it down. Why not display us in stocks in the market square?

The Eighth Plague: “Curation”—a lofty word for something so horrifying

Big data can determine so much about you that [their information] could keep you from getting healthcare, a loan or a job. For instance, if you buy those little protectors under the legs of your chairs to prevent floor scratches, they know you won’t default on your credit card. That level of corporate surveillance and control is now entering the world of music, where they determine your taste for you and call it “curation.” That’s just code for “mind control.”

Like I want Spotify telling me what I want to listen to—as they tweak the analytics with the projects they want to push? And now Spotify and Google are entering the arena of music production. The most powerful information machine in the world “curating” and funding art? Think carefully. That sort of thing has a very dark history.

The Ninth Plague: The mounting pressure on our Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)

ASCAP and BMI, organizations that do so much to support composers and songwriters, are being pinned down by a decades-old consent decree, tying their hands in rate negotiation. Getting that ancient decree lifted isn’t easy, with Google’s heavy hand on our Department of Justice. One ripple effect would be the big publishers’ attempt to bypass PROs and do their own private licensing. There are so many reasons why that would be detrimental to every single creator. Suffice it to say, support your PRO.

The Tenth Plague: Our inability to advocate for ourselves   

Musicians strive their whole lives to become like alchemists, healing the world with their music, turning the world’s pain to beauty. But we haven’t yet learned how to save ourselves. If we remain passive bystanders, I believe we will watch the music that we most value slowly silenced. Just ask the 80 percent of songwriters who have left the profession in Nashville.

When I testified at that roundtable in May, the court reporter for the day came up to me afterwards, telling me that she started crying, transcribing what I said. She explained she was really a singer-songwriter who couldn’t live on her music because of all the issues I’d testified to that day, and it forced her to change professions. At that moment I noticed the woman who had conducted the hearing, Jacqueline Charlesworth, general counsel for the U.S. Copyright Office, still up at the bench with her colleagues, so I said to the court reporter, “You want to have the most powerful testimony of the day? Go up there and tell her what you just told me.” She made a beeline, and as I left the room I saw her start to tell Ms. Charlesworth her story. Each individual’s story is so important. We all need to open up. The truth needs to be told.

So what do we do about these 10 plagues?

Ironically, our founding fathers’ thinking behind the Second Amendment actually offers us a really good guide. That amendment gave the average citizen the right to bear arms as a check and balance against government becoming too powerful. Our founders thought people should be able to arm themselves against abuses of power. They called that a citizen militia. And that should be our model. We have numbers, and we need to be a militia—not armed with guns but armed with the truth and our collective stories and voice. Armed like the NRA, with the Constitutional rights we as music creators have been given! An army of educated musicians, both established and emerging; an army of passionate industry people and passionate fans—all united to fight against the unchecked powers I’ve summarized today.

There are many ways to come together, and we all need to jump onboard with every single effort we can find. Let me quickly name a few. A group of likeminded individuals and I started MusicAnswers.org, representing the interests of songwriters, composers, performers and producers. I hope each and every one of you sign on, so that when we need signatures for an urgent letter, or need to counteract any negative force, you’ll be on standby, ready to mobilize like a National Guard for Music. Other great resources include CopyrightAlliance.org; TheTrichordist.com; and MusicTechPolicy.com.

If you are a member of the Recording Academy, get onboard with their advocacy efforts. They offer tremendous opportunities to meet with elected leaders at home and in Washington. Lobbying in D.C. is a serious eye-opener, and I urge you to do it!

The musicians’ union is unveiling the Artist Rights Caucus in February. If you belong to the union, keep your eye on this. When there are petitions, assuming you agree, sign and alert others, not just through Facebook or Twitter, but call people! Write personal notes! Follow up!

There’s the Takedown-Staydown Petition at TakedownStaydown.org that needs your signature. Write your representatives! Congressman Jerrold Nadler told us at NARAS’ Grammys on the Hill that real stories from regular folks make a huge impact.

A resource I love is the ASCAP Daily Brief. You don’t need to be a member of ASCAP to subscribe. Just go to their site, ASCAP.com. You’ll get a daily email with great headline links.

Education is key, and I promise you’ll learn a lot when you start signing on to these initiatives. Wanna really make an impact? Be Paul Revere, galloping from house to house! Every time you find something important to read or sign, get on that horse and find 10 likeminded people—call them, meet them, get them to join and ask them to get another 10. That’s what I do—10 a day and for days on end! Spend an hour per week spreading the word and learning about what is happening to our profession.

Our jazz family is an international treasure. This music brings so much light to the world, with a potential to be utterly transformative. That’s the mystery and magic of creation. What a miraculous creative spark it was when our universe brought us Louis Armstrong, so that his creative spark could light that dark basement for that scared man in Japan during WWII, and set ablaze a whole genre of music for us all.

I want to live in a world that places real value on gifts like that. I want to be a part of a music industry that offers an environment, and yes, even a streaming environment, where such flames can be lit daily, and where each flame can have enough oil to burn for a lifetime. That’s what I’m fighting for. I hope you will help me bring our entire family of jazz together, to get on our horses and join in this fight for our future.