From the Magazine: Maria Schneider ‘Attacking the Data Lords’

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“If everybody gets used to getting their music for free, nobody is going to pay for music anymore,” says bandleader Maria Schneider.

(Photo: Jimmy Katz)

YouTube has a system called “Content ID” that is supposed to identify copyrighted works and allocate a share of advertising revenue to the owners. Why do you believe that their Content ID system fails to protect creators?

YouTube likes to boast that their Content ID [digital fingerprinting technology] allows artists to block illegal uploads of their work. The system searches for fingerprint “matches” against music they have archived. Wonderful, right? Except that YouTube chooses who gets to use it. I applied, and I wasn’t accepted.

But here’s the bigger thing: YouTube saw a great opportunity here. They didn’t want music creators to block their copyrighted work. So they realized they could talk the copyright owners into using fingerprinting technology not to block their works, but to monetize them. If a user uploads a pirated MP3, say, but the copyright owner has agreed to “monetization,” then YouTube slaps an ad on it and shares the ad revenue. But the problem is there’s very little money to be made after YouTube factors in its costs—but not your costs as the creator.

And now there’s so much ripping technology available that people find a video or MP3 they like, and they never return to that YouTube page—they just rip it. Now they think they “own” it and can share it, and nobody’s paying a mechanical royalty. The mechanical royalty has just been obliterated by streaming. …

To make matters worse, the major record labels agreed to big Content ID contracts. There was so much infringement going on, they probably just felt that, “OK, we might as well make a few scraps off of it.” So now the public and YouTube can justifiably ask, “Well, if YouTube is so bad, why are the big record companies all monetizing through Content ID?” I really wish they’d had the long-term vision to stand up to piracy, rather than give in to YouTube’s scam. They blew it for all of us.

There was, at one time, lots of talk that advertising was going to pay for the making of music. We know now that it doesn’t.

You’ve written that the serious money generated by YouTube is not in the ad revenue; it’s by mining the data they collect.

That’s right. While the creators haggle with YouTube over paltry ad revenues, we’re diverted from the main event: Our music drives billions of users to YouTube’s platform, and the data that Google then gathers from following our fans around the Web is where YouTube’s true value lies. Artists should share in that revenue.

What about other streaming services, like Spotify? How do their royalty rates compare to YouTube?

They are ridiculously low. Many musicians don’t want their music on Spotify, but if their record company controls that decision, they’re out of luck. Also, the major record companies now have a serious conflict of interest, because they took an equity interest in Spotify, giving them a financial stake in perpetuating this system that rips off musicians.

Spotify’s users have unlimited access to most of the music in the world because the major labels handed it over on a silver platter. And that access only costs $10 a month—unless you’d rather pay nothing at all. That’s ridiculous! At least with YouTube, one can scream, “ Theft!” With Spotify, you just want to give up.

Another outrage: All of these companies collect endless data about our fans, but the artists can’t even know who those fans are.

I understand the power of knowing one’s fans through my great experience with ArtistShare. Why should a service like YouTube, Spotify or iTunes not share the email addresses of our fans?

Do you think crowd-funding websites like ArtistShare can work for all musicians, or does it require a level of entrepreneurship that makes it not for everybody?

I can’t really claim to be a pioneer; I was lucky. When my friend Brian Camelio [ArtistShare’s founder] approached me, he knew that I was helping to pay for my records and that I wasn’t making enough money back. This was back in the Napster days.

He knew that the one thing that nobody can pirate is the creative process. His idea was that you not only crowd-fund [a project], but that you share much more than the record: You share the whole process of writing music and making a record. You let people into your world and really create relationships with your fans. If you’re not into fostering those relationships, if you’re just looking for cash for your project, it might not be right for you. But if you’re willing to share with your fans, it’s an amazing business model.

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June 2021
Vijay Iyer
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