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BASCA chair Crispin Hunt: ‘Rules won’t break the internet, they’ll mend it’


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YouTube and Facebook were squarely in the sights of Crispin Hunt, chairman of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), as he delivered the opening address at yesterday’s Ivor Novello Awards in London.

I want to thank YouTube and Facebook for cracking the funniest joke online: the one where they pretend they’re just a dumb pipe and not the biggest and best streaming services on the planet. You guys! You’re killing us… literally!” said Hunt.

However, he also praised three audio-streaming services for the role they’re playing in the music industry.

“On the other hand, I want to thank Apple and Spotify for teaching us how to sell music that isn’t trapped in plastic. And hopefully for saving the music industry in the process,” said Hunt.

“And let’s not forget Deezer for trying out a user-centric payment model, so that money from death-metal fans actually goes to death-metal bands, and not to Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Ed and Taylor don’t need anybody else’s money, they’re quite brilliant enough. We should all join Deezer now!”

In April, it was reported that Deezer was exploring the idea of user-centric licensing – “if a subscriber listens 100% to Metallica, Metallica gets 100% of the royalty revenue generated by that subscriber” as Midia Research’s Mark Mulligan put it at the time – although the company has yet to talk publicly about the plans.

Hunt was appointed as chairman of BASCA in July 2016, and has also been a director of PRS for Music and PPL, as well as CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition. His musical career included being frontman of British band the Longpigs, and more recently writing and producing for the likes of Florence and The Machine, Ellie Goulding and Lana Del Rey.

In his speech yesterday, Hunt also thanked European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker “for recognising that creators are the crown jewels of Europe, and for offering copyright reforms that will give us a fair share of the money”.

He then turned his attention back to the role being played by large technology companies.

Music has been liberated, in fact most of it’s completely free. The trouble is, it isn’t free to make. And I’m not just talking about the cost of production. I’m talking about the human investment. Like bees we put our lives into our sting!” said Hunt.

“Which is doubly annoying because music is dirt cheap. A download costs less than a packet of Doritos, and a stream values a song at less than a single tortilla chip. And if you’re a signed band frankly you’ll be thankful to get the crumbs of MSG at the bottom of the pack.”

More people are listening to music than ever before, yet creators’ wages keep going down. How the hell did that happen?

Hunt went on to tell a “fairytale” about songwriters and artists, which for reasons of context, I’ve transcribed in full:

“Once upon a time, a very clever man had an idea: a brilliant idea to connect all the people in the world. He called the idea the internet, and he gave it to humanity along with the beautiful promise of democracy and opportunity for all. And all was well in the world.

But then some young, white, Californian men – clever Californian men – who frankly had spent too much of their lives sitting in front of computers rather than living life first-hand, started to wonder how they could make money from the idea. While still sitting in front of their computers of course.

They came up with a cunning plan: they’d start a junk-mail company that would commodify the globe. People wouldn’t be called people any more, they’d become consumers. But to immunise themselves from questions, they’d cleverly masquerade as ideologists and champions of free speech. Genius!

The internet is the greatest invention since the printing press, they tell us. And they’re right. But they fail to remember one vital thing. It wasn’t the printing press that changed the world. It was the words printed on it that did that.

Although in their case, of course, they were virtually printing their own money and using it to underwrite an army of experts to tell the world they were doing the words a favour, simply by letting them be read.

And because no one was willing to tell these now-billionaire middle-aged Californian white men that they were wrong, only they lived happily ever after. Is it progress if a cannibal eats with a fork? I dunno, but I bet it’s disruptive.”

Hunt added that he is concerned that “the medium is starting to dictate the message”, suggesting that “The genius artists I work with no longer come into my studio saying ‘Hey, I’ve got this beautiful riff that might break a million hearts’. They come in saying ‘Hey I’ve got this sync-able riff that might sell a million cars’.”

He continued:

“The truth is if technology is really going to deliver the freedom it promises, it needs some simple ground rules to help it free itself and make it work for all, not for few. Rules won’t break the internet, they’ll mend it.”

“Copyright and copyright industries like music also need reform. We’ve got to stop playing this market-share end-game, and start to invest in existing technologies that will make copyright agile and easy to use.”

“The answer to the machine is in the machine. If streaming’s going to be a success – and we all hope it is – then it can’t just be a success for the top 1%. It needs to provide a sustainable future for the whole musical ecosystem. The future of music depends on it.”

Hunt ended with a quip, referencing one of the infamous slogans of the campaign in 2016 for Britain to leave the EU.

It’s time for creators to take back control,” he said. I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before. Doesn’t matter, I’m a songwriter, I’ll use it anyway…”

Stuart Dredge

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