The Hot Seat: Carter Adamson, Rdio

Published in The Music Network

 

This year is shaping up as a huge one for the streaming music business in Australia, with the international services Spotify, Songl, Deezer and MOG all expected to launch here. However, they’ve all been beaten to the punch by Rdio. With little fanfare, the US company pressed the button on an Australian operation in January, boasting a licensed library of some ten million tracks. TMN caught up with Rdio’s New York-based COO Carter Adamson, a former Skype exec with 16 years’ experience in consumer software and Web services.

Carter, Australia is just the fourth market for Rdio. Why here, and why now?
We launched simultaneously in the US and Canada in August 2010, and we’ve been laying the groundwork for a number of years for a global expansion. When we started this business, the intention was to become the world’s first truly global music service, because one doesn’t really exist yet. We simply prioritised. In our view, the priority markets first, and Australia was one of them. There’s a great tradition of music here and Australians are early adopters. If you look at music revenues, 40% of the music revenue here is already digital music revenue, and that’s only growing. So we viewed this market as a huge opportunity.

When Apple launched outside North America, it went into Britain, Germany and France.
The market has changed a lot since iTunes rolled-out. We’re living in a world where “normal” people have a wide array of conneapplected devices which are in fact play-back devices. So the need for a service like this is only becoming greater by the day. You can see by just the last year in global revenues that the digital revenue portion is growing and will continue to grow throughout 2012 and beyond.

I’ve heard Spotify is coming in March, or soon after. Were you determined to get here before they did?
I don’t know if that was in our mind at all. There’s a lot of excitement around this space. Again it’s because the stars have only just recently aligned to be able to even do services like these. The rights weren’t there until recently and the adoption of smartphones and the apps on the smartphones weren’t there until recently. The improvement in wireless networks wasn’t there until recently either. The mind-shift has happened, so that consumers are thinking in terms of subscribing to music like electricity. We’re talking about 34 cents a day to access all the world’s music across all your devices, and then you can save whatever you want up to your individual devices’ memory capacity. Most of us (at Rdio) are from Skype. We’ve operated a very popular global business before. We’ve actually been in business with most of the major carriers and telecoms around the world. That’s why we’re able to get so far out ahead of the pack; that and because we delivered the experience that resonates with most people.

Why were you so quiet on the launch?
We do that for a number of reasons. Some of it is tweaking, bug- fixing that goes on in the background. When we launched in the US and Canada, we didn’t really do press and marketing until February/March 2011. We like get key people playing with it. It’s just our style. We want to make sure the experience is exactly where it needs to be for a launch.

There were some problems with the soft-launch. Content was missing, and pages were freezing. Is most of this ironed out?

It’s an ongoing process and we’re getting better every day in terms of speed and catalogue and functionality. We’re launching a handful of very exciting additions to the service, so it will only get better.

Tell me more?
One of them might be a new version of one of our mobile clients. One might be something very significant, but I can’t tell you. In general in 2012, you’ll see us go into a lot of different markets. It’s not pushing the button and 40 countries come alive. We’ll be doing a lot of local activity in each region, and spending time there – and actually having people on the ground.

Speaking of which, I understand former TMN editor Jade Harley and MySpace managing director Rebekah Horne are part of the launch team?

Yes, we’ve been working with their team Inception Digital. They’ve helped us understand the market and get to the right people. We’ll soon announce a team that is based in Sydney.

So what next?
The global expansion is the first thing we’re focused on. We’ve lined-up the rights to launch in a number of different markets. That’s going to go quickly. There’s a fairly big thing coming down the pipeline in terms of features and functionality; that’ll happen soon, within the quarter. We’re focused on new platforms, because you need to be everywhere. Mobility is obviously the core proposition. Nobody has bought a song on iTunes just to listen to it on their computer. Cars are a big focus for us as well, because that’s where most people listen to music on a daily basis.

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The Hot Seat: John Giacobbi, Web Sheriff

Published in The Music Network

 

John Giacobbi is a gunslinger of a different kind. Through his company Web Sheriff, the intellectual property lawyer polices the Wild West that is the Internet. Back in 2007, the London-based firm earned a tough-guy reputation when Prince hired it to wipe the Internet of his content.

These days, Giacobbi’s digital rights management and brand protection business has a more fan-friendly stance. His so-called “velvet glove” approach has netted him work across some of the world’s biggest album campaigns, including Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, Adele’s 21 and Taylor Swift’s Speak Now, and he counts Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Bryan Adams among his clients.

Are you the good cop or bad cop?
I’d like to think we’re the good cop. At least in recent years, a lot of fans would agree with that. We treat [pirates] as fans, not criminals. We treat them with the respect they’re due.

You landed some notoriety with Prince in 2007.
That was a turning point. Things have very much evolved from that. All we can do is give our clients advice, and it’s not to say they always take it (laughs). In that instance, there was a harder line taken. Behind the scenes, we were the ones getting the bullet. That was an educational process in itself.

How is your company evolving?

Historically, rights societies like RIAA and MPAA have taken a much more aggressive approach to fans and file-sharers. And it’s backfired. When you look back to the early days of the Internet, there wasn’t any legal alternative because the record companies in particular were very slow to change gear. There was a demand for MP3s which wasn’t being serviced. We try to work closely not just with the labels, but with the artist management and the artist themselves. If there’s a new album coming out, we’ve got to persuade the management to let us give a couple of tracks to the fans early. Not just pre-release, but pre-leak. It forms a useful dual-function. It promotes the album, because you’re giving material up-front to fans and asking them to be a part of the pre-release marketing of the record. When the album does leak, rather than say, “take it down or we’ll sue you,” we actually post on blogs and say, “we know you’re a big fan but if you take it down, here’s two tracks you can have.” So it turns the perceived negative associated with anti-piracy and replaces it with a much more positive viral marketing message.

With Gaga, because she has such a monumental online fanbase, we worked hand-in-hand with a lot of major fansites to do co- ordinate pre-release marketing and promotions. We set-up an “honesty box,” so when the album leaked there was a website where people could report pirate files. We got tens of thousands of emails from fans around the world helping out. Most of our work – 90% of it – is in the United States. So we’ll be opening an office there later in the year.

Surely album leaks can be a good thing?
Very much so. It depends how you approach it. With new bands, young indie bands, the more Internet exposure they get the better. Even with bigger artists, if an album leaks, if one can channel it in a positive direction, you can actually get fans to promote it. If the fans want to share in the privacy of their living home or on their iPad, then that’s absolutely fine. They’re going to buy it anyway. It’s when you have mass uploading of pirated material that it becomes a big issue. We try to rationalise rather than threaten.

A raft of subscriptions services are arriving in Australia. Could they start dampening piracy’s impact?
I’m sure they will, and they are. Piracy became big because the record industry wasn’t serving its own market. For someone who’s been in the record industry for over 20 years, it’s an embarrassment that it took an American computer company, Apple, to create the world’s best digital platform. With the proliferation of platforms and streaming services, there’s more reason for there not to be piracy. Spotify is a great concept, but its business-model is yet to stack up. To make that sustainable in the long-term, the model will need to be improved whether it’s through advertising or other means.

Fast forward, I see the entertainment industry going with a free-point of access. You’ll see coalitions with the likes of ARIA and the major telephone companies and ISPs. The technology exists to uniquely watermark all content and recognise who’s accessing it. In ten years, maybe, you’ll access it all free and pay for it in your phone bill.

Who should step up in the piracy fight? Government or ISPs?

Both. The ISPs should really be stepping-up. They’re a multi-billion dollar a year business and they get all the benefits without any of the responsibilities. The governments need to step-in and compel ISPs to audit sites they’re paid to host on a routine and regular basis. Regulation has a big role to play.


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The Hot Seat: Brett Murrihy, CEO Artist Voice

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Let’s start at the art of the booking agent. What does an agent do? An agent has a myriad of responsibilities and skill requirements. Firstly, there’s the traditional agent role of developing new and existing artists’ touring platforms. Agents realise that all factors; be it venues, ticket prices, packaging, repeat markets, tour marketing/promotions, publicity, TV programming and on-sale dates all combine to aid an artist’s success. Secondly, l feel strongly that the modern agent’s role is also finding additional ways to assist in monetising an artist’s brand, by acting in the realms of sponsorship and advertising, synch or by using social networks and other technologies of music distribution – all of which adds value to an artist’s career and to its longevity.

When you launched Artist Voice, your company’s mission was to “revolutionise” the traditional concept of talent booking. How are you doing that? I’m not sure it is possible to totally revolutionise the traditional model of agenting. However, we are taking the Australasian agency landscape into previously uncharted territories. Artist Voice has been the first Australian agency to expand offices into New Zealand (Auckland) and open offices in Hong Kong and in Singapore. Artist Voice has a partnership in Asia with [Untitled Entertainment]. We’ve also announced a partnership with M&C Saatchi, arguably the country’s biggest advertising agency, which will enable us to collaborate in bringing brand initiatives for our artists. Artist Voice also has a stake in affiliate marketing website posse.com, which allows our artists fans to sell direct to one another through word of mouth and social media. Another way Artist Voice is changing the standard agent model is by looking at non-traditional tours that have a unique appeal for audiences. As such we just launched our first Heavenly Sounds tour concept in churches and cathedrals around Australia (in conjunction with One Louder) that was a sellout in every venue and received much acclaim from audiences everywhere.

Chuggi has been beating the drum about a pan-Australia Asian touring circuit for years. Is that becoming a reality? We’re already starting to see that happen. I’ve witnessed the change in the last few years with digital media opening our artists to new frontiers, and at an incredible pace. The number of new promoters appearing in fast-growing economies like Indonesia and Singapore is astounding. This is why Artist Voice has decided to try and get a foothold there.

Does this arrangement in Asia mean not only Aussie acts will be further exposed to Asia, but also Asian acts to Australia? It definitely means more Australian acts touring in Asia. Recently we had Gypsy & the Cat touring Hong Kong with Friendly Fires, and we’ve had The Naked and Famous touring five cities in Asia with Metronomy, The Jezabels and Bombay Bicycle Club touring in the same territories. Unknown Mortal Orchestra are playing a one-off show in Singapore. We’re also looking to bring the best of the Asian talent to Australia and New Zealand. Whether it be Cantonese pop, K-pop or the best of Asian contemporary bands, we are definitely open to a reciprocal touring network.

Some Australian promoters blame overseas booking agents for charging too much for talent. Whose fault is it? I certainly wouldn’t isolate overseas agents because domestic agents also have similarly worn a lot of criticism in this area of talent-pricing levels. In the same way, local agents have also benefitted from the increased demand for talent in our territory. If promoters are paying a premium on an artist due to extra demand and due to competing engagements, then that is the market value.

What trends do you see ahead for the live music industry this year? There will be softening of the festival circuit, which has been noticeable over the last six to twelve months and indeed has resulted in the cancellation of quite a few festivals. As a consequence, many artists are now looking to do a lot of their own touring to make up the absence of numerous festival bookings. I definitely see a return to the 1950s style of touring, with three and four-band packages, which generates value-for- money shows. This will become more common and a key component of an artist’s career. The agency landscape will continue to become more regionalised. Managers will expect knowledgeable and experienced on-the-ground representation, which may mean more consolidation in the agency landscape internationally.


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The Hot Seat: Darren Sanicki, Sanicki Lawyers

Published in The Music Network

 

What’s a typical week in your life as a music biz lawyer?
It’s not that exciting, actually. Almost all of it is spent in my office working quite long hours and dealing with the many issues our clients face on a daily basis. The good part is getting out and seeing people, going to clients’ gigs and being exposed to great new music.

How is a music lawyer’s role evolving?
Some lawyers choose to have other things going on such as their own label, publishing business or they may manage a band. Frankly, I don’t know how they find the time. I pride myself on trying to “match- make” my existing clients to each other where I think it could work. Introducing a manager to an artist, an artist to a label or production house, writers to publishers – it’s a labour of love, really.

When does an artist or small company need a music lawyer?
For an artist, the first appointment is usually when they’re presented with some sort of contract that needs signing. Same for a band, although sometimes bands get in early to draw-up a partnership agreement. Small companies need to see a lawyer at the start to ensure their structures and business set-up is all in place.

When reading the fine print on a contract, what are you looking out for?
I’m usually looking out for things the contract doesn’t say. You’d be amazed at how many clients receive a flimsy 2-3 page recording or licensing deal and think it all “looks ok”. When you ask them how long it goes for or how many albums they are required to deliver, they discover that detail has been omitted.

Over the last five or so years, there’s been a great shift in the deals on offer from the majors. What changes are you seeing?

While they are all slightly different, essentially a few years ago when the major labels were “dabbling” in non- recording activities, it was mostly about wanting a cut of merchandise and other commercial activities. Nowadays, non-recording activities can extend to an artist’s live performances, commercial endorsements and even publishing. These issues have almost become the most negotiated part of any record contract. Whether it’s fair depends on who you ask. The smaller indie labels often have less of an investment to recover so the artist may give away less. The more professional music “businesses” are also looking at complete “partnership” type arrangements with an artist and having a share in all income streams.

The trail to today’s music biz is paved by artists who were ripped off. Are there still contracts out there which can, well, bind an artist in servitude?
The really scary contracts are usually those found online or from a foreign country where you often have no idea who you’re even dealing with. The online environment makes it a lot easier to be “discovered” by someone from overseas but some of the contracts that follow are pretty rough. In Australia, I don’t see many contracts which are blatantly ripping off artists; but there are certainly some harsh ones out there. The key is to get advice and know what you’re getting into.

You’ve served as legal rep for contestants on TV talent shows Australian Idol, X-Factor and Australia’s Got Talent. What did you learn from the experience?
Legally – and despite popular opinion – the whole thing is relatively standard. The first thing I always notice working with the contestants is how young many of them are. Most of them have very little, if any, experience in the music industry and rely on you to explain how everything works. It’s usually such a crazy time for contestants leading up to these shows that the “legals” are really of least importance to them. Unfortunately, some contestants think that this new and exciting life they’re suddenly leading is how their lives are going to be from now on. Many contestants come down to earth with a huge thud once these shows end. It can be really hard for them. There are some who remain grounded and focused during and after the process, using it as a stepping-stone for bigger and better things. The clever ones use it perfectly.

When bands split, the dispute over ownership of the songs and recordings often becomes bloody. Any advice?
My message to bands is, work out songwriting ownership splits in advance. Having played in bands and written songs myself, I know it can be an awkward conversation to have. It doesn’t have to be. If you’re getting together with one or more people for the purposes of “writing”, I suggest to agree that whatever is written will be owned by the writers in equal shares. The alternative is going back over the song at the end and working out what percentage of the music and lyrics were written by each member — almost an impossible exercise. With recordings, work out who will pay and how will those who have paid get their money back. After that, the splits should usually be even amongst the band and generally should apply to a member even if they subsequently depart the band.


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