By Eric Baptiste
No other industry has changed as much as the music business in the last 20 years, and the pace of that change is accelerating.
In 1993, nearly everything was local. Information moved slowly. The transfer of money was expensive and complex. Businesses that use music and songwriters alike were mostly local entities, with very limited ability to compare service levels or require worldwide services.
This is over.
The expectations of licensees and members from SOCAN and other Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) are now derived from their own real-life observations, experiences, and “megatrends,” or large-scale changes in circumstances or fashion.
Four of these megatrends are especially relevant:
Speed. Everything is quicker now than 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. Withdrawing cash today from an automated teller machine on another continent is wonderful. If the ATM I’m using in another country doesn’t accept my card, I assume something is wrong. The system has failed! Needless to say, I’m now used to the fact that the money is debited from my home bank account in milliseconds, not hours or days.
This megatrend matters because PROs are increasingly being held to similar standards of speed, accuracy and reliability. We need to speed up our operations while maintaining their integrity, which is now possible thanks to new technology and standards.
Ubiquity. To stay with the banking comparison, not so long ago we received bank statements once a month by post. Today our accounts are accessible every minute of every day from virtually every place on earth. This megatrend matters because our members are thrilled when we offer them near-real-time access to their royalty account information, anticipated distributions, provide analytics, answer or even anticipate their queries and concerns, and so on.
Efficiency. Across all industries, processes are being streamlined and technologies leveraged to improve the cost-effectiveness of goods and services. For example, some so-called “low-cost” airlines actually do provide award-winning services, whereas more traditional ones are frequently pilloried for their lack of attention to the needs of the flying public. This megatrend matters because PROs are businesses (ethical, mostly not-for-profit, but businesses nevertheless), and we have to prove to our songwriters and music publishers that we are constantly improving the way we manage their rights. Basically, we must demonstrate that we offer them the best value for money, bar none. We need to do so in full recognition that expectations of music creators are generally different from those of music publishers. That’s fine. We need to understand that and serve both sets of constituents equally well.
Comparability. Our world is shrinking. The same user experiences, the same shopping experiences, and the same business standards are increasingly available throughout the world. There are still important differences, but the trends are clear. Expectations are similar all over the world, or they soon will be. Better be prepared. This megatrend matters because in the past, PROs could operate very differently around the world, but this is increasingly untrue. The international dimension of cultural industries is not a “nice-to-have,” or marginal, any more – it’s a core part of our business. Comparability is not just for “businesses” (music publishers), but for people (songwriters and composers). Therefore, our behavior and business practices, although with deep roots in our local civil societies and cultures, will have to converge more and more.
At a high level, I hope that the 150-plus PROs around the world that manage the rights of writers and composers of music, as well as their publishers, will soon achieve the following:
Raise the bar to rise to the challenges created by new worldwide and integrated players. To accomplish that, PROs have relied on their accumulated experience, and improved on their quality and transparency, thanks in part to the CISAC Professional Rules & Binding Resolutions.
- Recognition of new music business models, with PROs’ communication and licensing policies seen as enabling digital services to flourish at levels that generate sufficient income to sustain the creative energy and process.
- Finally, prioritizing the implementation of standards and tools. For example, all relations between PROs collecting more than $10 million per year, as well as between them and their digital licensees, must be automated and fully rely on an agreed-upon set of standards and technical tools (e.g., ISWC, ISRC, ISAN, IPI, ISNI, DDEX, IPI, CISNet, IDA, GRD…) to efficiently and accurately handle “nano distributions” and multi-territorial licensing.
SOCAN will continue to be a world leader and a passionate advocate for these changes.