ALTERNATIVE TAKE: Music Modernization Act Database – Landmark Or Landmine?
As the Music Modernization Act has moves through congress, controversy continues to persist surrounding the actual impact it will have on the creators, producers, and performers in the music industry, particularly with regard to the database creation built into bill.
Op-Ed by Christy Cowl of ProMusicDB
From what we have gathered, around May 15 or soon thereafter, the Senate will vote on the Music Modernization Act (which now includes the Classics Act and the AMP Act as passed through the House of Representatives). It’s flying through the walls of government faster than anything we’ve ever seen. Some call it unprecedented. Some say it’s been a long time coming. The music member organizations are touting this as if we are finally getting our moment in the sun. But are we really?
ASIDE FROM CREATING A DATABASE — IS THE MMA A LANDMARK OR LANDMINE FOR MUSIC CREATORS, PRODUCERS, AND PERFORMERS?
There are arguments on both sides from within the music creator community, and it is hard to know who is “right.” All we know is that all of the “member” organizations that directly impact how musicians and music creators get paid (the AFM, ASCAP, BMI, SoundExchange) have communicated to their members to support this bill, to sign numerous petitions to Congress to ensure it passes, etc., without much member discussion on what the cons are of the legislation. In addition, the advocacy organizations (NARAS, SONA, NSAI, the SCL) have also trumpeted support without much point by point member discussion or debate, which to us is deeply concerning.
Is the MMA truly a landmark win for ALL music creators? Will money start flowing to the “little guy” who doesn’t have a publishing deal and plans to utilize streaming services to distribute his/her music, who is totally DIY, who doesn’t understand/care about the inner workings of the music industry and what the difference is between AFM, SAG-AFTRA, ASCAP, BMI, SoundExchange, and Advocacy-only groups such as NARAS, SONA, and NSAI? (This, by the way, is the majority next generation DIY musicians who upload millions of tracks into the streaming services every year.) What will REALLY change for that DIY music creator, producer, or performer? Can he/she plan to retire off of the whopping increase in earnings that passing the MMA will provide? Will they be able to figure out how to register to get their windfall in time before the publishers who are behind the MMA claim it?
If the MMA legislation is so much of a windfall moment for all music creators, producers, and performers — why is it so hard to find a concrete example (or have the advocacy groups even CREATE an example to relate to) of a DIY music creator and how the MMA will help him/her earn more income for their music (or musical contribution) from streaming? Why haven’t the member organizations provided examples of “if you wrote this, recorded this, produced this, and/or released it on a streaming platform, this is how passing the MMA will improve your music creator/producer/performer life” as a part of their non-stop rally of support for this bill? And what about the musician unions? If they want musicians to support the MMA, why haven’t they provided any examples of how a session musician (or lead singer) who played/sang on a track that is now released on a streaming service will benefit?
YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: THE “LANDMARK” DATABASE WILL MAKE OR BREAK THE MMA’S (THE MLC’s) SUCCESS
From ProMusicDB’s perspective, the blind support of the MMA without real examples of how the working class majority of music creators, producers, and performers will benefit is a big red flag, and makes us hesitant to ask our community to support it passing in the Senate without significant revision. To us, the fundamental success or failure of the MMA rests on its ability to create, oversee, and maintain a MUSICAL WORKS DATABASE, and identify and credit independent music creators (and their producers, engineers, and musicians who performed on those recordings!) correctly— which is almost entirely missed in any of the public endorsements by music celebrities or member organizations in the media so far.
ProMusicDB believes the MLC musical works database is the engine that will allow the MMA to succeed or fail for all music creators, producers, and performers. After all, without the data being correct (meaning, a music contributor’s credits, their shares, their validated identity and attribution to their work), how can any of the legislation that relies on that information be correct be effective? Or even implemented? And how will the data for non-publisher affiliated music creators get into this musical works database (and, how will they know how to do this)? And while we’re at it — shouldn’t producer, engineer, and musical performer credits be part of this database as well? Who’s going to make sure those folks get paid too? How can they audit the MLC? How can their member unions claim they are owed money on their behalf for their performance on something that isn’t registered or isn’t under a publishing deal?
For ProMusicDB, there is no question. Creating the DATABASE for the right people in the right way is the make or break component of the MMA. It’s the landmine of this supposedly landmark legislation. Music credits are the trunk of the tree to implement any of the benefits music creators will receive by it passing. Getting the data about who created a musical work and who produced/performed on a streamed recording to who is required to pay for the use of both is imperative, REGARDLESS OF PUBLISHER AFFILIATION, and many other organizations with a lot more money have tried and failed at trying to create this magical database before now. How is it just magically going to happen with this Mechanical Licensing Board? (and for less than $500,000 according to the Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for 2019–2023)
SO WHERE ARE THE MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS THAT HAVE MUSIC CREATOR, PRODUCER, and PERFORMER DATA AT ON THE MMA (the Music Licensing Collective) DATABASE?
To us, their silence on the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) database is deafening. We are greatly disappointed at the lack of leadership from the member organizations — the unions, PROs, and musician advocacy groups alike — for not voicing to their members that accurate attribution of their members to the musical works they create and perform on be a key platform to their asking for their members’ support of the MMA. Especially since getting public CREDIT is one of the most negotiated and foundational components of any songwriter, producer, or performer contract. From our interviews and research over the past seven years into data the unions, PROs, and advocacy organizations have in their coffers — correct identification and attribution of members to their work over time is a HUGE problem internally (and some don’t even have national member/work databases, the AFM being one).
So — Why not take this opportunity to have your lobbyists jump into the MMA discussion with something you know is incredibly important and impactful to your members to get right? Getting credit and how I’m publicly receiving that credit is literally in every contract I have ever signed aside from being on a union contract as a performer. (Which is something the unions constantly negotiate for on my behalf supposedly.) It’s also disappointing to see the member organizations’ lack of interest in creating the cooperative mechanism for validation of their own members’ musical contributions on a recording to this specific MLC database (which, btw, is precisely the function ProMusicDB was created for and offered as a member benefit to these organizations to no avail — but more on that in Part 2). This could be of such assistance to music creators, producers, and performers who belong to the unions, PROs, and NARAS collectively (and pay dues to all of them).
Instead, it appears that the NMPA members of the soon-to-be-formed Mechanical Licensing Collective will be providing the information into the musical works database, NOT music creators (unless it comes from registering with the Copyright Office?), musician unions, or their member organizations. DIY music creators, producers, and performers will be left to fend for themselves in trying to figure out how to validate their identity, their musical work contributions, and collect their due payments. Add to this that the MMA database is supposed to be public, so for a music creator/producer/performer, it adds just another layer of frustration in trying to align their credits and information on commercial databases (such as AllMusic, Discogs, and IMDB), which are also public, and full of errors. Ask a musician who has the same name as another musician what happens in these databases, and if they can ever get it corrected.
(Another question we have as well is — NARAS, you require member applicants to have credits on AllMusic for entry, which is full of errors. Will this new MLC database change your membership policy?)
BUT HEY, THE MMA WILL DO A LOT — WHY RUIN IT FOR EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTS IT?
ProMusicDB wishes to support a bill that will actually benefit the overall health and well-being of all those in the music profession in the digital age. Be that a music creator, a producer, an orchestrator, a copyist, a music director, a performer, or music librarian— we believe this bill should not just be helpful for established songwriters/artists and their publishing companies, but foundational in incentivizing a new generation of music professionals. There is a huge opportunity here for working musicians to be helped in creating some income for themselves from streaming their music — no matter if it’s music for a commercial, a video game, an album, or a TV/film score. There is also a huge opportunity for the MMA to make all those that contribute to the creation of music (producers, engineers, players and performers) significant in the eyes of the public — which may be more impactful in the longrun towards the landmark effect the MMA endeavors to make.
YES, WE’RE SUGGESTING REVISIONS TO THE MMA REGARDING THE DATABASE PORTION (AND CAN WE BE ASKED TO SPEAK TO THE SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TOO?)
ProMusicDB is in process of suggesting revisions to the database portion as a result of some direct contact with staffers of the Sponsors of the MMA. Our conversations have been behind the scenes, although we would welcome the opportunity to speak alongside the other “prominent” artists and entities that have been invited to formally speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Honestly, though, as ProMusicDB.org is totally independent and not part of the NMPA, and not involved with SoundExchange (who seems to be the no-bid award winner and rumored substantial player in the MLC database), nor on the totally-convinced-the-MMA-has-it-right-for-everyone bandwagon, we’re not holding our breath. But we are trying.
We believe the best outcome for DIY music creators (and MMA Sponsor Senator Orrin Hatch, who is a musician and lyricist) regarding the MLC database is to have an assigned entity that communicates with the MLC Board regarding identity issues, works registration issues, and getting independent music creator data problems resolved. This entity should collectively help non-publisher affiliated members of the PROs, musician unions and their members, and independent music creators navigate any new actions required for work registrations and payment claims that will be in effect if the MMA becomes law. This entity should also be responsible for producing the public notice of how to register musical works in the MLC database, and how to claim a payment is due as a producer/player/etc. if a musical work isn’t registered properly. Finally, the entity should be charged with educating independent musicians on the MMA, and more specifically how to collect payments and file grievances.
OTHER INDEPENDENT ENTITIES VOICING MMA CONCERNS
It’s good to know we’re not alone in our MMA concerns, and several of our respected musical colleagues have suggested additional revisions for other parts of the bill which I feel are quite significant. We do need your help in getting the word out above the applause of the MMA, so I’ve posted links to them below, for you to research for yourself and be informed. I will try to keep these updated as best I can.
To be continued…
If you’re a working musician/music creator, I would love to have you be part of this conversation. Our member organizations need to be stepping up for us and explaining the MMA. Please post any thoughtful comments below.
What do you know about the MMA from your member organizations?
Do you think the MMA becoming law will be a landmark or a landmine for your music career?
Christy Crowl is Founder of ProMusicDB.org: the professional music credits database and archive. Contact: email@example.com