Two stories came to my attention recently that could be potential game-changers for indie musicians. Both involve major initiatives taking place in the Boston area. One, Boston Creates, could greatly assist musicians and other artists living and working in Boston. The other, the Open Music Initiative, could impact the lives (and livelihoods) of musicians around the world.
Following Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s election in 2013, a Chief of Arts and Culture position was created along with increased funding for the arts in the city, and the Boston Creates cultural planning program was established. These sorts of initiatives tend to be very slow in coming together, but since then, they’ve been engaging the public in a series of town hall meetings, focus groups, interviews, a survey and an online map of cultural assets. Recently, the plan was drawn up and it looks like real action is about to start taking place.
The results of these efforts can now been seen in the Boston Creates Cultural Plan. There’s a lot of reading here, from information about the research process through the plan’s creation, implementation and action items. If you’re interested, do check it out. However, the basic gist of it is that the city is putting some money into improving the situation for artists and their audiences (long overdue), in addition to encouraging art education in schools (and often-overlooked subject). This is a very good thing. Some of the key problems they found include the need for affordable cultural spaces and facilities, the lack of affordable housing and work space for Boston artists and imbalances and gaps in funding for Boston artists, the arts and cultural organizations. It was also found that there is a need for better arts education programs in Boston public schools.
The good news is that they have a 10-year action plan, and the plan details recommendations and action items. Since the plan was recently approved and put into play, musicians and other artists living (or attempting to live) in the Boston area may find some help in the way of funding and resources. To keep apprised of the latest news, visit the Boston Creates site.
Open Music Initiative
This wonderful initiative began as a collaboration between the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) and the MIT Media Lab. They state the mission of the Open Music Initiative as being “to promote and advance the development of open source standards and innovation related to music, to help assure proper compensation for all creators, performers and rights holders of music.” Not a moment too soon. Lack of artist compensation by streaming media sites has been widely documented, and that’s just one part of the wider problem that makes it nearly impossible for musicians — unless they’re superstars — to make a decent living. The way music licensing, distribution and ownership works is complex and often quite secretive. The Open Music Initiative seeks to make the entire process more transparent and fair, and that’s definitely something to cheer.
Fortunately, there has been a lot of industry interest in this, both from big names to independent musicians. Some of the entertainment companies that have signed on include YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud, Netflix, NPR and major labels Universal, Sony and Warner. Perhaps if the process of identifying music rights was easier, there would be fewer lawsuits and more fairly paid artists. What they propose is a global infrastructure — a shared, open database of music ownership rights. They believe this would help to speed up payment to the artists from the entities that play their music. This would include streaming sites, internet radio, podcases, YouTube and elsewhere. As Panos Panay, founder of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, describes the music business, “It’s one of the few industries that I know where you can use something and it’s OK to not really know who to pay. We don’t think that that should be acceptable.”
This ambitious project, if it is successful, will change the outdated methods of rights identification to reflect our current digital landscape. For more information, read this article from local NPR station WBUR, and visit the Open Music Initiative. For now, there will be a three-week summer innovation lab led by BerkleeICE and collaborator IDEO.