Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ASCAP For the Internet: The Time Has Come

To date, the Internet has been a double-edged sword for songwriters and other copyright holders. On the one hand, it has opened up the world for potential distribution of our copyrighted works, and provided a platform for independent artists to at least have the opportunity to expose and sell their art to a wide audience. On the other hand, it has made it too easy for consumers, especially music consumers, to consume their music for free, which has seriously cut into the profits of established and indie artists alike.

But rather than fretting about the "end of the music industry," I suggest we instead take a proven formula for artists to "get paid" for their work, and apply it to the Internet: the performance rights model used by ASCAP, BMI and others.

For those who aren't familiar with the way ASCAP works, here's a quick and dirty primer. Music creators (songwriters) join a performing rights organization like ASCAP, and register their creative works (songs) with them when the songs are released to the public. At the same time, entities like radio and TV stations, bars, clubs, etc., that "perform" these registered works, are required to pay fees to ASCAP, which are pooled and distributed to the copyright owners, in an amount commensurate to the amount of performances their music receives. Hits, by definition, have more performances, and get a larger piece of the pie, than non-hits, but the point is, everyone gets paid, assuming their work gets some play.

The logical extension of this model to the Internet would treat digital downloads as "performances" of a given copyrighted work. The number of digital downloads (i.e. "hits") of various songs/videos/movies/etc. could be tracked using existing technologies, and the registered owners of these works would be compensated from the pooled fees, commensurate with the amount of downloads over a given period.

The obvious question raised here is, who pays the fees that go into the pool? The obvious answer is EVERYONE. And here's how. With few exceptions, everyone pays to get access to the Internet, that is to say, we pay a monthly fee to our Internet Service Provider. I propose that a portion of this fee be set aside for content creators on the Internet, and be pooled and distributed to copyright owners fairly, along the lines of the ASCAP model described above.

Now, I admit this does raise certain questions, and I'm not saying I have all the answers. For example, since ISPs would undoubtedly seek to pass these fees onto the consumers, some folks might rightfully balk at paying any fees because they don't download music for free. What's more, paid download sites like Apple iTunes, etc. would no doubt resist the new concept, because it basically establishes an alternative business model for monetizing creative content on the Internet, and could potentially render them obsolete.

Nevertheless, I believe the "ASCAP for the Internet" model should be explored and, if possible, implemented. If it is, we would create the best of all worlds for creators and consumers alike: a world were everything is FREE, and yet PAID FOR at the same time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why I created "Last of the Zacharys, A Novel with Songs"

I'm often asked what inspired me to create my literary novel with its own soundtrack, "Last of the Zacharys, A Novel with Songs."

Well, as someone who loves to sing, and loves to write, I've been fascinated for some time with finding new and interesting ways to merge them together, and to somehow expand the art form, creating a whole that's greater than the sum of the parts. I mean, pop songs are usually a melding of words and music. Good songs tell a story. But why can't songs also be part of a larger story? And not just in the traditional "Broadway Musical" and/or "operatic" sense, but as a sort of "meta-narrative," which informs, accompanies and complements a work of narrative fiction?

My first attempt to answer this question resulted in my previous solo CD, "Love's Oblivion -- A Novel in Twelve Pop Songs." in "Love's Oblivion," each song and its lyrics serve as chapters in the larger narrative. Each song stands alone, but taken together they form a literal and emotional story arc, a journey that allows the listener to experience, as Gary Pig Gold wrote in his review of the album, "the ups and downs...and downs" of a tragic love affair.

After Love's Oblivion, I began work on my novel, "Last of the Zacharys," which was originally going to be a traditional, i.e., "non-musical" work of literary fiction. The protagonist, Jaz Zachary, has talent and dreams of becoming a musician – a rock star, in fact. Naturally, as I began telling his story, snippets of original song lyrics started to appear in the narrative.

In the opening scene, for example, a teenage Jaz is trying to seduce Mattie, the daughter of the family's maid, with a guitar and a song. At first I just jotted down some lyrics, to indicate what he was singing to her...

Mattie creates illusions that you'd swear are real
weaving a web of lies so fine the truth's revealed...

Then it hit me – why not actually write, record and release the song that Jaz is singing to Mattie? And why not have that song be another way to experience the story? As a singer-songwriter, it seemed the natural thing to do, and a way to give potential readers more bang for their entertainment buck.

After I got the idea, I began experimenting with different ways to include songs in the narrative. Sometimes, Jaz or other artists are performing the songs, like at a talent show or a gig. Sometimes, Jaz is experiencing the songs, like when Grand Island High School Marching Band does a version of a famous pop song. Of course, it's not really a famous pop song – yet! – but rather a song a wrote and gave a home in the unique universe of my novel. Other times, the songs are used to comment on or enhance the emotional content of a scene, expressing the thoughts in a character's head or the feelings in his/her heart.

I look forward to blogging more on the different tunes, and the various ways I experimented with the use of songs in my "novel with songs." In any case, I hope you enjoy the read ––and the listen!

To experience "Last of the Zacharys, A Novel with Songs," please visit: http://www.lastofthezacharys.com