Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Stream Me, Baby!

By Glen T Brown

What about licensing songs, or any collection of music from local artists, for performance via streaming at a certain venue, for a certain amount of time, with patrons paying per play?

It is my understanding that performance rights are non-exclusive, meaning that an artist is free to enter into a particular licensing agreement for performance of their work, over and above any prior arrangement with SOCAN. Correct me if I'm wrong. Even if some performance rights are allotted to SOCAN, I doubt this would be an exclusive arrangement.

Most local artists will never earn any significant royalty on the big-boy streaming services. Spotify, YouTube, iTunes are paying artists on their platforms fractions of pennies per play. Only artists with tens of thousands of plays are getting anything substantial, and it still is a paltry sum in the grand scheme of things. So, let's accept that most of the performance rights streaming agreements are basically useless and a waste of time.

But that doesn't prevent an artist from figuring out new ways to have their digital products played and earn better money. It actually forces them to think hard about it.

So with the assumption that an artist is free to enter into a separate agreement to allow their music to be streamed in a venue, I want to throw an idea out there.

My idea is a way for today’s musician to get their digital products earning them some income.

By digital products I mean excellent quality sound recordings, and excellent quality visual information in high definition. Not necessarily video, but images that capture the listener’s attention.

After all, it’s about gaining attention, isn’t it?

What a shame that so many local restaurants, coffee shops and pubs have got the big screen showing sports. Or local news. Or some trivia game.

People, we can do better. We can create custom programming that combines our big screens in our venues with matching streamed music. And the cool twist is that it can be uniquely local content. A particular venue can create a “local music night” or host a “local music week” or whatever, and the patrons can select what is playing.

Let me explain.

The idea is that you create a pool of musicians who are offering for their listeners a good quality recording of their song. A particular license agreement will give permission to publicly perform their song at a particular venue (or group of venue) for a particular period of time, with the condition that a minimum amount of $$ would be paid each time it is streamed. Accompanying their music would be a visual presentation of some sort, which would play on the venue’s big screen, such as an animation, a slideshow of images or the actual music video that they may have created to go with the song.

If the artist doesn’t have the visual component, they would be given a tool or a service where they create the visual that goes with their song. A service they are given for free, or for a nominal cost. Ideally, the artist would be able to create a visual “thing” to accompany their music, and the result is a multi-media “venue-stream” track. It is playable. It would be put onto a playlist. The artist owns it. The venue is licensed to play it. The tracks are uploaded to a secure streaming server.

The playlist is activated by the patrons in the venue through the paywall using a local wi-fi connected interface. iPads on the tables, or in a couple of key locations. The paid playlist is displayed for all to see. Everyone knows what tune is next. If they want to bump a tune, they can kick in more cash.

Let’s say you have 20 artists on board with this idea. Paperwork all signed. Audio and visual “venue-stream” tracks ready to go. They essentially are part of a local pool of talent that is “now playing” at a local venue. The venue is advertising the fact that these local artists are “now playing.” The selling point is that there is no middleman. The musicians are being paid per performance. (It’s a stream of their recording.)

This is where the app comes in. Everyone who comes into the venue buys credits of some sort. Or, they simply opt in at their table or the streaming kiosk. Maybe a patron buys five bucks worth of tips, or credits. Call it whatever you want.

There is a list on the app, or displayed somewhere, of what is available for playing, with some degree of description. Maybe an iPad at each table. Patrons browse the “now playing” list. Perhaps an image alongside. Genre? Reviews? Customer quotes? Quick artist stats? Click “add to local playlist” takes you to the paywall. You pick your song. When you pay you kick your song up to the playlist. “Choose your medicine,” is how you might say it. Or maybe some people will just have fun and pick “I’m feeling lucky.”

Five plays for five bucks? Think of a room with 40 patrons. Each one has five bucks to spend. Over the course of an evening, you’ll have 300 minutes (5 hours) of playing time. At 4 minutes each song, that’s 75 songs.

Monster Truck in concert

There is an iPad at each table or at a certain spot where people can go and pick something they want to hear. “Hey I like that song!” or “I’ve heard of those guys. They’re badass!” For each tune played there is a minimum cost. But if two people select a song, they both pay, and the song gets bumped up the playlist.

It’s like a local talent jukebox. Battle of the bands? Steeplechase? Auction? The whole program for the night on the big screen is these local music performances. Finally the artists get to see their digital products earning them some fucking money!

The venue owner could organize and promote this however they wanted to. For example, Tuesday would be Roots night, Wednesday is Electro-Pop, Thursday/Friday is Rock or Punk. You’re building a business model with the express purpose of cultivating a local audience, a local group of fans who are committed to supporting a local artist. Your business model supports the creation of high quality digital products that are usable on every platform to the artist’s benefit. Your business model supports the local venue that is interested in promoting the local music economy. And you’re creating a set of playlist data that everyone can benefit from. For example, if Band X is being played time and time again at Such and Such Venue, then maybe they should consider arranging a live show in the near future.

This is like the visible give. It’s like Patreon in real time, in a real place. The artist could say, “My music is playing at such and such venue for the next two months. So go in and check it out and pick my tunes. The money you kick in to play my tunes goes right into my pocket.”

So if a musician tells 100 fans in their news blast or on their Twitter to go down to such and such venue and “stream me, Baby” then it’s a total win-win for the artist, the venue, and the fan.

This brings the venue owner into the middle of the relationship. The venue owner has a huge stake in bringing those people the music they want.

The best part about this is that it leverages the artist’s existing digital products to create additional revenue that would never be gathered. The artist doesn’t have to be there. It brings the artist’s MUSIC into play, it honours the artist’s PERFORMANCE, and puts music back to where it belongs: the cement of a good time together.

Maybe you don’t want to commit to the whole night to go hear your favourite artist perform. Maybe you don’t want to spend three or four hours at the venue waiting for your favourite band to appear. Maybe you don’t want to commit at that level all the time. Maybe you don’t want to do a late night.

Here’s how you can still support your local artist. Check out this scenario:

You’d like to be able to support a local jazz player. You’ve heard from their Facebook that for the next two weeks their music is on the playlist at Such and Such Venue. So you make plans to go there for dinner and drinks with some friends, and you’re going to have some fun streaming your jazz artist’s music while you’re there. It will cost you just a couple of extra bucks, but it’s cool because you like that guy’s music!

And we like that the money is going to the artist. The app will allow you update your social media status accordingly. Maybe some more of your friends will be motivated to come on down and join you.

You’re going to create our own atmosphere within the room by streaming the music you like. Maybe you’ll even win over a couple of extra fans for your favourite artist. People will be looking, seeing and reading what is on the screen. It’s a great outreach opportunity for any artist, and could help them to win some new fans and followers.

There’s also an opportunity for the venue to add their own branding and announcements to what’s on the screen.

We need to be able to put the digital products the artist has created into the place where they can earn the artist income.
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In Hamilton, Ontario we are moving towards a revolutionary business model that honours the work of our local musicians and leverages new technology. As a City of Music in Canada, we will get there!


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