December 13, 2011

There is a lot we can say about the current shift towards digital distribution. It is providing new revenue sources to musicians. It is democratizing distribution. It is introducing music fans to new and old artists in a social way we have not seen since the 1970s. Still, digital distribution has left us without. We no longer hold an album. We hold a device. We no longer drop the needle on to the record and let it spin. We tap on a piece of glass. For all that is good about our distribution methods, we have still lost something.

Hifidelics hopes to change this and put the music back in our hands, literally. The new project from Plugola, Inc. provides independent musicians with a crowdfunding platform from which to release vinyl records, preferably ones featuring crowdsourced artwork from fans. The site has only recently launched but Erik Peterson, the President of Plugola, has reported their preparing the first projects.

It is a truly exciting new resource for musicians, one which carves out a niche that I believe is entirely separate from Kickstarter and similar sites. Hifidelics goes beyond merely providing a platform for crowdfunding and provides musicians a means to produce and distribute the vinyl records. Actually, the only thing Hifidelics doesn’t help with is the actual recording of the music (though it may at some later time, perhaps even pioneering a new record label model).

In short, Hifidelics is a great new project for independent musicians, one which leverages the digital space to connect fans, fund artist projects, and produce a tangible record which fans can enjoy. Take a look at the project here and learn more about Plugola over here.

-Bryce McLaughlin

Legalizing Illegal File Sharing and the Trend of Giving Up

December 06, 2011

It was announced on Monday that Switzerland will continue to allow downloading for personal use, effectively legalizing illegal downloading of protected creative content within its borders. This is an unfortunate decision on behalf of the Swiss government, which claims file sharing does not adversely impact national cultural production and entertainment spending (both claims originate from a government sponsored study).

Perhaps even worse than the announcement from Switzerland is an apparent trend emerging among some European countries (Sweden has recently discussed legalizing downloading for personal use as well). As we noted in our post “The Inadequacies of Deterrence”, differential association is the leading factor in an individual's propensity to engage in illegal file sharing. By legalizing downloading – even if just for personal use – governments are effectively telling citizens it is perfectly fine to steal and infringe upon the rights of content creators, both domestic and abroad.

While the policy adopted by Switzerland is certainly popular among many groups, it is ultimately a shortsighted policy which threatens to severely diminish our global cultural production. While Switzerland may be correct in stating its own cultural production is left unaffected by its new policy, foreign cultural production is not. And of course Switzerland will be unaffected. The country constitutes but a fraction of the global music business (in some segments, such as sale of singles, it accounts for less than 0.2 percent of global share). It is the domestic (otherwise illegal) downloading of music produced abroad that will cause the greatest harm.

Illegal file sharing is a complex problem, but it is easy to understand the answer is not giving up. It is truly unfortunate Switzerland has chosen to pursue an isolationist and self-interested anti-piracy policy. It is an affront to the rights of artists everywhere and a threat to our global cultural production over the years to come.

Sources: Switzerland Announcement | Stats and other Information

-Bryce McLaughlin

Audiences as Authors

December 04, 2011

This parody of the song “Friday” by Rebecca Black was created by a YouTube user named Brock Baker. By using Ms. Black’s original music video and adding his own comedic touch, Brock has created a video that is significantly more popular than the one that inspired it. The official music video for “Friday” currently has 8.5 million views on YouTube. Brock’s Dub has over 32 million views.

Obviously, the role of a content creator is dramatically changing. The Internet has enabled completely new forms of communication between artists and their audiences. Audience members not only have the ability to communicate directly with an artist, but also with other fans in a much greater capacity than ever before. Audiences are no longer passive consumers of content, but instead are constantly influencing artists’ work and playing a role in the creation of the content they consume. Some, like Brock, are even re-interpreting art and creating content of their own.

The fact that Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video only has one-fourth of the views of Brock’s Dub is very significant. Remixes and derivative works such as this build on and reflect upon the previous work, but also present new ideas from the audience member who has now become an author. The creativity of audiences has become just as important as the creativity of the original creator, because audiences can incorporate ideas the creator never considered or present the work in an entirely new light.

The creativity of audiences has even been validated by mainstream measures of success. Last year a group called the Gregory Brothers used Auto Tune and a news clip that had gone viral to create a song titled “Bed Intruder.” I’m sure most of you are familiar with the song. The band released the song on iTunes and it sold enough to reach number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. /p>

By creating remixes, fans can deconstruct, annotate, and reassemble an already created piece of art. The new works created from remixing are no longer being categorized as entertaining experiments, but as independent pieces of content. Instead of simply having culture broadcast to them, consumers are now part of the creation of culture.

As a result of these changes, the definition of a content creator is fundamentally changing. Historically, creators were established by wealthy patrons, such as the pope or a record label executive. Now that the tools for creation are readily available, society must decide how this definition changes. Should everyone be able to be a content creator, or does art, by its very nature, need to be an elitist business? As the old business models surrounding content creation are deconstructed, the industry has yet to determine what the new models will look like. In the end, consumers will decide who they recognize as a creator with the content they consume, and it is up to those creators to find business models around what they do.

-Ralph Roberts

The Inadequacies of Deterence

November 27, 2011

Annie Lööf, the minister of trade in Sweden, recently announced her support for the legalization of illegal downloading of copyrighted works for private use. The timing of Lööf’s announcement coincides neatly with the SOPA debate here in the United States. While U.S. lawmakers consider more stringent methods for combating internet piracy, Sweden’s minister of trade is, in effect, calling for local law makers to give up the fight. Unfortunately for artists, both approaches will fail to remedy the problem.

As we have previously noted, SOPA does not entirely address the fundamental issues facing the music industry. Similarly, legalizing illegal downloading would fail to ensure future revenue sources for artists by decreasing the incentive to innovate and develop new ways of legally distributing music (such as music subscription and online radio services).

In fact, research has been conducted that shows piracy deterrence is not significantly correlated with an individual’s involvement in internet piracy. In other words, increasing the severity of punishment for illegal file sharing has little impact on the rate of piracy. In addition, the same studies have found differential association (the degree to which our friends and family approve or disapprove of internet piracy) is significantly related to the rate of piracy. In other words, legalizing illegal downloading will very likely significantly increase the rate of piracy.

While it may seem impossible to eliminate illegal file sharing, embracing it is even more damaging than the act itself. While the music industry is still in what many consider to be a crisis, it is recovering. And the driving force behind this recovery is innovation. It is innovation which has begun to recapture the Lost Generation. In fact, encouraging innovation within the music industry is the key to future prosperity. Entrepreneurs are continually developing new ways for artists to reach new fans, build new relationships, and earn a living from their work. By further encouraging these individuals to innovate, we will see significant increase in the ways musicians reach and interact with fans and monetize their creative work.

Sources: The Guardian | Internet Scallywags

-Bryce McLaughlin

On the Death of Copyright

November 23, 2011

There is much debate about copyright law these days. Certainly SOPA, currently before Congress, invigorates each of us. It is legislation which, if passed, will have a profound impact on our industry and the future of countless careers. Yet the national debate often leaves out key parts of the copyright equation, and a recent article on Forbes.com is no exception.

The article provides an intriguing look at the current state of U.S. copyright law, and the author does an excellent job laying out the basic underlying complications. Yet what has failed to be mentioned is significant. For instance, while traditional copyright law can be viewed as near extinct, organizations such as Creative Commons have led initiatives and developed licenses which adapt copyright law quite well to the digital age. While changes to current copyright law do need to be made, there is no need (at least yet) for the complete overhaul of copyright (nor will copyright go anywhere in the near future). There are still many organizations working (and succeeding) to ensure that.

Furthermore, the idea that we can never put the genie back in the bottle is also grossly exaggerated. While it is true we will likely never be able to stop piracy completely, new business and distribution models which capture "lost" generations and establish new revenue streams have and continue to emerge. The challenge here is not the piracy but the lack of support from the major stakeholders in the industry. These key players still expect the substantial profit margins of the 1990s and continuously refuse to accept anything less, even when the opportunity for significant future growth is clearly present. The result of these perspectives and attitudes is shrinking revenues for artists (and more or less the same profit margins for the labels). These opportunities include iTunes, MOG, and Spotify, among others.

Similarly, it has been shown consumers are willing to pay for content when it is priced appropriately. It is simple supply and demand. Here, again, the profit expectations are exceedingly high. Prices have been driven down, but there is incredible opportunity to makeup the "losses" in volume (and there is a lot of volume and the key is fans).

The underlying point (because I really could write for days about what is missing in the debate) is the death of copyright, while occurring, is not the true cause of the primary challenges confronting the business. The true challenge is an unwillingness to take a risk on the incredible innovation that is occurring for fear of losing profits which have already been lost. Musicians will persevere. We play music not for money but for our love of art and creativity. And with this in mind, the risks of taking necessary risks for growth (i.e. allow entrepreneurs to find and develop new distribution channels at the short-run cost of piracy) hardly seems scary at all.

Source: Forbes.com

-Bryce McLaughlin

Are We Still in Crisis?

November 22, 2011

I recently discovered the Music Industry Reconstruction Project, a growing project seeking new ways to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing the music industry as identified through a discussion of professionals on LinkedIn. It is a very exciting project, and while I do not believe each of the project's objectives are still relevant in today's business environment, the underlying spirit is worthy of much attention.

While reading through the debate among industry professionals and musicians, there were many ideas which caught my attention. In particular, the comment made by Mr. Edger Cepeda regarding the way in which many of us describe the state of the music industry caused me to pause. Mr. Cepeda notes the prolific use of the word "crisis" to describe today's music business. It is a seductive word, one which conjures fears and the "flight or fight" response. Yet, after more than a decade since Napster, is the music industry truly still in a state of crisis or has the "crisis" become the new norm?

Mr. Cepeda's comment raises this very interesting question. Despite changes, music is as prevalent, if not more so, today as it was in the late 1990s. Music has not ceased to exist, and the ways music is used in every day life have only grown. What has changed is the way in which we monetize music, and this is where there is a "crisis" (if there is one at all).

Mr. Chris Purifoy, one of the leaders behind the Music Industry Reconstruction Project, noted in the same discussion the disappearance of funding partners. While it is true that the traditional ways in which musicians receive funding to record, release, and promote music have been declining, I believe more relevant funding partners for musicians exist today than have ever before (think Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms). What has changed and is arguably a driving component of the "crisis" is the sharp decline in the importance of funding.

Under the traditional music business model, funding was king. A musician could not record, release, and promote music without substantial financial resources. Today, fans are king. A strong fan base is the key to success, and the tools to build and reach fans have never been as widely available as they are today (think Topspin, Soundcloud, Musician's Business Dictionary, and other emerging distribution, marketing, and DIY resources).

So is the music industry truly still in a state of crisis or is the transition to the new model more painful than we had anticipated? I believe it is the latter. The music business is full of opportunities. The key to success is creativity, both in music and in the use of these new resources.

Source: Original LinkedIn Discussion

-Bryce McLaughlin

Spotify and the 'iTunes Dilemma'

November 20, 2011

It was recently reported that more than 200 labels pulled their music from Spotify late last week. These labels, whose catalogs consist of techno, grime, dubstep, and bass music, cited weak revenue streams and the commoditization of music as the primary reasons for withdrawing from one of the fastest growing music subscription service.

While reports of such mega acts as Lady Gaga receiving royalty checks of microscopic amounts have plagued music subscription services and painted a target on their backs, the decision to pull entire catalogs from music streaming services is one which I believe will ultimately prove shortsighted. As Spotify noted in its response to the 200 labels, it is the second largest source of revenue for European labels such as EMI. Furthermore, it is music streaming services which are teaching a previously "lost" generation to pay for music rather than to pirate it.

Yes, music subscription services do not provide the same profit margins as other types of distribution have provided (remember CDs reached $19.99). But these other forms of distribution have largely become unviable. Music consumers simply will not pay $19.99 for a collection of songs, of which only two they will actually enjoy.

In many ways, music subscription services are facing the same challenges Apple faced when it launched the iTunes Music Store. When it first launched, the concept of purchasing an individual song was largely unheard of. If consumers wanted a single song they had to either find the single (if it was released) or download it illegally. Similar to Spotify and other music subscription services, iTunes taught a generation to once again pay for music by empowering them to purchase only the music they wanted.

So while it may be gratifying to pull entire catalogs from music subscriptions services, it ultimately hurts the labels and their musicians. The way we do business is once again changing, and it is okay. Unfortunately, the music industry has never been particularly fond of change, and as a result many opportunities to reach new fans and build new revenue streams are missed.

Source: Business Insider

-Bryce McLaughlin

Give a Word!

November 15, 2011

We know that the business of music can get pretty complicated. That’s why we’re working hard to make the music business more understandable and approachable for all musicians.

With the holiday season fast approaching, we would like to invite you to “Give a Word.” Donate $10 and simply select a definition from the Musician’s Business Dictionary to be dedicated to a musician or friend in your life. Donate $15 and we’ll make it extra special with a personalized, hand-written card with your selected definition.

We need your support. By donating you can help give every musician the tools for building a successful career. Through projects like the Musician’s Business Dictionary, the largest online database of music industry terminology, we’re helping musicians in over 40 countries succeed. But to continue doing so, we need your help.

Please show a musician in your life that you care about their success. Donate today and “Give a Word”!

Changing the Music Business

November 15, 2011

We often talk about change. We share our ideas through laments with friends, tweets sent to the twitterverse, and posts on Facebook and Google+. Yet despite all our ideas – and there are lot of them – little has changed.

Sure, we can now listen to a near limitless library of music anytime and anywhere our hearts desire with the help of services like MOG and Spotify. Promoting our bands is as simple as a post to our Facebook page and the addition of a widget from our Topspin account. The list of improvements goes on and on.

But is this change? Looking beyond the surface, the way we do business in the music industry is largely the same. We love to tell of the democratization of the music business, of how artists now control the trajectory of their careers. But do they really? Are musicians more involved in their careers today than ever before?

The clichés of our industry still persist (not convinced, read this complaint filed against Adam Lambert last week). I believe the tools which were to empower musicians have inadvertently empowered those individuals with little experience and hungry appetites parading about as “managers” of talent.

The music business cannot change until musicians take conscious control of the decisions impacting their careers. Due diligence is a necessity, one which musicians must personally ensure (shameless plug: Musician’s Business Dictionary). Yet, knowing, loving and being a musician myself, I realize the seeming absurdity of such a claim.

Still, I truly believe it must and can happen. The potential is all around us. We can empower musicians with new tools and technologies, but only if education about the music business occurs simultaneously. Sure, no one likes to admit their problems, and convincing an entire industry to own up to a problem which has persisted through decades of "change" is nearly inconceivable. But let’s try.

Here’s my challenge: Next time you have a conversation with a musician in your life, engage them in a conversation about their career and share a piece of advice (but make sure its good advice, please!).

Making Music Artists More Business Savvy

October 21, 2011

Check out this article about the Musician's Business Dictionary and a few members of the team behind the project!

Pacific student Bryce McLaughlin can still recall the horror stories he overheard professional musicians share as a young pianist performing in local youth jazz bands in Sacramento. While backstage at music festivals, McLaughlin listened intently as artists who were already struggling to make a decent living discuss how they lost out on royalties and had their work stolen.

Those stories stayed with McLaughlin as he studied music management at Pacific's Conservatory of Music and inspired him to create what is perhaps the first free online dictionary of music business jargon with the help of Pacific Music Management students Jeremy Hixson and Ralph Roberts. Shannon Moore and Caelan Urquhart contributed to the site as well. Read more

Photo by Randall Gee

Copyright Before the Supreme Court

October 9, 2011

Late last week the United States Supreme Court considered arguments in perhaps one of the most intriguing copyright cases in our nation’s history. The case, Golden v. Holder, asks an unusual question: can Congress enter into international agreements which retroactively remove creative works from the public domain?

The outcome of the case will potentially impact millions of creative works, including those by Shostakovitch and Stravinsky. The plaintiff, Mr. Lawrence Golan, wished to write a derivative work based on works by Shostakovitch. He was prohibited from doing so, however, by a 1994 international treaty signed by the U.S. Congress. The implications of the treaty reach far beyond composers and directly impact symphonies, universities, radio stations, and more.

At the heart of the case are two very important questions: (1) Does extending copyright protection to works previously in the public domain further the arts and science; and (2) does the government infringe upon the free speech by removing works from the public domain? Based on the reactions of the Justices during last Wednesday’s hearing, it appears the answers to both of these questions may be yes. If so, we can expect to see millions of works reenter the public domain, perhaps even spurring renewed performances of "lost" masterpieces.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

-Bryce McLaughlin

We help musicians, with your support.

September 6, 2011

Today marks the first day of our fall fundraising campaign. With your help, the Key Man Group has develop the world’s only online database of music business definitions, a resource that has been used by more than 2,500 musicians in over 40 countries worldwide. (And have you seen the latest redesign, here?)

Yet to sustain this momentum, we need your renewed support. Please consider donating today and help us to reach our fundraising goal of $1,500 by September 30th. Your financial support is needed to maintain the Musician's Business Dictionary, the organization's website, and general 501(c)3 non-profit fees.

Even a small donation of only $1 can help. In fact, every dollar donated directly funds the Musician's Business Dictionary and the organization's efforts. Giving online is easy and secure. You can donate directly through PayPal using either your credit card or PayPal account.

By donating, you can help increase access to complicated music industry information and help musicians take control of their careers. Your donation is tax deductible, and with a donation of $10 or more, we'll send you three Musician's Business Dictionary bumper stickers.

Please donate today and help us to continue developing great resources for all musicians. Your support is truly appreciated.


-Bryce McLaughlin

File-Sharers, A Not So Malicious Demographic

August 21, 2011

First off, my stance is that file-sharing and piracy are two very different things. Piracy as I see it is the act of taking copies of another’s work, then selling them without the permission of and without payment to the copyright holder. While file-sharing may also begin with users accessing material without payment to copyright holders, it has been shown to often be followed by larger and/or more frequent legitimate purchases down the road by the same user. With this in mind I want to present a small example to back my claims that file-sharing is not the malicious act some portray it to be.

One should examine the past behavior of consumers who admit to file-sharing music. A 2009 study showed that UK consumers who admit to file-sharing spend 75% more on music purchases in comparison to other consumers. One could conclude that this jump in spending is a result of these users using file-sharing as a taste test for content. This has allowed consumers to hone their tastes and build deeper and earlier commitments to artists, resulting in larger and more frequent legitimate purchases early on. What developments have occurred within the past two years to aid these consumers in honing their tastes in a legitimate way?

Services like Spotify and Pandora have presented consumers with the ability to sample content in a way that rewards copyright holders. With these services, users no longer need rely on a Limewire or BitTorrent like service to download their music. It is my opinion that if services like these catch on in the US, as they have in Europe, file-sharing in the world of music could become far less of a problem.

But what if services like Spotify continue to fade into the background behind Pandora without reaching their full potential? What if Pandora and Spotify fade into the background on their own? Then copyright holders will need to figure out other ways to entice file-sharing consumers to continue making larger and more frequent legitimate purchases. One could argue this may be done in a number of ways. Continuing to create purchase worthy content, tapping deeper into the growing concert market, entices merchandise purchases in the form of collector’s items, bundles, and more processes that more experienced industry professionals could develop. Whichever way it goes, it is my opinion the file-sharers, not pirates, should be looked at as a growing market to be exploited with tailored legitimate services instead of being targeted for copyright infringement.

While this is a short introduction to the ever-changing topic, it is my hope that this continues to push the subject of working with file-sharers to the forefront of industry conversation.

-Jeremy Hixson


July 24, 2011

As you may have heard if you're following us on Twitter (@keymangroup), last weekend we hosted a party on Turntable.fm. If you haven't heard of the site, go check it out, then come back and finish reading this post. Turntable is changing the way people listen to music on their computers by making it fun and engaging. You're basically put right in the middle of a party, with other users acting as DJs. As each song plays, you can choose to "Lame" or "Awesome" the song to give the DJs some feedback, or interact in the chat window. Turntable makes music social in a way it's never been online, and because of that I've discovered more music in the few weeks I've used it than I have on any other online music service!

After spending some time with Turntable, we realized it would be the perfect place to host a party for fellow musicians and music-lovers, and Key Man Group PartyFest v 1.0 was born (note the 1.0, we hope this is the beginning of something big!). To get the party started, we arranged for some popular Turntable DJs to come spin. By the end of the party, though, almost everyone in the crowd came up to share a favorite song or two. It was so much fun to hear the wide range of musical tastes we had in the room, and I definitely discovered a couple new artists that I've added to my Spotify playlists.

No party would be complete without some giveaways, though, and we kept the prizes flowing freely! Big thanks to Sugar Water Purple for donating to the event. Go check them out at sugarwaterpurpleband.com, and help them out with the last few days of their Kickstarter project here. I've gotten to hear a few of the cuts from their upcoming album, and let me tell you, you'll want a copy!

The reason I'm so excited about this event is that it brings back a part of music that I've recently thought was almost gone. When was the last time you and a bunch of friends sat down in front of a stereo and just listened? Turntable brings us back to the listening parties of previous generations, and I'm so psyched about the potential of this platform! As long as innovations like this continue, music will always thrive.

Until next time,

-Ralph Roberts


June 30, 2011

Today we're announcing a few changes here at Key Man Group. You may notice that the Career Cue Sheet isn't around anymore, and that page simply points to the KMG site. As of today, June 30, the Career Cue Sheet project has been archived. There are a few reasons for this, but the primary reason for archiving this project is so that we can focus the organization on reaching the full potential of the Musician's Business Dictionary. We really want to deliver the best resource possible for musicians.

Don't worry, everything from the Career Cue Sheet is in the archives if we want to bring it back. For now we'll be working hard behind the scenes on the MBD. We're hoping to make the resource even easier to use and more informative. You'll start to see some of the things we're working on very soon. In the meantime, you can find us on Twitter (@keymangroup) and let us know what you'd like to see from the Musician's Business Dictionary. We'd love to hear your suggestions. Until next time, keep making music!


February 8, 2011

On January 27, Bryce McLaughlin spoke to the University of the Pacific Council of University Social Entrepreneurs about the process of founding Key Man Group: Foundation for the Rights of Musicians, as well as the organization's mission and actions. Take a look and a listen with the clips below.


November 15, 2010

We're excited to announce the launch of the Career Cue Sheet, an online resource for university music business students and music industry professionals. Among other features, the Career Cue Sheet offers a live music business news feed, which features content from leading industry sources.


November 11, 2010


October 1, 2010

The Musician's Business Dictionary has surpassed the 300 definition mark! In fact, the project is the largest of its kind. No where else online can you find definitions for such a wide range of industry jargon, including boilerplate provision, droit moral, or production agreement.