Valuing creativity in music (and photography)

I recently wrote about the similarities and differences between music and photography. While we experience each through very different senses, they also have a lot in common. Both have long, rich histories, which I pondered briefly in the last blog entry. This week, I am thinking about the fact that while both are used artistically and commercially, their respective approaches to compensating creators are very different.

I have been thinking about this question partly because I have recently started working in multi-media. Of course, I feel comfortable with the still image component of that kind of work. What is new to me is thinking about sound. In multi-media work, you typically use narration, ambient sound recorded on location or pre-recorded music. Since I would be recording the narration and/or ambient sound, there are no issues about how I will get that audio and who owns it. The issue comes with recorded music.

Historically, the music business has done a better job protecting the copyrighted work of creators as compared to photography. Most of the work of most composers and performers is protected by any of a number of centralized music licensing organizations. The most well known one is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. As they say on their site, “ASCAP protects the rights of its members by licensing and distributing royalties for the non-dramatic public performances of their copyrighted works.” Read more at: http://www.ascap.com/about/

A recent report on National Public radio noted that these same organizations say their membership has skyrocketed over the last decade. In fact, according to the NPR report, “Over the last decade, ASCAP membership has quadrupled…. to over 375,000 members.” Read the full story at: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=124126711
When you hear a song in a grocery store, a mall or a bar, 99% of the time that facility has paid some kind of license fee to organizations like ASCAP. The 1% who do not, are the exact people that ASCAP’s agents and lawyers spend their days tracking down and suing them to get them to pay those fees. That music is there for a reason and the facility that pipes in that music is getting some benefit, so why shouldn’t the creator of that same work be compensated? It is true that the fee is hundredths of a penny per song, but if you imagine all the places playing all that music, you are talking real money. Over the years there have been a number of efforts to create what is often called “an ASCAP for photographers,” to no avail. Among the many things that hindered that process was the individualistic nature of most photographers, as compared to musicians who are used to working collaboratively.

Yes, there have been widely published (and over-hyped) reports of instances of organizations like ASCAP or BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) collecting licensing fees from elementary school kids and record industry giants suing teenagers for file sharing. The yelling and screaming that accompanies these events obscures the very serious efforts that the music industry as a whole undertakes to make sure folks who create the work get paid. Similarly, there have been scandalous examples of musicians being deprived of their rightfully earned fees, But the fact that those same performers had somewhere to go to seek their due compensation is a testament to the core proposition in most of the music business. That goes something like ‘music has value and performers, composers and writers should be paid for their efforts.’

By comparison, much of the core business model for too many photographers is more akin to ‘give the work away for a byline/photo credit, for potential future clients or for the honor of having the work published.’ If you think about it that is not much of a business model. It is more like financial suicide, but that is a topic reserved for other blog entries (past and future.)
In hope of getting photographers to think more about the value of their work, I have gathered some web resources on music copyright. They are worth reading to see how others, in a similar creative pursuit, respect their creations and insist on just compensation for their efforts.

You will find an article dispelling common myths and misunderstandings about music copyrights, usage rights and licensing starting at:
http://www.shockwavesound.com/Articles/006_Music_Copyright_Myths.html

An interesting strategy for dealing with some of these same questions can be found at http://mobygratis.com/film-music.html. There you can find a library of music clips created by Moby, the alternative rock/electronic music master. As it says on their site, “These are available to anyone to download and legally use in their film projects, provided that these are independent, student, non-commercial, or non-profit films.” To use the clips in a commercial film you can apply for an easy license, with the payments going to the humane society.
Places where you can get music legally and pay for it properly are:

http://musicbakery.com/, http://www.killertracks.com/, http://www.triplescoopmusic.com/, http://www.audionetworkplc.com/ and http://www.royaltyfreemusic.com/ to name a few.
I think every photographer should know these so when they need music for a slide show, multi media piece or presentation, they “do the right thing” and pay for that music. It drives me nuts when photographers complain about theft of their images while using music without paying for it, which after all is stealing too.

Digital technology, music downloading and especially programs like Garage Band are increasingly negating the skill component that was once required for creative success in music in much the same way that digital cameras have done for photography. The one big difference is that what is only now happening to music has been happening to photography for a decade.
Musicians are experimenting with all sorts of new business models. Some seem to revolve around the idea of distributing the music itself for minimal compensation and then making the real revenue in concerts, along with the sales of merchandise in connection with those same concerts.

I am not sure if that business model would work for photographers or if we should maybe steal a page from Moby. What I am sure of is that to date, music has done a better job than photography when it comes to compensating creative artists. We need to study their successes and analyze their failures. We can borrow liberally in terms of their business models, but when it comes to borrowing their music, we should pay for it. We would ask them to do the same if they wanted to use our photography.

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