About Music Unbound

Music Unbound is devoted to a single theme:

Commercial/professional music is stuck in rigid concepts of style, genre and format, and needs to be broken out of these arbitrary categories in order for music as an art form to flourish properly.

There are a variety of reasons why this happened, much of it related to constraints in the commercial music marketplace (including the narrow programming formats of broadcast radio and the high barriers to entry presented by retail distribution by major labels and promotional bottlenecks in print media). In the last several years, new options for marketing music are becoming evident using online media, but licensing obstacles are keeping us from getting there.

Two very interesting ideas being floated these days are related to the idea of a "celestial jukebox" that a number of people have been talking about since the mid-90s.

Centralized subscription services:

One early proposal along these lines was presented on this site in August 1997:
In this vision, a centralized music service covering the entire catalog of recorded music allows people to stream songs or entire playlists over the Internet on demand. Playlists can be generated by auto-recommendation tools that take individual music preferences and include a mixture of preferred music and music that the listener may not have heard before. Because these tools are not bound by editorial bottlenecks such as those that constrain print and broadcast media, it becomes much more likely that new artists will reach their appropriate audiences over time, without the high expense of massive promotion to many people not likely to appreciate the artist.

Distributed systems:

Another model is based on the popularity of distributed ("peer-to-peer" or P2P) systems such as Napster, Gnutella and Kazaa (including future potential for custom P2P streaming and distributed auto-recommendation tools to generate playlists). In this vision, instead of licensing a specific music service, the whole Internet domain is surcharged and music is tracked as it flows across the network. According to that tracking, the surcharges are allocated as royalties to artists and writers in proportion to their popularity.

Blanket licensing:

Both of these ideas require special blanket licensing that is not in place today. For a centralized service, without a blanket license that mandates access by smaller independent and do-it-yourself artists, the catalog is not likely to include the full range of recordings. P2P systems do have the capacity to range over the full domain of recordings, but currently involve infringement of copyrights. Also there is no comprehensive payment and tracking mechanism currently in place, and such systems cannot be legally built until a blanket license is created.

Blanket licenses can be accomplished in either of two ways: voluntarily as a collective agreement by many artists (similar to the performance licenses issued to radio broadcasters by the performance rights organizations: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC), or by law adopted by Congress (usually referred to as a "compulsory" or "statutory" license, one example of which is the "mechanical license" for an artist to record someone else's songs on their albums).

An analysis of the market situation and a proposal for a centralized service was presented on this site in September 2001:

The Need for an Artists'-Only Collective:

If blanket or compulsory licensing is to become a reality, there needs to be an organization of artists to represent themselves collectively. This organization would either issue the voluntary blanket licenses directly (as a "sound-recording performance rights organization"), or else it would sit at the negotiating table to have a voice in setting royalty rates under a compulsory license.

If featured-act artists do not come together to represent themselves directly, without the influence of other players with competing agendas, such as labels, publishers, netcasters, venues, technology manufacturers, etc., their voice will not be heard and it is unlikely anyone else will step up to the plate for them.

Note: the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), which represent work-for-hire (backup/sideman) musicians and singers in contracts with employers (venues, bandleaders, producers and labels), do not represent featured-act artists in negotiations with labels. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC represent songwriters and composers with regard to their composition performance rights, but not performing/recording artists themselves with regard to their sound recording copyrights. Also, these performing rights organizations include publishers who sometimes have conflicts of interest with the writers/composers.

At present representation of featured acts with labels and publishers is individual and accomplished with the services of specifically contracted lawyers in individual negotiations. There is also a recently formed group called the Recording Artists' Coalition (RAC) which has lobbied for legislative changes that affect individual recording-artist contracts with labels, but this group does not address the interests of unsigned artists. Do-it-yourself artists have no dedicated representation at all with regard to sound recording rights, whether collective or individual. (There is a private collective licensing option that is worth checking out: the CD Baby Digital Distribution License. At some point, it would be nice if this contract attracted enough participants to warrant membership governance processes and federal regulatory oversight, like ASCAP and BMI.)

Music Unbound calls for featured musical performing and recording artists to come together under a common agenda with the force of numbers to make sure the market develops according to their interests.

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