|FRIDAY 5 JUNE 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Universal Music has announced more details about the taskforce it is setting up in response to the protests that have taken place in the US and beyond following the controversial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week... [READ MORE]|
Universal Music sets out the agenda of its Taskforce For Meaningful Change Universal Music has announced more details about the taskforce it is setting up in response to the protests that have taken place in the US and beyond following the controversial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
Ahead of this week's Black Out Tuesday initiative - that sought to unite the music industry behind the Black Lives Matter movement - the major's CEO Lucian Grainge said that the company would immediately appoint a team of its executives "to accelerate our efforts in areas such as inclusion and social justice".
The major's General Counsel Jeff Harleston, who is also interim CEO of its Def Jam division in the US, and Ethiopia Habtemariam, who is both President of Motown Records and EVP of the Capitol Music Group, have now updated staff on what that really means via a lengthy memo.
They write: "We are living through some of the most challenging times in recent history. While the black community has long lived with the reality of police violence, the events of the past several weeks have been devastating. From the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to the senseless killing of numerous protestors fighting for justice, and the appalling, racially charged confrontation in New York's Central Park, we all have had a front row seat, once again, in the theatre of racism, hatred and intolerance".
"The problems we are addressing are not new and they certainly do not have easy solutions", they go on, "but we are dedicated to fighting for real, lasting change. As Lucian wrote, UMG has committed resources and empowered us to create a taskforce to be both a resource and ally to our internal and external community".
Under the banner of the Taskforce For Meaningful Change, Harleston and Habtemariam say that they - and a team of other Universal execs, many from the US, but also including reps from around the world - will be "charged with reviewing the company's commitment to addressing and promoting tolerance, equality, and elimination of bias, within UMG, the music community and the world at large".
They confirm that a $25 million 'change fund' has been established and outline six main areas of focus for the new taskforce. Pushing for political, legsilative and social change in the US is the priority, although the taskforce's remit will also go beyond that.
The main areas of focus include supporting relevant charitable and campaigning organisations; reviewing the Universal Music Group's own policies; considering these issues on a global basis; lobbying US lawmakers for reform and change; collaborating with the major's partners to ensure a diversity of insights and ideas; and promoting "dialogue, counselling, educational and creative programming around the topics of tolerance, equality and inclusion".
With regard to its own policies, the memo states: "We know that we have work to do within our own company and the taskforce will examine UMG's policies, procedures and work environment as they apply to our workforce. This includes identifying issues of bias, discrimination and inequality, and designing initiatives to improve access, advancement, recruiting and retention of diverse workforce at all levels within the company. In particular, we will focus on leadership positions and other senior level roles".
After also setting out a more practical list of short-term activities - including employee events, immediate grant funding, encouraging staff to send letters to US politicians, supporting schemes to get more people out to vote and offering free legal support to campaigning groups - Harleston and Habtemariam conclude: "We know our community, colleagues, artists and partners are suffering. We feel it and we're living it but we're also energised to fight for change. We're asking for you to lock arms with us – we want to hear your voice. Now is the time to be heard!"
RIAA says latest Senate hearing on copyright safe harbour confirmed the system is "broken"
The subcommittee on intellectual property of the US Senate has been staging a number of discussions this year reviewing the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and to what extent it successfully tackled the copyright challenges posed by the digital revolution.
Unsurprisingly, much attention has fallen on the so called safe harbour in the DMCA. That's the bit of the act that reduces the liabilities of internet platforms whose users infringe copyright. Said platforms cannot be held responsible for that infringement providing they have systems in place to deal with prolific repeat infringers and via which copyright owners can have infringing content removed, aka a notice and takedown system.
The music industry has various gripes with the safe harbour, of course. Principally that too many safe harbour dwelling companies have shoddy systems for dealing with repeat infringers and enabling copyright owners to get content removed.
And also that too wide a range of internet companies claim safe harbour protection, including user-upload platforms that utilise user-uploaded content to become streaming services without first negotiating fair deals with the copyright owners whose content is routinely uploaded.
Since the last subcommittee debate on the DMCA, the US Copyright Office has published its long-time-coming report on the safe harbour, based on a consultation that began back in 2016. It's conclusion was that the balance the DMCA strived to achieve with the safe harbour - between the interests of copyright owners and technology companies - had "tilted askew" and that, therefore, Congress should probably now fine-tune the principle.
Speaking at the latest IP subcommittee discussion on Tuesday, the committee's Chairman Thom Tillis said he thought more radical reforms were probably required than those suggested in the Copyright Office report. "I don't think fixing the current framework is enough", he mused. "We may be at a point where we need to design an entirely new system to combat online piracy".
The session's headline-grabbing contributor this time around was Eagles frontman Don Henley, who said current safe harbour rules were "a relic of a MySpace era in a TikTok world". Which is a good line, although technically they're a relic of the Geocities era.
"I have worked hard to establish my career and reputation and I have enjoyed success", he told the committee. "But for me, this is a matter of principle. I am speaking out for the songwriters and recording artists who are struggling to make a living, particularly now when our industry has been decimated by the pandemic. We need equitable compensation for the rights guaranteed to authors under the constitution".
Asked if the current safe harbour provisions and accompanying takedown systems were working, Henley stated: "When a simple online search for a song returns an endless list of sites that never asked the copyright owner for permission, never received a licence and never passed on a penny to the artist for use of their music – the system is not working".
"When the marketplace has matured", he went on, "and digital platforms continue to use [safe harbour] as a negotiating leverage to pay licence fees which are well below market – the system is not working. When the burden of policing copyright infringements on global platforms lies with the artists instead of the massive technology companies who own and operate the platforms – the system is not working".
"At the dawn of the internet age", he added, "the DMCA was supposed to provide digital platforms with safe harbour from liability in exchange for cooperation in protecting creators' works. It was meant to provide a proper balance and symbiotic relationship that benefitted all participants and strengthened the legitimate online marketplace. Two decades later, the balance is decidedly off".
He later concluded: "I applaud and I thank this subcommittee for shining a light on the damage caused by the unfulfilled promise of a meaningful and effective notice and takedown system. Creators need recourse for the unlicensed, illicit use of their valuable works online. The DMCA is not providing that to them".
Each of the subcommittee hearings so far have heard viewpoints from both sides of the debate. This time the strongest defence of the safe harbour came from the trade organisation whose members rely on it, the Internet Association. Its chief Jonathan Berroya argued that the DMCA is working very much as Congress intended and had enabled a "golden age of content creation".
He also argued that many tech companies had developed tools beyond the DMCA's requirements, and that because of the complexities in identifying whether any one piece of content infringes copyright, copyright owners are best equipped to monitor and respond to infringement online.
According to IP Watchdog he added: "The digital ecosystem is thriving thanks to this law. It gives platforms the legal certainty necessary to host user-generated content, and users can enjoy and create a wealth of legal content".
With the US Copyright Office report supporting some reform - and Tillis indicating that he reckons more radical changes are necessary than that report proposed - the music industry's lobbyists are hoping that an opportunity might be on the horizon to secure an overhaul of safe harbour in the US, similar or possibly more significant than that currently underway in Europe.
With that in mind, RIAA boss Mitch Glazier said in response to this week's committee hearing: "[This week's] hearing confirmed without question that the DMCA is broken and the time has come for change. The system must have incentives for creators and tech platforms to collaborate to provide effective online protection for the creative works that drive innovation, our culture and economy. We stand ready to work with the creative community and tech platforms to restore the balance Congress intended".
Melvin Benn proposes plan to get live music back to full capacity by November
Dubbed the 'Full Capacity Plan', the aim is to ensure that music venues, sporting events, theatres, restaurants and more only permit people who have recently tested negative for COVID-19, as well as providing an incentive for people to begin using the NHS app.
Under the proposal, when people book tickets for an event (or a table for a restaurant etc) they would be asked to obtain a COVID-19 test and also download the app.
Once a negative test result had been received, a certificate to enter the venue would be granted, although that would be subject to them not receiving a subsequent alert from the NHS track and trace scheme showing that they had been exposed to the disease.
Further health screening would then probably take place at the venue, but the certificate system in particular, reckons Benn, would enable the live music industry to get back up to full capacity, after a pilot programme, by November.
The alternatives are socially distanced events or venues remaining closed until a vaccine is found. The former likely wouldn't be commercially viable for many venues and events. And the latter would extend the economic harm caused to the industry by COVID-19.
"We are currently in a position where the government has capacity to test 1.4 million people a week but [is actually] testing less than 700,000 because there is no incentive", says Benn. "My plan is to create incentive, to test at least double the current capacity and be aiming for 12-15 million people a month being tested minimum".
After Benn's draft plan was circulated, Festival Republic said that it was a work in progress and a revised version of the document will follow. Certainly Benn wants feedback and suggestions to his proposals from the wider live industry.
"I am proposing The Full Capacity Plan to stimulate the debate about getting back to normal opening rather than partial opening because partial opening is financial disaster opening", he said. The plan, he added, is "simple and easy, inexpensive in comparison to the subsidies that the government is currently paying, and very achievable with good organisation".
Of course, one issue with a scheme that involves the NHS track and trace app – which is still being trialled on the Isle Of Wight – is the widespread concerns that have been expressed about the reliability and security of the government run system.
However, if using it let people get back out to social events, Benn is probably correct when he says that would be incentive enough for many people to overlook those concerns and connect with the NHS scheme.
Benn's plan does also recommend additional health monitoring and security at venues, which will require additional technology not currently in place. This is viable for larger events and venues, but not everyone in the live industry would be able to afford to implement or hire staff to manage those extra measures.
In which case, would the certificate system alone provide enough assurance of safety for those venues to re-open? Or does this scheme only help the bigger live businesses able to afford the extra security and monitoring?
There are also other political and civil liberty issues with the scheme, in that each person's ability to go out to live events would basically be dependent on a government-run technology.
That arguably creates a two-tier society – those that have government approval to go out and those that do not, either because of actual or possible infection, or an unwillingness to participate in the track and trace scheme. Though, again, being able to go out again after months of lockdown may be a sufficient incentive to overlook those concerns.
Either way, as Benn says, the wider music community should be discussing solutions to the problems posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and someone needs to kickstart that debate with a proposal. Look out for the revised version of his plan once it is published.
Tomorrowland announces digital festival to take place next month
With the festival known for its spectacular visuals and stage designs, organisers say that they are attempting to translate this to the online version, spread across eight virtual stages. Exactly what this will entail, and the line-up for the event, are yet to be announced, but it promises "the world's best artists in dance and electronic music - from all genres - and a large portion of the fireworks and laser shows characteristic of Tomorrowland".
In a statement, the event's co-founder Michiel Beers says: "Tomorrowland Around The World is the result of a gigantic team effort of hundreds of people who are working around the clock to create a never-before-seen interactive entertainment experience. Since we started this project and all ideas came together, we immediately felt an enormous energy and lots of positivity from everybody involved".
"For us it's about re-inventing the festival experience, but we truly believe that we can bring the spirit of Tomorrowland and entertainment at the highest level to people and homes around the globe", he goes on. "We hope that hundreds of thousands of people will unite in a responsible way and that small Tomorrowland gatherings at people's homes - from Canada to Australia, from Japan to Brazil and everywhere in between - will be organised. Especially during the weekend where normally Tomorrowland Belgium would take place, we really have the power to unite the world".
MMF launches ReBuild fund for managers impacted by COVID-19
Called ReBuild, the fund will initially offer grants of up to £3000 to UK-based managers who have suffered significant income losses as a result of COVID-19 and who are are unable to fully access the COVID-related support schemes offered by the UK government.
The trade body notes how, in its 2019 'Managing Expectations' report, 80% of surveyed managers said that the commission they earned on their client's live income was their most reliable and important revenue stream. Which, of course, is the revenue stream most severely impacted by COVID-19.
It adds: "Compounding this situation, a significant proportion of the MMF's 900-strong membership do not qualify for existing COVID-19 support packages and are unable to self-furlough due to their responsibilities to their clients".
The new support scheme will be managed by Help Musicians, and has been made possible by donations from collecting society PPL and a number of leading artist managers, including Joyce Smyth, Merck Mercuriadis, Adam Tudhope, Paul Loasby and Stuart Camp. MMF and its CEO Annabella Coldrick have also committed to the fund, and are actively seeking further support from across the music and technology sectors.
Coldrick says: "The shutdown of live music has been traumatic for MMF members. We have actively campaigned for the government to fill the support gaps, however this has not been forthcoming and so we decided to set up ReBuild to support our community. At this very difficult time, it is vital that managers can avert an impending cashflow crisis and remain dedicated to helping artists and music creators innovate and sustain themselves through some tough months ahead".
MMF Chair Paul Craig adds: "I would like to thank PPL for their generosity, and Help Musicians for their support in getting ReBuild off the ground. A significant proportion of MMF's membership do not qualify for current government support packages, and our hope is that this much-needed funding will prevent many of them falling through the cracks and having to close their businesses".
Meanwhile PPL boss Peter Leathem says: "A manager is often the individual helping turn an artist's vision into a viable business. They are knowledgeable and skillful business people, providing an important foundation for the music industry. This fund will help them not just manage a loss of income but also continue to grow artist careers, sustaining the promise of many artists during this period of severe disruption. PPL is proud to support such a vital part of our industry".
More details about the fund, eligibility requirements and the application process will be made available at MMF's AGM on 17 Jun.
Erasure announce new album, The Neon
"Our music is always a reflection of how we're feeling", says Vince Clarke. "[We were] in a good place spiritually ... really good places in our minds. You can hear that".
"It was about refreshing my love - hopefully our love - of great pop", adds Andy Bell. "I want kids now to hear these songs! I wanted to recharge that feeling that pop can come from anyone".
The album will be out through Mute on 21 Aug. Watch the video for 'Hey Now (Think I Got a Feeling)' here.
Elvis Costello has released new single 'No Flag', recorded earlier this year in Finland. "I wanted to go somewhere nobody knew me", he says. "So, this is 'The Helsinki Sound'".
Yemi Alade - last heard on Beyonce's 'Lion King' companion compilation 'The Gift' - has released new single 'Boyz'.
NZCA Lines has released new single 'Prisoner Of Love'. His new album, 'Pure Luxury', is out on 10 Jul.
Mr Bungle have released a cover of The Exploited's 'USA' - their first new recording since 1999. All proceeds from the track will go to MusiCares' COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Powerman 5000 have released new single 'Black Lipstick', taken from their upcoming new album 'The Noble Rot', which is out on 28 Aug.
ShitKid has announced her second album of the year, '20/20 ShitKid'. The follow-up to 'Duo Limbo/Mellan Himmel Å Helvete', which was released in January, it will be out on 21 Aug.
Tennin has released new single 'We Stand Alone'. She is set to release a new EP this summer.
Dublin-based drill crew A92 have released new single 'Who's On Who'. Their debut mixtape is set for release in September.
GIGS & TOURS
Tool have announced that they are cancelling all their remaining tour dates, rather than attempting to reschedule, so that fans can get a refund while the length of the COVID-19 shutdown remains unknown. "We could continue to postpone or reschedule dates for some time into 2021, but ethically we do not think this is the right course of action. In our opinion, tying up our fans' money for months, if not a full year, is unfair", they said in a statement.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Abbey Road re-opens for first recording session since March
With its large space, the studio was able to seat orchestra members at a safe distance from one another, while Gardot actually dialled in remotely from Paris and producer Larry Klein from LA.
"Music is proven to help us get through difficult times, providing escape and easing our mood – so it's never been more important than in the current circumstances", says the studio complex's Managing Director, Isabel Garvey.
"At Abbey Road, we've witnessed the creative community's desire to create new music and communicate their feelings throughout this time, and we've received numerous requests from our clients to get back to work", she goes on. "So, we're THRILLED to have established new standards for safe recording and to re-open Abbey Road once more".
Gardot adds: "Knowing that we are the first session back at Abbey Road Studios after its re-opening is an absolute honour. I was told that until COVID-19 the studio had never been closed for business in almost 90 years of operation. Even during World War Two it stayed open. And the fact that we're recording the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, helping get the musical community back on track in a way that is safe for all involved, it feels like we are touching history".
Elsewhere in orchestral news, the BBC has announced that it will broadcast the Royal Opera House in London's first post-lockdown performance. Set to take place without an audience on 13 Jun, it will be aired on Radio 3 on 15 Jun, with highlights on TV later in the month. The performance will also be streamed for free on YouTube and Facebook, with subsequent performances available to watch live and on demand for £4.99.
While these signs of life in the UK music industry are encouraging, it seems that it will take sometime yet for venues and studios at large to return to anything close to normal. Though rules are being relaxed faster elsewhere in Europe which will provide an interesting test of what is possible while respecting social distancing requirements. Meanwhile, back in the UK, record shops are set to re-open on 15 Jun.