Fair Pay for Every Play: Episode 2, Greg Marshall—How the AFEM Is Advocating for Fairer Royalty Payments for Performances of Electronic Music

In this episode of Fair Pay for Every Play by Utopia, host Kristian Luoma sits down with the General Manager for the Association for Electronic Music, Greg Marshall. With a career spanning over 25 years, Greg has played on both sides of the fence. A self-proclaimed music lover and fan, his first experience in the music industry was as a drummer in a band that signed to an underground label in Brixton in the 1990s. This experience led to him finding joy in being part of the electronic music scene, and consequently balancing music industry jobs to help to fund his enjoyment of creating music himself.

Throughout his journey, Greg has worked as a producer and DJ, as well as in record shops and at music royalty collection societies. It was from finding a love for the freedom of expression felt at electronic music events, that led to his role at the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM).

“The AFEM is made up of over 250 companies across 25 territories. Members include labels and managers, media, retail, rights holders, technology companies, agencies, the full gamut of, of business types. They are all different sizes as well, from one-person startups to mid-size, and large established companies.

We connect our members to develop business opportunities, to share intel and education sessions, to solve issues and find best practices within the industry.

We focus on a wide range of initiatives from live sector recovery and support, which is so important at the moment, to diversity and inclusion and royalty attribution from DJ performances to anti-piracy and mental health awareness.”

Throughout the episode, Greg and Kristian discuss how the AFEM advocates the use of music recognition technology to aid accurate royalty distributions.

Here’s the notes:

00:30 — Welcome to Fair Pay for Every Play and introduction to guest, Greg Marshall

00:21 — Greg talks through his experiences leading to becoming General Manager for the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM)

03:05 — Introduction to the AFEM and what they stand for

04:38 — Greg discusses how he thinks royalty distribution can be improved through utilising tech solutions and what more needs to be done

07:00 — The consequence of inaccurate data and the impact on the electronic music ecosystem

09:00 — How members of AFEM are benefiting from music recognition technologies, with a focus on live streaming throughout the pandemic

11:40 — How the AFEM uses metadata and why it is important

13:50 — New challenges presented from the Covid-19 pandemic

15:05 — Greg explains the AFEM set of principles to fairly licence livestreamed events

We have extracted the key parts of the conversation and summarised them below.

Get played, get paid

The “get played, get paid” initiative was launched by the AFEM in 2014, and promotes the adoption of music recognition technology by Collective Rights Management Organisations (CMOs) globally. This technology would allow royalties to be distributed to the creators and rightsholders who are having their work performed.

“DJ setlist information could be collected in an automated way resulting in more accurate royalty payments being made to the creators and owners of the music. We launched the initiative in 2014 when collection societies in only three territories were only using tech solutions… Since then, we’ve seen that number increase to about 18 territories where a number of tech solutions are being utilised at clubs and festivals. There is a lot more work to be done.”

In the last seven years, great progress has been made with the implementation of black boxes to actively listen and collect data for the sound recordings being played in nightclubs and at festivals, but to be successful it must be used more consistently.

Greg believes that the territories that already welcome the technologies should be encouraged to implement them at more events and in more venues, to widen the pool of data that the CMOS has access to. In addition, the AFEM must engage other territories, with the assistance of those already on board, to start to use these technologies.

Currently, many royalty collection societies rely on manual setlist submissions and distribute royalties based on recognition within their reference libraries. Unfortunately, these do not accurately reflect the music that is being played at events. Enhanced metadata can allow recordings to be identified and reported resulting in rightsholders receiving the payout.

“Metadata (https://associationforelectronicmusic.org/resources/afem-ci-metadata-best-practice-guide/) is at the core of the industry in getting things right and an accurate direction of royalties. We put out a metadata best practice guide a year ago now to underline how important it is. There is an importance to getting it right and putting the effort into it because as soon as that metadata is out there if there are inaccuracies in there either you won’t get paid.”

Feeding the electronic music ecosystem

You would expect that the licence fee paid by an electronic music festival would see the royalties distributed back to the artists whose work was performed at that event. However, CMOs often are not provided with the details needed to accurately distribute and instead royalties are distributed based on popular data such as radio playlisting. This means that the royalty does not return to the ecosystem of a music scene or culture.

“The licence fees that are collected from licensing organisations tend to be pooled and distributed out to rightsholders and don’t actually reflect what is being played. For electronic music, in particular, a significant portion of it isn’t actually owned by major labels — though a portion of it is — essentially the rights-owners with large catalogues benefit from policies that distribute based on market share or a pro-rata of what they are receiving from other sources.”

If more territories were to adopt music recognition technology as a solution to pay out royalties more accurately, then we could see different music scenes benefit from a boost. Greg discusses how accurate royalty distributions would see new artists be rewarded for their work being performed, which would allow them to create more music.

The core principles of livestreaming

Currently, there are different policies in place across different territories and licensing entities such as radio, broadcast, online, and at live events.

Livestreaming is not a new technology; however, it is one that has been thrown into the spotlight because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been adopted as a, hopefully, short-term replacement for live shows, an engagement tool between artist and fan, and as a promotional tool.

For the AFEM, there is no better time to ensure that the distribution of royalties from livestreaming is established fairly for artists reliant on a fair income now and that processes are safeguarded for the future.

“We know that the process behind rights clearance and content ID, reporting and revenue for live streaming are complex. So, what we’ve tried to do is find a really simple set of core principles that key industry stakeholders should aspire to move towards.”

AFEM’s get played, get paid core principles have been extended to livestreaming. The principles have been established to direct consistent and distinct responsibility to hosting platforms, rightsholders, performers and licensors. By encouraging cross industry engagement, each party is aware of what they have to do to ensure a straightforward transaction.

With wider industry support, the AFEM are confident that a process could be implemented where platforms would have to pay for the music that is played on them, and they would be responsible to use music recognition technology to provide accurate reporting to CMOs. Greg credits the work of Mixcloud for their approach to live-streaming events.

If adopted by the wider industry, CMOs should be able to offer a fairer fee for the licensing of a livestreamed event.

“Using music recognition technology can help both the platform and the creators and rightsholder, as if you know what is being played then when you are being approached by licensing entities you can have a more balanced discussion as to what the licence fee should be. For example, how much of the repertoire is theirs to licence.”

Greg suggests that this would be a much more transparent approach to both collection and distribution of royalties, as opposed to the lump sum that is distributed on a market share basis that was discussed previously.

As a result, artists will benefit from being fairly rewarded for their work and will be able to create more music that helps to grow healthy and vibrant music cultures to be enjoyed.

To listen to the episode, head over to where ever you listen to your podcasts:

Creating a Better World for Music with Fair Pay for Every Play