Future of Music Coalition Summit Day Two: It's Possible For Musicians To Thrive, But No Easy Answers
Future of Music Coalition Summit Day Two: It's Possible For Musicians To Thrive, But No Easy Answers

Future of Music Coalition
Rapper and community activist Che "Rhymefest" Smith talks about the Chicago music scene and his non-profit program Power of Purpose, which teaches young people civic engagement and community organizing through music-making. (Photo: Sarah Godfrey)

The Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit wrapped up Tuesday evening after two days of discussions surrounding the ability of musicians to earn money in an industry that has been irrevocably changed by new technologies.

Future of Music Coalition Summit Day One: How Can Musicians Afford To Keep The Lights On?

"Someday, when we're at the music non-profit old folks home, listening to our antique iPods and shaking our canes, it would be a truly wonderful thing to remember 2011 as the year we all came together in support of the working musicians," Future of Music Coalition deputy director Casey Rae-Hunter told attendees Tuesday morning. "And then we can all take a nap."

The Washington, D.C. conference closed with a series of panels that ended things on a hopeful note--that if policymakers, technology innovators, musicians, and other members of the music ecosystem work together, it's possible for artists to thrive, both creatively and financially, and sustain the greater music industry. But there are no easy solutions.

During a panel on remixing compensation, representatives from YouTube and Legitmix, Information Technology Industry Council CEO Dean Garfield, DJ/academic Larisa Mann, and University of Michigan law professor Jessica Litman debated the intricacies of copyright and layered licensing. The group pondered whether licensing structures hinder the creativity of DJs and artists who depend on sampling (such as hip-hop producers), protect the artists behind the original works, or simply better allow record labels and other large rights-holders to profit from the work of both groups.


Don't miss Billboard's FutureSound Conference, taking place November 17-18 at Terra in San Francisco. FutureSound will feature keynotes from the top minds in investment, technology and music today; presentations that will offer specific solutions structured around answering the most pressing questions; and workshops.

Legitmix CEO Omid McDonald talked about his company's service, which aims to allow DJs to legally profit from their mixes by selling consumers a program that recreates mixes using music they already own. Litman remarked on the service from both the perspective of record labels and consumers. "If a label doesn't like Legitmix, the argument they'll make is, 'You're creating a derivative work, or helping consumers create a derivative work, and just because they're consumers doesn't mean they get a free pass,'" she said. "The argument on the other side is, 'Look, Congress never intended to make a law which required everyone listening to or enjoying music to have to call a copyright lawyer to make it OK to make a mixtape.'"

One of the most encouraging panels of the entire summit, "Local Matters: Music Scenes and Community Building," took a look at how local music scenes across the country are continuing to do great things at a time when arts funding cuts are the norm, and resources are, in general, scarce.

American Federation of Musicians, Local 99 president Bruce Fife talked about the union's work to create partnerships with Portland businesses that commit to a "fair-trade" model of working with musicians, and Ashlye Keaton, professor at Tulane Law school, talked about HBO's work with the New Orleans local music community surrounding the David Simon drama "Treme" and the cable network's dedication to "compensating creators in the area, as opposed to outside of it."

Rapper and community activist Che "Rhymefest" Smith, who co-wrote Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" and was defeated in a run for a Chicago alderman seat earlier this year, talked about the Chicago music scene, and his non-profit program Power of Purpose, which teaches young people civic engagement and community organizing through music-making. Rhymesfest also rhymed briefly, providing the sole moment of live music during the conference.

The afternoon saw a "Data Without Broders" panel on comprehensive databases and master collections of recording information. Moderator Walter McDonough, co-founder and general counsel for FMC, called the discussion the "calculus" of the summit, but stressed the importance of discussing such systems and their role in licensing and artist compensation efforts.

During the second day of conference programming, FMC continued to pair data from its artist revenue streams research project with anecdotal stories from musicians with two "Money from Music" discussions, one focused on the changing income sources of jazz musicians, another centered around session musicians.

FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps was honored by FMC for his ten years of public service, in particular his work on the issues of net neutrality and low-power FM radio. Copps gave all credit to grassroots activism, saying that "citizen action can still work. It's the only way real reform can ever get done." FMC also briefly recognized the music activism of R.E.M.--the group's general counsel/advisor Bertis Downs participated in the conference's closing round-up panel.

Downs also offered words that, after hours of talking about data, policy, monetization, regulations, legislation, and technological advances affecting the industry, helped distill the conference's essential question.

"I was thinking about the first conference I went to like this, in 1981 at Georgia State, in a room like this one, and it was the exact same issue--how do you get people to care about music?" he said. "There are a lot of different tools now, but the issue is still, if you make good music, how do you piece that together into a career?"