The legendary Placido Domingo strode into London in late July like the opera colossus that he really is and unleashed an astonishing piece of news: the "multi-faceted" opera star had been appointed to the newly created role of chairman at IFPI, the international music industry trade body. Initial responses within the industry ranged from bewilderment at best to sniggers at worst. An opera luminary saving the rock, hip-hop, and pop industries, as well as classical? It just seemed incongruous.
That was until he began to explain why he had taken on such a mammoth task, at a time when the continuing slump in global record music sales saw an 8.4% drop to $15.9 billion in 2010. And while digital-only sales generated a 5.3% jump to $4.6 billion during the same period, they weren't enough to compensate for the overall decrease from $27.3 billion in global sales in 1999.
At the media briefing, Domingo seemed aware of the challenges as he passionately explained how he hopes to use his influence, among governments, politicians, policy makers and music fans, to help clamp down on piracy worldwide. In his native Spain, illegal sales have been so devastating, U.K. copyright organization PRS for Music concluded that "the market in Spain is now so depressed that 3,000 album sales can get an artist to Number One." Domingo, who was signed to Deutsche Grammophon, might be 70 years old, but he is still touring and performing at sell-out operas and concerts and his musical achievements are staggering.
Also see: Placido Domingo Named IFPI Chariman
Yet, the multi-Grammy winner is no novice to the administrative side of the business. He conducts with several international symphony orchestras, is the LA Opera's general director, has set up the Young Artists programs in Washington DC, Los Angeles, Valencia, Spain and, soon, Monte Carlo to mentor the next generation of opera artists, and (with Henry Kissinger) is a member of the "council of wisdom" at, of all places, international soccer governing body FIFA.
The man who helped introduce classical music to the masses as one of the Three Tenors, and whose state honors include the U.S.' Presidential Medal of Freedom, takes time out to explain to Billboard.Biz why the IFPI chairmanship will underpin everything he has ever achieved to help ensure a future for all talented artists, whether they sing rap, heavy metal or arias.
What are you planning to say to the Spanish government and policy makers about not taking piracy seriously enough, especially with the recent legal investigations into the activities of copyright organization SGAE - a strong copyright advocate?
I hope to remind the Spanish government that our country has long been a major source of international repertoire. Artists from Spain, across different genres, have historically sold well across Europe and Latin America. It is deeply disappointing to see this situation eroded as the local industry's revenues shrink and it is impossible not to draw a connection to the fact that Spain's piracy rate is almost double that of other major European countries I know policymakers have begun to look at this issue, but there is much more they can do to protect Spanish artists, songwriters and those that invest in them.
Do you believe disconnecting consumers is a practical solution, especially if it hurts another household member who might be innocent of the illegal activities or could push more illegal downloaders underground?
I want to see people using the Internet to discover and enjoy great music from the huge range of legal services that exist. "Graduated response" is about nudging people from using illegal websites to legal services, not trying to get them cut off from the Internet. But if there is no sanction involved in the process, then it will not be a sufficient enough tool to do the job. hat is why temporary Internet account suspension has to be on the table as a sanction for the small minority of people that will ignore the repeated warnings in the "graduated response" process and continue to break the law. Internet account holders need to take responsibility for themselves and their households. They need to recognize that piracy is a problem that has consequences for many people.
How would you argue the case for clamping down on illegal downloaders without leaving the impression of being litigants more interested in protecting your income than in encouraging music creativity?
I took this job because I want the young artists of today to enjoy the same opportunities that I enjoyed. It is simply not right for people to take music and illegally distribute it without permission from the artists, songwriter or producer. It means it is more difficult for us as an industry to invest in new talent, something I am passionate about The fact that the number of debut artists in the Spanish Top 50 dropped from 10 in 2003 to zero last year is an illustration of why we need to take action to stop digital piracy. Look at South Korea, it has taken action and the market is improving and investment in artists, from K-Pop stars to the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, is up. That is what I want to see achieved elsewhere.
The extension of copyright duration for recorded music (to 70 years from the current 50 years) in the European Union appears to be close to becoming a reality. Do you believe that would make a significant difference to artists' income levels, especially if the piracy matter has not been resolved?
I believe that the extension of the term of protection in Europe would be a fair deal for artists. They do not enjoy the same protection as authors, even though they do more than anyone to bring songs to music fans' hearts. I think artists will benefit from continuing royalties in their later years, when they often need them most.
As a classical-music artist, do you think your efforts to ensure policy makers understand the importance of copyright protection will resonate with the young fans of pop, rock and urban music - the music buyers of today, the voters of tomorrow - many of whom think accessing music should be free?
I very much hope young music fans will understand that if they want to enjoy a huge breadth of choice tomorrow, record companies need to be able to invest in artists today. The industry has worked on education campaigns for years, but we need more governments to put copyright on the curriculum. That is the point I will make to policymakers when I meet them. So many jobs are underpinned by intellectual property rights, but we often fail to educate young people about why they are important and should be respected.
How will you ensure that lawmakers will follow up discussions with actions? In addition to the IFPI, do you have a special team dedicated to working on your anti-piracy mission?
I am the chairman of IFPI and they are my special team dedicated to working with me on this mission. It is not just a case of being anti-piracy, it is about putting the positive case for the continuing value of music as part of our shared culture and a creator of jobs and growth. I will take a keen interest in how the discussions I have with policymakers will be followed up and I will expect them to deliver on their promises.
How do you hope the new appointment will impact the legacy you leave behind?
I am lucky enough to enjoy an amazing career. I have recorded with a huge range of record companies and performed live around the world in countless venues. I certainly hope to continue to perform and record in the coming years. I want talented young performers today, of all genres, to enjoy the same opportunities that I have had. They can only do that if people respect their work and their rights. Only then can they secure the investment they need to develop a career in music and bring their performances to a mass audience.