Once upon a time, a music fan with a few bucks kicking around might open up a local record store. Doing so was basically a matter of finding a spot, paying rent, and signing up with a music distributor.
You didn’t need to license music directly from labels, publishers, recording artists, and songwriters, because that would have been ridiculous.
However, that’s precisely what’s required of music app developers — the new record store owners, in the mind of Bill Wilson, vice president of digital strategy and business development for the Music Business Association, formerly known as NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers), which represented the people who opened up record shops.
Record store owners don’t need a trade organization anymore. Most of them seem to be gone, and the rest are on the way out.
So this year, NARM changed its name to the Music Business Association, with a goal of making it as easy to be an app developer dealing with music as it was to be a record store owner dealing with vinyl.
“In the days of the record store, it was really easy, comparatively so, to start a record store,” said Wilson by phone. “If you were a kid, and you just wanted to sell records, you could basically order finished goods from a distribution company, and if you wanted to sell them in your dorm, you could sell them in a dorm. Or in a shop, you could hang out your shingle and start your small business just like any other finished goods business… you got a box from UPS, and you were off to the races. The labels were not very deeply involved in the operations of a record store.”
In contrast, he says, music app developers and startups choose between a multitude of models (DMCA-compliant radio, interactive radio, download stores, and music+video), each of which requires a different license from copyright holders, only one of which can be granted on a blanket basis (DMCA radio).
In other words, it’s way harder to make a legal music app than it was to run a legal record store — and that is a big problem for the industry, from Wilson’s vantage point.
“Startups are the new mom and pop [record stores],” said Wilson. “The people who had the same passion 20 years ago hung out a shingle at a record store. Developers have the same passion for music, they’re just applying that to music. Who is representing their interests?”
Wilson hopes the Music Business Association is the answer. One part of its plan: the Music Startup Network, a private database music startups can join in order to become easier for the music business to deal with — something they should want, if they expect to get licensing.
Music app developers — these new “mom and pop” record shops — can enter their company information into the database for free, including how they are funded, the number of employees, what the company does and so on. A velvet rope system ensures that only solid, viable companies gain entrance.
Once they do, artists, manager, labels, publishers, and other app developers granted permission can search the Music Startup Network to find music app startups to work with.
This isn’t nearly as simple as an indie record store filling out forms to get records from a distributor they’ve never met, but any attempt to align music apps (which are the future of music) with the people who make music should help alleviate the current situation, in which some music app developers can’t figure out how to put music into their apps.
You can’t see the Music Startup Network because it’s private, and will remain so for a while, so as to encourage its usefulness as an actual industry tool. For more on the Music Business Association, go here.