February 26, 2014 at 10:00 am

OpenAura Plans To Let Artists Control Their Images on Music Services, Apps

openaura

Kevin Arnold, founder of IODA Music and the Noise Pop Festival, unveiled a new service called OpenAura on Wednesday designed to give artists more control over how they appear online, while offering them a new way to make money.

How much money remains to be seen — but what is clear already is that OpenAura has a different vision for how to provide images to music services from anything we’ve seen.

To get the ball rolling, OpenAura is “auto-curating” official artist images from wherever it can get them. Arnold says OpenAura has already created these default Auras for hundreds of thousands of artists. Then, it plans to allow artists to “claim” their Auras to take control of them, after which they can add more photos and other visual content, which the site calls “particles.”

“Artists or their teams are able to control and curate a set of content for publication and syndication via APIs, and, for the first time, be able to make money off of a set of content information that represents their digital identity — so, essentially anything in digital form created by or about an artist,” Arnold told Evolver.fm by phone.

Management companies that have already done so as of today’s launch include Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene, The Darcys) Crush Music (Fall Out Boy, Train, Sia), Red Light Management (Kool & The Gang, OAR, Switchfoot), TMWRK (Diplo, Dillon Francis), and Zeitgeist Artist Management (Postal Service, The Head and The Heart).

Once an artist claims their Aura, it gets a checkmark next to it, and after that, whatever revenue OpenAura makes from licensing those materials gets shared with the artist (30 percent) and the third-party photo copyright holder (20 percent), if there is one. Examples of third-party photo providers include “labels, image providers, and archives, down to individual photographers, magazines, and bloggers,” according to Arnold. But if the artist or label owns the image, they get both revenue shares — the curator’s and the copyright holder’s.

“Finally, there’s a digital music solution that includes artists, allowing them to both control their image and receive compensation for their efforts,” said Dan Kruchkow, CMO of Crush Music in a statement. “Not only can artists like Fall Out Boy more fully express the vision behind their music and connect directly with fans, but they can benefit financially from the experience as well. This is not only a new way to experience digital music, but also sets a standard for how the tech and music communities can work together.”

Artists and labels have always been able to control how their recorded music sounds (for the most part) and to an extent where it appears, and to include as many songs as they want, but not so with the images that accompany that music.

“The existing marketplace is one in which artists have no control over the majority of the information that represents their first impression [with a new fan],” said Arnold. “The idea is that, as artists, as curators, you choose the best of all of that content that represents you… moving well beyond the limited ’80s version of a presskit, which is a bio and a photo, and towards hundreds or thousands of photos that are curated across the entire career of the artist.”

OpenAura plans to license its image catalog as an API, so that sites, services, and apps can grab the appropriate images for each artist. From there, OpenAura acts sort of like a music subscription itself, in that the artist whose content is accessed more on participating services will be paid more.

Music is a visual medium these days, because all of the players have screens. Arnold is correct that the landscape for licensing artist images is fragmented, and surely also that artists want more control over how they appear. OpenAura could have a hard time convincing the larger image licensing houses to accept a share of revenue for photos they completely own, and getting the word out to artists that they can claim their Auras, and then competing in the image licensing marketplace with an additional expense (paying the artists).

But it will also be able to tap into artists’ own images, and even photos shot by enterprising fans, photojournalists, bloggers, and anyone else willing to add their artist images to the system, not to mention everything in the public domain — and Arnold could be right that this is something lots of artists want.

For now, OpenAura’s focus is on letting artists and their people choose the images that represent them, in return for another trickle of revenue. But once they realize they can add any visual element to their music across a variety of services, assuming OpenAura succeeds, it could open up the door for artists to associate more types of content with their music — everything from text about how they wrote a particular song, to video tutorials showing how to play it, and so on.