What Can Authors Learn From Digital Changes In The Music Industry? With Tristra Newyear Yeager

What can authors learn from the digital changes in the music industry? In this interview, Tristra Newyear Yeager talks about the empowerment of the indie musician, multiple streams of income, and the uses of blockchain and AI.

What can authors learn from the music industry?

In the intro, I report back on attending SXSW and some other online conferences on lessons learned from the acceleration of digital adoption; what the metaverse might mean [Forbes]; Mark Zuckerberg on the next iteration of VR [The Information]; Facebook’s wristband wearable [The Next Web]; creating AI avatars [Exponential Wisdom], and Microsoft’s identity platform on Bitcoin’s Blockchain.

Plus, the Secrets and Lies mystery/crime Storybundle (limited time); Businessplan für Autoren (German); and Spotify: A Product Story podcast.

Findaway Voices

Today’s podcast sponsor is Findaway Voices, which gives you access to the world’s largest network of audiobook sellers and everything you need to create and sell professional audiobooks. Take back your freedom. Choose your price, choose how you sell, choose how you distribute audio. Check it out at FindawayVoices.com.

Tristra Newyear Yeager

Tristra Newyear Yeager is a writer and strategist for music PR firm Rock Paper Scissors. She’s the co-host of the Music Tectonics Podcast, which explores the intersection of music and technology. She’s also a fantasy novelist as T. Newyear.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Digital shifts in the music industry in the last few years
  • The upside, and downside of the digitization of music
  • How payouts for streaming works in the music industry
  • How musical artists responded to the pandemic when the tour economy was decimated
  • The creative ideas musicians have for merchandise that adds to their streams of income
  • The effect technology, NFT’s and AI are having on the music industry
  • How will copyright be affected by technology and will artists benefit or lose out?

You can find Tristra Newyear Yeager on LinkedIn and at musictectonics.com and on Twitter @MusicTectonics

Transcript of Interview with Tristra Newyear Yeager

Joanna: Tristra Newyear Yeager is a writer and strategist for music PR firm Rock Paper Scissors. She’s the co-host of the ‘Music Tectonics’ podcast, which explores the intersection of music and technology. And she’s also a fantasy novelist. Welcome, Tristra.

Tristra: It’s great to be here. It’s a real honor.

Joanna: I’m excited to talk to you.

Tell us a little bit more about your fascinating background in writing and the music industry.

Tristra: Like a lot of people in the creative industries, I have kind of a checkered past. On the music side, I always loved music, so much that I was obsessed with it from a very young age, played music, listened to it pretty much non-stop, and eventually became a record store clerk, which for people of my generation in the ’90s was like the thing to do as a job after school.

Then eventually went to college, became a professional singer for a while, was in a Bosnian rock and folk band, which was one of the most interesting experiences in my life. And then through my interest in Eastern Europe, I got obsessed with musical and cultural traditions, in general, from Russia and Siberia.

At the time, I was working at a concert presenter, so the people who put on live performances in New York City, and someone’s like, ‘Hey, you need to go and meet these folks from Russia,’ who happened to be from Siberia and they’re Buryats. Buryats are indigenous folks who are related to Mongolians who live in South Central Siberia.

So, we wound up being in a performance with them, we became friends, and I got so interested in their cultural traditions that I wound up going there and pursuing a Ph.D. in what’s called Central Eurasian studies, which is an area studies program that studies the non-ethnically Russian parts of Russia or Central Asia, Tibet.

It was a big weird mishmash of cultures at my department. I ended up writing a dissertation on grassroots theater in the early 20th century in Marietta, which is way cool and filled with colorful characters. And some of the research I did stuck with me and they kept rumbling around in my head, these people, and some of them were avid letter writers.

We have a lot of great documentation of their inner worlds. And some of those thoughts and feelings, which didn’t really have a place in my academic work, wound up springing out as a novel that is, sort of, a historical fantasy set in early 19th century Petersburg, and Siberia, and features a lot of characters that are of Buryat backgrounds.

And it was really, really wonderful to get to explore history through a different lens and to really get at the emotional side of what people must have thought and felt, to really dig deep into the beautiful world of the soul that some of these folks laid out, and to play around with some of the tropes and images that were very popular at the time.

The supernatural, the fantastic, the grotesque and also to talk about Genghis Khan, which is always fun. Always throw Genghis Khan in there whenever you can.

I ended up writing a novel called The Tomb and the Stone based on the lives of a family that was exiled to Siberia after rising up against the tsar. So, anyway, long, rambling way to say, the world of music and writing have always been really entwined for me.

Joanna: I love that you span both of these worlds, and that’s really why I wanted to talk to you because obviously, you understand what authors are going through. Now, the music industry is obviously a few years ahead of publishing, in terms of digital disruption. So, what have you seen?

What are some of the major digital shifts in the last few years and what has accelerated due to the pandemic?

Tristra: That’s a really interesting and large question. The music industry got seriously transformed with the advent of the MP3 and then with file sharing. So, as peer-to-peer file sharing, aka Napster, came on board, it was very difficult for the legacy music industry, which had gotten very used to living on the fat of the land with the CD boom. CDs have a very high-profit margin.

And also, they allowed labels that have extensive back catalogs to reissue something and get people to buy it a second time, which is, as a capitalist working in intellectual property, that’s like a dream come true. Right? So, we went from this huge bonanza of prosperity to this incredible collapse.

What’s resulted from that has been seriously interesting. Let’s talk about the downside first. There is a huge flood of content. So, as this change in consumption opportunities via digital file-sharing, the availability of music that could be sent back and forth between people in a small compressed file, that also was accompanied with an amazing transformation of recording technology.

People could start making really viable, artistically excellent music in their home and not having to spend $50,000 to make that happen. So there’s really a flood of content we’re facing now. And that’s just accelerating.

Recently in the ‘Financial Times,’ there were some statistics thrown around by the ex-economist of Spotify, Will Page. And he mentioned that there’s just a huge amount every second of songs, of tracks, being uploaded. And many of them are by independent artists, so artists that aren’t officially signed to a music label.

So, what happens though, when you have this much content available, is there is a bit of a race to the bottom. It’s been a really massive struggle on the part of music professionals, professional artists, publishers, who are the people who manage the composition side of the music business.

There are two copyrights for each musical work. One is for the song itself, like what you could write down on a piece of paper and notate, and the other one is for the actual recording itself. All of those sites have struggled immensely to reconnect what is a sustained love of music and perhaps that’s grown even in demand for good music, with the monetary value of that music and the cost of production.

There’s been a huge challenge to try to remonetize, to put it in corporate terms, music itself. And I think that’s something that a lot of book authors, especially those who had made their careers prior to the advent of things like the Kindle, that they can probably relate to that pretty intimately.

There’s also an upside. There’s always an upside. And the fact is that a lot of artists can make their own careers in very distinct and interesting ways. Indie pathways are really wide open now.

An independent artist can release, promote, and tour, do everything they want with their music. And that pathway is no longer stigmatized. It’s no longer seen as a second-grade choice.

So there’s a lot of new opportunities as well that have come about thanks to the digitization of other kinds of media. Synchronization, meaning putting music to picture, whether it’s a video or a film or a show on Netflix, there is a whole big, big crop of apps coming out, everything from meditation apps to fitness routines. There is live streaming.

There is a new opportunity to interact with fans and to make some additional money from your recordings by allowing remixes or encouraging remixes, issuing stems. And stems are just like the individual music tracks. So like the drum track, the guitar track, the vocal track, the keyboard track, so you can have these packages of bits and pieces, which is something you can’t really do with a long work of nonfiction or a novel, but you can have these little bits and pieces that your fans can play around with and make their own versions of or use to create their own expressions.

So that’s one of the upsides is there’s just new ways to use and think about music that we never had even 15 years ago.

Joanna: It’s so similar. I feel we were just a few years behind, obviously, you mentioned the MP3 and file sharing, and that MP3 is also like e-books. And I think file sharing, I would say we’ll come to subscription in a minute, but I feel like subscription is almost file sharing because it’s, as you said, a race to the bottom where people can have unlimited content and reading. And e-books also, a lot of us use free and then hopefully sell other books for more money, but it’s still only a few dollars. There’s so many things.

I’m glad you said also the upside because, of course, this is an indie author podcast, the author is taking control of their careers. And I think being an indie musician has been very cool for a while, and being an indie filmmaker has been cool, but I feel like indie authors might still be behind the curve. I don’t think people think we’re cool yet.

Do you think in the music industry, there has been a similar stigma or is it that there is a very respected independent musicians thing? Or when you talked about a flood of content, are there some negative feelings towards independence or how does that go? Is there a stigma anymore?

Tristra: That’s a really excellent question. I would say, in general, no.

An artist who takes control of their career and hires a team if they get to that level or manages all of the aspects of their business well is highly respected in the music business.

And we’re definitely getting to a point where having a label is not an essential part of success or of reaching a large audience.

That said, that wasn’t always the case. There have always been some really active, exciting, independent small music labels that were putting out LPs, or in the dance community, say, putting out 12 inches. There’s all sorts of great vintage vinyl you can find that shows the activity on that.

But you couldn’t get a very wide distribution network. It was really tough to get access to fans. It was very difficult to get on radio. So, all of that meant that sometimes people didn’t take it seriously.

And now you’ve got someone like Chance the Rapper, you’ve got a lot of artists, you have folks like Taylor Swift, who while she’s not independent, she signed to a major, she’s made some moves, like trying to get control of her catalog and her repertoire in a way that is an indie ask, right? So, there’s just been a lot of change.

I really think we’re going to get to the point with books and authorship as well where that’s no longer seen as an act of vanity or foolishness, or you’re just not good enough to cut it. It’s good to transform in a similar way.

Joanna: Cool. Now, I want to come on to streaming and subscription because I feel like this is something that has even dramatically changed in the pandemic as well, the growth in, as you said, Spotify, but there’s lots and lots of subscription apps now.

I think the publishing industry thinks it’s an apocalypse. And as you said, I read that ‘FT’ article and I’ve read conflicting opinions.

On the one side, you’ve got massive big names selling their entire back catalog in order for those investment companies to make money basically through streaming.

And bands like Bon Jovi, you and I are similar age, like Bon Jovi, ‘Living on a Prayer,’ apparently, he’s making more money now than he has for like 30 years because people like us are listening to it again. So they’re seeing money from things that backlist essentially.

But also, we hear horror stories of creatives making a couple of hundred dollars a year on streaming.

What are your thoughts on streaming and how can we use it in combination with everything else without relying on it entirely?

Tristra: First, I want to talk a bit about how payouts for music streaming work. And it’s a complex system because it’s pro-rata. So that means there’s a limited pie that then gets divided up according to how often an artist was streamed. So, it gets really complicated.

[Check out Loud and Clear by Spotify on how royalties work.]

And it depends on who the subscriber is, are they listening in India or Indianapolis? Are they on the freemium tier or are they a premium list? It’s super complicated.

But that aside, there’s an important element that keeps getting forgotten. And that is there are a lot of middlemen in the music business, probably even more than in publishing and books. There’s just a lot of layers of contractual…how should I put this? There are many fees and many little snips and cuts that get taken out.

If you hear about an artist, like say Gary Numan, making pennies from a lot of streams, it’s often because he had a crappy contract to put it, excuse the expression, but record labels have made contracts related to digital media with important artists that basically give the record labels lots of leverage to pay things out on a fairly…in bits and pieces and dribble it out.

It’s an issue that needs to be addressed head-on. And the industry still has to grapple with that. And if the book world can avoid that, they should. Getting the middlemen out of the way, in some ways, when the pie has become slightly smaller, in terms of revenues, is essential. But that’s a whole other debate.

Let’s talk a bit about how it works for artists.

If I’m an artist who owns the copyright to both sides of my work, so I’m the songwriter and the recording artist, I can sometimes do pretty well on streaming, however, I’m not going to get all of my income from one platform.

And the tendency right now is towards fragmentation.

So while in the pandemic, especially YouTube has done really well, in terms of growth for artists, it pays out on average a lot less per stream than Deezer, Spotify, etc. But the fact is that I’m going to be getting my money from 10 different sources instead of 1 if we’re looking back at the iTunes era, or if we’re looking at like 5 or 6 years ago. So it’s a really complicated landscape as a creative.

You also need to be everywhere.

You need to make sure you have distribution in place where you’re going to reach everybody. And music can cross boundaries and borders a lot more easily. You can really dig a dance track, I don’t know, from around the world, from India, even if you don’t speak Gujarati. You could really get into this song, even if you have no idea what someone is singing about. And that’s a little tougher with books since they are based in a language that you must be able to know to enjoy. But the principle is the same.

Our fans, our reader base is going to be fractured all over the world.

In 2020, because of the collapse of live touring, which was a huge portion of income, especially for the middle tier of independent or more mid-career artists, so not the top 1% that everybody knows, and not the huge 80% of folks who just put out music for fun or just do all sorts of crazy weird stuff.

There’s a lot of artists that put out things for their own reasons and they’re not really out on the road, hitting 20 cities and trying to make a really full-on living playing music. But when touring collapsed, artists had to look for other opportunities. It was a really rough period the first couple months of the pandemic, especially because there was also a concurrent lack of interest in streaming music.

So, it was really, really hard for a lot of artists. But artists are creative. And they dug into everything from figuring out a way to charge for live stream performances, looking for more and more sync opportunities, and some artists really specialized in creating music that’s perfect for advertisements, videos, that kind of thing.

There’s a lot of ability beyond just Patreon. There’s a lot of specialty subscription platforms designed just for musicians that allow folks to create custom content or release things in a way that engages fans and yet allows them to keep more of that revenue for themselves without having to go through a platform or a middleman.

And then there’s all sorts of merch that artists can sell. I’m sure there are authors out there that have aced this, but musicians are super creative in coming up with cool things to sell people. And we can talk about that in a minute. But there’s been a lot of just creativity; you can basically have a virtual studio tour with me, or people are teaching music lessons, or selling beats, so the instrumental bed that goes beneath a hip hop track, or an electronic music track.

People just do whatever they can to put the pieces together. And they’ve been finding ways to collaborate remotely on recording sessions.

Artists are finding all sorts of interesting ways to make money.

But that’s not surprising, right? Creative people are pretty scrappy. So, in short, people have been mixing it up and there’s a big openness now to things that aren’t that traditional. I sell this thing or I play this show. And it’s going to be different for every creative based on their aesthetic community and their approach to their own work.

Joanna: I love that. I’m pretty obsessed with multiple streams of income! So, it’s great to hear that obviously, people have pivoted. But I think there was almost a freezing moment in this time last year, as we record this in March 2020, we didn’t really know what was going on and there was a moment where we thought maybe it wouldn’t last very long.

And then it was like, ‘Oh, right, we do have to adjust.’ There was almost a couple of weeks where no one could do anything. And then all of this stuff started coming out and we realized all the opportunities that we did have.

It’s like you said, there’s that downside, obviously, a lot of downsides in the pandemic. But the upside is that a lot of creatives have discovered new ways to make money that are not reliant on touring. And presumably, that’s a positive for a lot of people because, again, positive and negatives with touring.

It means that people have been able to figure out different ways to make money, which is fascinating.

Tristra: Yes, touring is a very difficult business model and it can be extremely disruptive to people’s personal lives, especially as they age into things like wanting to have a family or wanting to, say, own a home or maintain a slightly more stable lifestyle.

Some people like Willie Nelson, for instance, he’s a road warrior. He loves it. But I wouldn’t say that’s everybody. And it’s great for some folks who maybe who have a disability, or who have an obligation as a caretaker to somebody else, to be able to find other ways to be a musician and create their art, and find their fans and interact with them but they’re not required to get in a van, load up all of their equipment. It’s gruelling. So, it’s much better for a lot of people to find other things.

And now, the fans have come along. The other upside, and I think we’ll see what how this plays out in the next couple of years, but fans care now. They know, this artist has been making stuff that’s made my life better and I need to give back if I can, in whatever small way I can.

The U.S. always struggles with this because entertainment and the market economy versus the cultural significance of creative work. But there’s the sense that music is an economic driver, and that when everyone in the music business basically loses their job, even if it’s temporary, we’ve got a problem.

And our communities are less vital, our economies are less lively. We’re going to face major repercussions if people aren’t making music and performing it. I don’t know how that’s played out exactly in the realm of authorship in books and publishing, but there’s been a real recalibration of our relationship to music as a cultural good that benefits everybody in a variety of ways.

Joanna: You said that fans care now. And this is something I also keep banging on about to authors is this is what we have to double down on. Yes, we can have, as you said, the fragmentation of the market, where we sell our books all over the world or our music all over the world on all these different platforms, and people can find it wherever they can, but it’s like a funnel.

Some of those people will end up really loving our work and want to support us in other ways. For example, I sell my e-books and audiobooks direct on my website through Payhip.com/thecreativepenn, and I can make 90% sales off that, even including the fees. And that is impossible on any other platform other than direct from me, and some people choose to do that to support me.

And so that’s, I think, what we have to focus on as creatives is look, a small percentage, as Kevin Kelly said, 1,000 true fans, you can make a living as a creative, if you, yes, stick your stuff everywhere, but keep also special things for your fans.

I did want to come back on merch because I feel like musicians are so good at merch and physical products but even things like vinyl as obviously, people now also buy vinyl records and there are these physical objects sales and things that people are doing for their super fans.

What are some of the interesting merchandise you’re seeing?

Tristra: One of the cool things that happened in 2020 was vinyl outpaced CDs in terms of sales. So there’s a real vinyl revival going on. It started years ago, but it’s basically picking up speed now.

The problem with vinyl is it’s very difficult to manufacture. And after transition to CDs, a lot of vinyl factories were basically dismantled. So, getting to the production capacity has been a huge problem for the music business like when you have a paper shortage, which happens periodically, it can really impact the cost of printing your own books, that kind of thing.

But anyway, back to merch. So, musicians really like to get crazy and creative. They’ll make everything from, I don’t know if this is familiar to folks outside the U.S., but a beer koozie; one of those beer sleeves you can stick on a can to. I’ve seen mouse pads. I’ve seen, of course, things like stickers, t-shirts.

It would be fun to see what authors could do with some of this stuff. I would love to see more crazy author merch. I’ve seen people will custom make things. Super handcrafted, whether it’s making an alternative cover that you’ve painted yourself and sent to a fan and you make a limited edition of 100, screen prints of various kinds. Musicians really love to get super crazy.

And then the interesting thing I’ve also seen when I was thinking about our talk today, I haven’t seen as much with authors, but there is a massive interest in musicians as potential brand. Either brand leaders, like, someone like with Fenti or entrepreneurs with Dr. Dre and Beats, the headphones that originally they were sold to Apple.

There’s a huge entrepreneurial spirit. Musicians are trying to make stuff that’s not just music.

And it really depends on the band or the musician we’re talking about.

And beyond that, I wanted to add to the mix, and I’m not sure where this is going for other creative realms, but musicians lately have been really obsessed with non-fungible tokens. NFTs are the wacky offshoot of cryptocurrency, which might be more readily recognizable to everyone, but it’s a way you can basically issue a digital collectible that is unique to that.

It’s like a digital object of which there’s only one or there’s a limited edition of. And in the art world right now, it’s blowing up and in the music world as well. I think Grimes made $6 million for basically a file or two. It’s more complicated than that, and it’s on the blockchain, and all that fun stuff.

But in essence, it’s a file, but it’s got the rarity aspect. And that’s really exciting for fans. So, that’s been a super trendy topic right now. Everything from legacy artists like Kings of Leon to, again, people like Grimes who are trying to play that edgy high-tech game a bit with fandom.

[Check out episode 538 for more on digital scarcity and NFTs]

So, it’s a really, really wild range of things. Like, I said, from people hand-making and upcycling t-shirts and putting their band logo on it to folks with million-dollar businesses like Fenti.

Joanna: I’m glad you mentioned NFTs. By the time this goes out, there will be an episode up on blockchain and digital scarcity, which I think is the answer to the race to the bottom. It means yes, sure, you can have all of this music or books available for under a couple of bucks. But you can also get first editions.

What we have in the past had to do with vinyl or with limited edition hardbacks we can now do with digital limited editions.

And I think a lot of people don’t understand this. But I’m super excited about it. I’m thinking of all these different things that I can do as an author to make digital scarcity. It’s such a radical concept now. I’m so excited about it. And so I’m really glad you mentioned it.

Tristra: Just for one little second, sorry to dive in again, Joanna, but I am so excited about what you just said, I want to say there’s a creative opportunity here too. And the technology could allow us to create the equivalent of those gorgeous 18th-century leather-bound books gilded with embroidery and hand-painted.

We can go crazy with the digital stuff and really create something gorgeous for people that is a limited edition and very scarce.

Joanna: I’m glad you’re excited too. I feel like not enough people are excited about this yet, outside the super techie space. I feel like you and I straddle the tech space and the less tech space, let’s say.

I wanted to talk about AI because I’ve been reading articles about AI in music for a number of years now. And it’s starting to move into the mainstream.

[Check out this 2019 article on AI in music – The Verge]

The first AI co-created album happened a couple of years ago now. And also a lot of the tools like Spotify uses AI for discovery. So we’ve got AI with creation and we’ve got AI in discovery.

What do you think of the opportunities for AI in the music industry and what are your thoughts in that area?

Tristra: Oh, it’s really an interesting issue in that there’s the discovery side. The playlist that your streaming platform might suggest to you that finds other tracks based on what listeners who have some of your same habits also like. So it’s a comparative thing among users.

You’ve listened to track X but you haven’t heard track Y yet, but this other user has listened to track X and track Y. So, your platform will suggest Y to you. And sometimes it can get really good.

Now, if you’re, kind of, a spaz like me and listen to all different kinds of music, you’ll get all sorts of recommendations and it kind of throws up its hands. It’s like, ‘Ricky Skaggs, I don’t know, Psychedelic Furs, Flock of Seagulls, just whatever.’ So there’s still a lot of refinement that could go into it and new methodology for helping people find things they like in this huge flood of music out there.

One other thing that’s way in the back room that most music fans might not know about is AI is incredibly important in getting artists paid. There’s been a century-long problem with figuring out who is owed what and how to pay them efficiently in what’s effectively long been a global industry with too complicated copyrights that vary according to territory. It’s just a nightmare, in short.

On the data management and royalty payment side, AI has been very important in really speeding up the process of getting the money from place to place and finding out who’s actually owed.

And then the most fun side, the most sci-fi side is the creation side. When we think about music creation, we often think of what’s effectively composing, coming up with melodies, or rhythms, or chords, or something, tambours, that will create a set of sounds that have an emotional impact on the listener. So, there’s lots of other interesting applications for AI.

I’m sure there’s lots of similar things that you could think about for language and words, things like mastering. When you have a track in a studio, you do a final mix, and then you send it to another engineer who makes it sound even better and will make an album sound somewhat uniform in terms of levels and other things so you don’t have one track that sticks out and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, where did that come from?’ So there’s mastering.

That can be done via AI for the overwhelming majority of cases. There’s things like EQ. Trying to get just the right mix, and AI can guide you in that as well.

And then, of course, like I said, there’s the most exciting thing, which is songwriting. And I’ve seen, there’s some products that do things like help a songwriter by giving them a little prompt. So, a snapshot of a melody that’s based on music from a certain era or that’s in a certain key or that has a certain rhythm.

There’s also some interesting applications for more programmatic music. Music that is in the background. If you think about the airy, atmospheric stuff that you hear for meditation or concentration, machines can do a pretty decent job, generating that for hours.

The other thing that’s really exciting for people like me who are high energy and love to use music to move to is adaptive music. There are programs now that can take a certain kind of composition and use AI to alter the rhythm without distorting the musical integrity and that can match your stride or your heart rate. I dream of a future where you can be running on the treadmill, or on the elliptical, or on your bike, or wherever, and you can maybe gesture or tweak something just enough so maybe you need more bass to really get your heart rate going or get really into what you’re doing or lose yourself in your activity.

You’ll be able to just gesture or mess around with something and transform that musical piece to really suit exactly what you need, either in your physical activity or in your environment. Adaptive music is a really interesting place where AI could transform how we interact with music.

Joanna: I think that’s definitely close. I use the Apple Fitness+ with my Apple Watch. It’s got my heart rate on the screen. And at the moment, obviously, I choose the thing according to what I wanted do workout-wise. But the fact that they have my heart rate, they can match that with what I’m doing at the same time, that has just got to come.

I think all of that data is being used to train things. And as you said, we want to share our data when it gives us things we want, so I totally agree. And I’m very interested in that.

I do want to ask about the AI and copyright because you talked about copyright earlier. And there was a particular article in ‘The Verge’ that talks about, okay, if you train a model with songs by Beyonce and output songs that sounds similar, as in have the same vibe, but they are not plagiarized, there is not a single phrase that was said by Beyonce, and the music itself is not plagiarized, it’s original, but it does have the vibe.

How does that work? Technically, right now, Beyonce does not get any money from that because we don’t have any copyright law around using data to train machine learning music algorithms.

What are your thoughts on AI and copyright for musicians and using data to train machines?

Tristra: This is the point in any conversation about AI when music professionals break into tears and collapse into a weeping pile. Licensing and copyright are really the big bugaboos, the real challenges in the music business when it comes to technological progress. AI is no exception to that.

We’re basically going to have to build a framework that attributes vibes more programmatically, more effectively. And that does take into account things like authorship when you have, who’s the composer? Is it the person who trained the model, who has been given copyright for a composition in some cases of AI music, or is it the Beyonce, or is it whoever it is whose data you used to train it?

And what do you do if you used thousands of different composers’ works, like all of the western classical canon to train your model? Who owns it? It starts to get very complicated and that is definitely an evolving space that I’m sure lawyers will have a lot of fun with for years to come.

One interesting precedent that’s out there, just the term vibe: there’s a legal complexity around the feeling of a song. So, ‘Blurred Lines,’ I think it was, was part of this major lawsuit from the Marvin Gaye estate, I think I’m getting this right, from someone’s estate basically, who said this song feels too much like this other song. And there was no shared content.

There was no shared lyrical content, no lines, musical lines, no chord changes you could really point to, but it felt like it and it passed the legal testing, the estate won. So, we’re going to see a lot more of that kind of litigation. And, unfortunately, often, I think it’s going to be hashed out in the courts.

Now, ideally, we’d all get together, and sit down, and create an ethical and a legal copyright framework that would help sort out some of these problems or at least begin to, or at least maybe even just lay out the principles of what we’re talking about. Because, obviously, composer of ownership is transforming, right now, as we speak.

If we don’t begin to think seriously about that from an ethical and a business standpoint, we’re going to end up in some nasty messes and some exploitative situations. My hope is that maybe we’ll do that. Maybe there’ll be a grand conference of musical copyright minds. It’s possible.

But I think there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s kind of a half answer because it’s such a horrible elephant in the room for everyone.

Joanna: It’s important because the more we talk about it, the more we can start to understand it. And also, I keep talking about it in the hope, and I’m trying to get involved with government rules around the World Intellectual Property Organization, I think creatives go, ‘Oh, someone else will sort that out.’

Whereas I feel like we all need to get involved.

Even though we’re not copyright lawyers or we’re not AI programmers, we have to engage in it.

Otherwise, the people who are copyright lawyers and the people who are programmers will be the ones determining our future. And it’s just too important for that.

You talk about a lot of these things and the ‘Music Tectonics’ podcast goes into a lot of that side of things and explores music and technology.

Where else can people find you and everything you do online?

Tristra: Everyone can feel free to look me up on LinkedIn. That is the social network I use the most. It’s like I’m the biggest goofball nerd ever. I’m also on Instagram, that kind of thing too, but it’s weird. All you can see is pictures of trees there.

I also have a website for my creative side, which is tnewyear.com. If you’re interested in the music business and you want to hear more about some of the crazy ins and outs, musictectonics.com is a good place to start. I would love to talk to anyone who’s interested in talking about music and books, I’m here for you. It’s my two obsessions.

Joanna: Well, thanks so much for your time, Tristra. That was great.

Tristra: Absolutely.

The post What Can Authors Learn From Digital Changes In The Music Industry? With Tristra Newyear Yeager first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • March 28, 2021