Nine years ago, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit called the Future of Music Coalition held its very first policy summit.
The world had begun to buzz with questions about where music was headed (What are we going to do about piracy? Will record labels still exist?), but the discussions rarely seemed to include the people actually creating the music, and the FMC wanted to see that gap bridged.
“We were simply trying a new thing at the time,” says Casey Rae-Hunter, the FMC’s Communications Director. “Bring policymakers and other influencers into a space with creators who are impacted by those decisions and see what happens!”
Today, as the FMC Policy Summit enters its ninth year, that space will be even more closely watched. Several hundred attendees are expected, and well over 10,000 people are likely to tune in to online streams of its panels.
Over the years, these summits have gotten into a lot of high-level nitty gritty, and this year’s summit is no different. Intellectual Property Czar Victoria Espinel and NEA Chair Rocco Landesmann will deliver keynote addresses; Harvard University fellow Danah Boyd, Big Champagne CEO Eric Garland and former Rhapsody SVP Tim Quirk will discuss consumer behaviors and attitudes surrounding music’s transition to the digital space; executives from the Consumer Electronics Association, the Copyright Alliance, Public Knowledge and Free Press will discuss the possible role of government in regulating the music industry.
But a look at this year’s schedule also shows an even bigger focus on delivering immediate, actionable information to musicians. The first day of the Policy Summit, for example, features a masterclass in online PR and marketing, a checklist for new artists, a conversation about how the Obama administration’s health care reform impacts musicians, and case studies of musicians successfully using direct-to-fan marketing approaches.
“What we wanted to do right now is be utterly, incredibly realistic,” Rae-Hunter explains. “After ten years of trying to dissect the conceptual problems with the music industry’s transition to the digital age, I think everyone is quite acclimated with those.”
Those conceptual problems – copyright’s sorely needed update, the recently imperiled idea of net neutrality, and monetization in the face of piracy – are unlikely to be resolved soon. But to Rae-Hunter’s thinking, this is precisely why the Policy Summit is so important.
“The politics are going to continue to be fluid,” Rae-Hunter explains, “so to have the discussion, to re-remind people of what they should pay the most attention to, the stuff that could likely affect them the most, where they need to be to hold their elected officials accountable, and where we need to be if we can be unified in saying, ‘This is what’s going to work for our sector, this is what’s kind of B.S.,’ that’s still really important.”
Far more important than struggling to preserve a system that was beneficial to a few instead of many. “We may be, literally, out of a phase where a rock star lives in a castle and does cocaine out a thousand-dollar bill before lighting it fire,” Rae-Hunter says. “That actually might be over.”
Few are arguing that that’s a bad thing, but there is also a lot of anxiety about what that phase is being replaced with. Rae-Hunter and the rest of the FMC are guardedly optimistic about what lies ahead. “Policy makers now understand that it’s important to consider not handing over the biggest communications platform in the history of mankind to, like, three companies,” he says of net neutrality. And even though the last significant update to copyright, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, happened “eons ago, in tech time,” Rae-Hunter feels that most of its framework remains viable.
And as arguments rage over valuation and monetization of digital music, the FMC would just like whatever framework is devised to contain three simple features. “‘Does it pay creators, can they make a living, and do they have reasonable access to their fans in a way that they don’t have to enter into these onerous kinds of conditions?’ If we can say yes to those things,” Rae-Hunter says, “then I think that by virtue of pulling in that direction we’ll fix the other [issues].”
Next Sunday, we can all tune in and figure out how to get there together.