DREAMING OF STREAMING
Did you know that most, if not all, DJ's utilize software that does not allow them to use any of the common streaming services out there today. This means that today's DJs still need to purchase every track that they play in a set. When you are at an event, and you request a song, you may wonder why the DJ may say that they don't have it, or can't play it. After all, you have access to nearly every song at your fingertips through your phone's streaming service. Fundamentally, this all has to do with the copyright laws and technology.
I'M NOT A LAWYER, BUT I'VE DONE SOME STUDYING Let me preface this by saying that I am not a legal expert, and in today's political climate, the laws are changing at a rapid pace. But, as of July 2018, these are the rules of the road.
MUSIC COPYRIGHT 101 All of the popular music today is copy written. In other words, someone owns the rights to every song in the marketplace. The owner may be the writer of the song, the producer, the artist, or a combination. In order for a song to be played or publicly performed, the song's owner must give permission, and be paid a royalty fee for that performance. EVERY PERFORMANCE! In many cases, this is done through licensing organizations such as ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) and BMI. These organizations manage a song's licensing and properly pay music royalties to the song's owner(s). Any organization that publicly plays music, whether it is for entertainment or background, must sign a contract and pay agreement fees (annually) with the licensing companies in order to legally play their music. The licensing companies make it easier for dance clubs, radio stations, stores, gyms, function halls, concert venues, etc. in that they don't have to track down song owners to get approval and pay royalties every time they broadcast a song. This covers about 75% of the popular music out there today, including everything you hear on the radio. However, today's music industry has become extremely fractured due to the growth of technology. Many of the most popular songs in the clubs and at events are not played on the radio. The Billboard Hot 100 and the American Top 40 charts mean a lot less now. The millennial crowds are leaning more towards these lesser known tracks! More and more independent artists are creating songs, posting them on iTunes and the various streaming services, and bypasses the old process of going through a record label and the licensing process etc. The song owners need to give approval and get paid directly by those companies as well as any venue where the song is performed. This is where things start to get sticky. How do you know who owns the track, who to contact, who to pay, etc. Lots of independent artists today are not getting the full set of royalties that they deserve from public performance. But, that is for a different article.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE DJ? Since it is the responsibility of the venue to pay the licensing fees for public performance of copy written material, today's DJ does not need to worry about breaking the law. But, every DJ should check with the venue before performing, to be sure that they are properly covered. This should be included as a standard clause in every DJ's contract.OK,
BUT YOU SAID THIS WAS ABOUT STREAMING SERVICES? As mentioned earlier, today's streaming services pay the licensing fees and royalties back to the artists directly. So that covers their ability to stream the music. However, if a DJ does not purchase a track, physically or digitally, they do not have the legal right to broadcast or play it publicly. Especially if the DJ is being paid. Of course, if an independent artist gives the DJ permission to play a song, they are clear. This, again, is where the stickiness sets in. DJ's need to protect themselves from getting hit with heavy fines. Imagine if "Joe Artist" walked up to the DJ and asked how many times they've played a given track at a club in the last month. The DJ may be at risk of having to pay a royalty fee for every single spin of that track. Yikes.
OH, THERE IS MORE.... Outside of the legal aspect of things, DJ's also have to deal with the technological impact of their craft. Even though the most widely used DJ software products (Serato, Traktor, etc) do not allow for the utilization of streamed music, including downloaded copies, it is technically possible. One less used and less professional DJ software package on the market has built an interface with Spotify. However, as a DJ, I am not sure I would be comfortable counting on an internet connection to be present and working properly in every venue that I perform in. Timing and synchronization is a big part of mixing. One small hiccup from a slow internet connection could create a disaster in the middle of a mix. This would leave the dance floor confused. Any DJ put in that position would immediately see the "stink eye" from the folks who were enjoying the vibe. Not a fun feeling.
CLIENTS AND EVENT GOERS REMINDER Keep all of this in mind the next time that you hold or attend an event with a DJ or just music in general. Trust me, the DJ wants the crowd to have a good time, and will do as much as they can to make that happen. I always ask my clients for a list of requests prior to the event, just to be sure I have them in my collection. But, there inevitably comes a point during an event where someone requests something I don't have. Now you know why I can't just play it from your phone.