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An issue of concern

August 4, 2016

singer and luteWe have been very busy with recording projects and are taking a short pause to catch our breath. We’re happy to say our new Christmas CD, Magnum Mysterium, will be released and available by November and we are very pleased to be presenting live performances of four different polyphonic settings of the Christmas responsory text, “O magnum mysterium”, as well as other related seasonal music.

Until recent health-related issues intervened, our income was based solely on our music; performances, teaching, and sales of CDs and downloads.  When you stop and think about it, this is a fairly significant achievement for a duo specializing in 16th century music for lute and voice—probably unprecedented and quite notable because we receive exactly zero support from the established early music organizations in the US.

We have our standards, but we also have an opportunity to produce a video of some of the music from our new CD, and we are wrestling with the thought of rolling over and allowing ourselves to be consumed by the nefarious beast that is Youtube/Google.  While our existing Youtube videos have received an appreciable response, we haven’t posted anything new for a few years, mainly because of Youtube’s blatant unfairness when it comes to compensation. Our video of Donna singing the chant, Tantum ergo, has seen over a half-million views in the past few years, and more than 17,000 views in the past three weeks alone, yet we have received less than a cumulative $20 total from Youtube.

Most users of Youtube have no idea of the absurd level of unfairness that currently exists in the current Youtube format for compensating artists, and it’s about to get worse.  For more information, we encourage our readers to peruse this article by Grammy award winning composer and band leader, Maria Schneider, briefly quoted below.

“…YouTube’s ad revenue has proven paltry when compared to the real cost of producing music.  Like an Atlantic City casino, YouTube wants us to believe that we just might hit the jackpot.  Stories of viral videos make the news and seem like the new brass ring for rights-holders, but…of the very, very few who achieve viral, who can sustain it and make a career of it?”

“While we’re haggling over paltry ad revenue, we’re diverted from the far greater value that is being generated from our music.  Every month, our music drives billions of users to YouTube’s platform, and the data that Google then gathers from following our fans around the web is where YouTube’s true value lies.”

“Google and Facebook didn’t get their billion dollar valuations from ad revenue.  YouTube’s valuation largely comes from the mountains of hoarded data collected on the backs of all musicians and creators.  Therefore, part of the value of the YouTube empire should fairly belong to musicians.  Not only should musicians and creators share in the value of data gathered, but they should also have access to the data their creations generate.  Why in the world is it fair for YouTube to keep all of this data as a “trade secret” when it’s generated from our own fans, often through piracy YouTube expressly facilitates?”

– Maria Schneider

We invite your input.

  1. Below is a truncated response to a comment posted on the lute forum.

    …I think it is not an exaggeration that probably every lute enthusiast on this list visits Youtube on a frequent if not regular basis. It can be the source of enjoyment and a source of information. But Youtube is also a platform that ultimately runs roughshod over independent artists and diminishes their ability to make a living from their valuable work.

    I suspect you may have misconstrued the intent of our post – we weren’t asking for money, but rather pointing out that Google/Youtube is indeed evil, and they are really enabling the enormous scale of piracy and copyright violation that’s currently going on via Youtube. The fact is, Google/Youtube makes piles of money off the traffic regardless of whether copyright is honored or if it is not, so they have no inclination to care one way or the other. And like many other facets of modern life, the commonly understood explanation of a given situation differs greatly from reality, and the average person is disinclined to care if it doesn’t affect them directly.

    Imagine a not-too-distant future where some Uber-type service markets kidney transplants in your own home, and they outsource the service to the hordes of under-qualified medical students clamoring to have a chance to practice their craft. The hospital is no longer relevant, and the fee for slicing and dicing is driven way down. Details like sanitation and standards of expertise are tossed out the window because the entire experience is all about disruption of the norm and low-cost access to organ meats. People suffer, professional expertise is ignored and uncompensated and, all the while, the entity making piles of money is the owner of the software that connects butcher with butchee.

    I’m not saying that this particular scenario has anything to do with lute-playing, but I am saying that Google/Youtube are raking in piles of money by offering a platform for distribution of copyrighted material and they simply don’t care whose rights are being violated. Again, this isn’t just about the money – it’s about good versus evil.


  2. That’s deeply disturbing and, actually, beyond words. However, to come to a decision whether to produce and upload a video or not, I would let go of this thought of unfairness for it will neither change the situation nor leave much room for an impartial answer. Sure, as you can imagine, I would love to watch a video from your new CD, but this isn’t supposed to be a crucial factor either.

    If I were you, I would merely consider three personal issues:
    1) Do I want to make a video? Does it bring joy or any other sort of mental reward?
    2) Do I have the time and the other resources I need?
    3) From experience, will it help me to promote my album, i.e. increase sales and make more people come to my concerts?

    Whatever you decide on, it will absolutely have nothing to do with being complicit, but at the most with making the best of a screwed up situation. In any case, I’m looking forward to listening to your new recording, with or without a video. And I give you a hug for your standards, your commitment, and your authenticity.

    • Thanks very much, J. for your words of support and for your sensitivity to the moral dimensions of this issue.

      We have been offered an opportunity to produce a short video by a professional videographer, and we will obviously seize the moment. But we are wrestling with the idea of putting it up on youtube because, at some point, one has to take a stand against a thing that is patently wrong.

      We’ll sort out the issue and find a way to make the video available. But as popular as Youtube may be, we may find an alternative way to present our work.


  3. David T. permalink

    Well, this is a big topic, a huge topic, one that would take days to cover, but I would like to make a few simple comments about this large and complex issue. First of all, YouTube provides *free* distribution in 195+ countries in 4K, ultra-high definition video. So if the charged *us* $1,000 a year for this service, we would pay it. But, get this–not only is it totally free (and we have more than ten terabytes of data streaming), but, in fact, they pay us $3500-$4500 per year, which is way more than a CD company ever paid me. Over the last ten years, that’s a lot of money. But even if you don’t opt in to revenue sharing, it is a once in a lifetime chance to play for the entire planet.
    Even better, if you are a nonprofit, you can get a ton of free advertising and other tools.
    Next, one three minute video is worth about 15 full length CDs, so there is absolutely no point in making CDs. If you think of your career as a race, then you would actually be running backwards. I’m sorry to put it like that, but it is the truth. Make videos, then, if you wish, release the audio as a soundtrack compilation. You can then use the video to market the CD.
    Next, because of the way that CDs are edited and mastered, they are the frozen food, the Velveeta of the music world. Ultimately, one cannot live on frozen food and Velveeta. CDs prevent students from reaching their full potential, and they give us a distorted rendition of musical shapes.
    Lastly, Classic Music and Early Music need a new audience to survive. That audience is the global video audience. Our largest audience is between the ages of 18-34. Music–our music–needs this audience, the next generation.

    • Thanks, David. Food for thought indeed.

      Congratulations on your income from Youtube, which indicates that you are seeing millions of hits per annum. But along with having invested in the means to make high-quality videos of high-quality music, you must have quite a few videos out there.

      While it makes sense that Youtube videos are the wave of the present, we are still stuck firmly in the past in many respects. We see an annual return on our CD sales, downloads and streams that exceeds the amount you mentioned related to your videos, but we have some 230 tracks out there and several more on the way. Videos of the quality we have seen from your ensemble would be great, but we simply do not have the backing to produce them. And, frankly, our music is a bit more esoteric and doesn’t draw the same numbers as baroque music.

      However, our existing Youtube videos seem to draw from the same age group you mention. And while we really should jump on the bandwagon and figure out how to raise the funds, we simply hate what Youtube/Google are doing to the music business. For us, jumping on that bandwagon means giving in to the forces of evil. We could give details as to why, but you’re probably already aware of how the dark forces are squeezing the life out of musicians and copyright holders. It’s just not right.

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