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Music Business News, October 4, 2017

Discogs hit nine million releases. Also, Microsoft shut down its Groove Music service. And Billboard looked inside the fight between artists and labels over copyrights.


Discogs Reaching Nine Million Releases


Discogs, a marketplace used largely by vinyl lovers announced it had reached the milestone of nine million releases.


According to Billboard, the crowdsourced online music store has been averaging 113,000 submissions each month of 2017. 120,000 were added last month due to the annual September Pledge Initiative (S.P.IN).


Discogs hit 8.5 million releases in June and since then has added 20,000 contributors to the site, for a total of 326,000. These contributors put detailed album and single information into the database, including information about specific label pressings, formats, vinyl color, liner note typos and production notes.


Discogs COO Chad Dahlstrom said, “What we’re experiencing in the growth of contributors and submissions to the Discogs Database only echoes the thriving passion for music’s physical formats … The Discogs Database mission will never lose focus on preserving physical releases in any format imaginable from every part of the world.”


Discogs was launched in 2000 by programmer Kevin Lewandowski. It was initially a way to catalog his collection of electronic albums. The site transformed into a user-generated database and was experimenting with a paid membership model prior to 2007.


The marketplace has approximately 36 million items for purchase. The most popular format on the service is vinyl (26.5 million), followed by CDs (8.6 million), cassettes (523,000), CDr (226,000) and DVDs (212,000). Electronic, rock, pop, funk/soul and jazz are the most commonly-logged genres.


Discogs has also seen growth on its sister sites Bookogs, Filmogs, Comicogs, Gearogs and Posterogs, all of which were helped by the September S.P.IN campaign.


Discogs also has a site called VinylHub that catalogs record shops and tracks vinyl-related events.


Microsoft Shutting Down Groove Music


Microsoft is shutting down its streaming music service Groove Music Pass in December, said Fortune.


Users will still have access to the app after December 31, 2017, but only as a traditional music player. They will no longer be able to purchase, download or stream new music.


Microsoft will release an app update around October 9 that will allow current Groove Music Pass users to move their online music collection and playlist to Spotify.


Microsoft hit snags as it tried to build a music service in a streaming marketplace full of competitors like Spotify, Google Play Music and Apple Music.


Groove Music changed its name from Zune Music Pass during the past few years, as it shifted away from its Zune-brand portable media players. Microsoft started using its Xbox Music streaming service in 2012, then rebranded the service to Groove Music Pass.


Still, Microsoft’s streaming service never caught fire and was unable to compete as Apple Music and Spotify continued to see explosive growth.


Behind the Fight over Album Copyrights between Artists and Labels


Although copyright reversion for albums released after 1978 became possible four years ago, only a few artists have regained control over their masters.


Billboard wondered why the fight between artists and labels has continued and when other artists will get back their rights.


Todd Rundgren is one of the artists currently pursuing the return of his copyrights. The 69-year old artist recently got a call from Coyright Termination Experts to help him pro bono, and he set off on the journey to regain ownership of music he released via Warner Music Group three decades ago.


He asked, “Why would a label be insisting on keeping a property that has stopped selling, that they don’t have any plans to re-promote except when the artist dies?” He is seeking rights to hits like “I Saw The Light” and “Bang on the Drum All Day,” along with rights to some more obscure solo work and albums recorded with his band Utopia.


Rundgren is one of many legacy acts looking to jump on the benefits of the 1976 Copyright Revision Act. The Act gives artists the right to reclaim their rights to recordings made from 1978 and beyond after 35 years, as long as they file paperwork in advance. Other artists aside from Rundgren who have filed termination requests for hundreds of works include Billy Joel, Blondie, Pat Benetar, Devo, the Talking Heads, the Police, peter Frampton and Joni Mitchell.


Major record labels have been pushing back against this concept, especially since catalog has grown to 66.2 percent of total music listening in the past year. This has been sparked by subscribers flocking to streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music Unlimited. During the past four years, fwer than two dozen of the thousands of artists who have the right to reclaim rights to their master recordings have been successful. And only hundreds have tried it, meaning a majority of legacy recording artists are not taking advantage of the 1976 Copyright revision.


One of the reasons for this may be because the process is not cut and dried. Many of the artists who have managed to get their rights back have had to agree to sign strict non-disclosure agreements. Still, label executives claimed that the process only looks secretive because information about artists contracts, both original and new, is confidential.


Also, labels would rather offer acts higher royalty rates or big advances so they can stay in control of the masters. An unnamed major-label executive admitted, “We are not in the business of giving our masters back to artists.”


Lawyers disclosed to Billboard that labels asked artists on numerous occasions to waive their termination claims in exchange for alternative compensation. Other times, labels completely ignored claims.


For some artists, higher royalty rates mean nothing if the label has no intention of re-promoting their music. Louise Goffin, a singer-songwriter who made three albums on the Warner Music Group label between 1979 and 1989 said she wants her albums back “so I can have creative control over how I am presented. I am not going to make a bunch of money, but if I can get back my albums and be able to promote them so the albums are not being ignored, that would be delightful.”


She also said her problem is common among legacy artists: “There is always the point where the label moves on when the second single doesn’t sell; or the label has a changing of the guard. Soon, you find yourself stuck with people who don’t know who you are and you have no sovereignty over your work, and it just sits in the vaults. That is where the artists have their souls destroyed.”


Warner Music Group did admit it returned U.S. copyrights to Prince on some of his studio albums as part of a 2014 contract negotiation to re-release classic works by the late artist. WMG is the most artist-friendly of the three major labels on this issue, but Sony Music Entertainment has also given a handful of artists back their album rights. None of the three labels commented directly to Billboard about this issue.


Lawyer and publishing catalog administrator Evan Cohen owns a label called Manifesto Records and founded Copyright Termination Experts in 2014 in order to help make legacy acts aware of their right to reclaim their rights to their recorded music. He has contacted around 1,000 artists withalbums issued between 1979 and 1985.


Copyrights under the 1976 law began to expire in 2013. One reason performing artists have found it difficult to get back rights is because the copyright revision act had exceptions; it did not include works created under “work-for-hire” contracts or collective works (works with many creators). Many copyright issues can only be resolved in court, and labels and artists fear going there because they do not want a “precedent-setting decision.” Also, court battles are often not worth all the money spent.


A lawyer who has worked on many termination cases explained, “If any artist were to sue to make their termination claim valid, the labels will fight artists on this issue to the ends of the earth.”


Rundgren said that if he does regain control of his albums, he will have “to bring them back from a moribund state where nobody is covering them or listening to them. You need a plan to get this music exposed.”

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