WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There were moments Tuesday during the annual Future of Music Summit where the conversation about revenue in the digital music industry sounded like a scrum over crumbs, a desperate fight over an increasingly shrinking pie.
"There is so much competition for so much music, and it's all so devalued," said one exasperated music entrepreneur, Rodney Whittenberg. He was one of hundreds of musicians, executives, attorneys, policy makers and journalists who attended the conference, presented by the advocacy group the Future of Music Coalition.
But as the Future of Music Summit demonstrated, some of the glitter and promise of the new guard may be wearing off, at least within the artist community. For many musicians, little has changed from an economic perspective. They not only remain bottom-feeders in the industry revenue pool, for some the future seems even more bleak as the pool grows more shallow. Less money is being made from recorded music, and payments from promising digital streaming services such as Spotify are doled out at a rate of fractions of pennies.
The latest hot-button debate in this increasingly contentious arena: The newly crafted Internet Radio Fairness Act. The legislation, introduced a few weeks ago in the
Though Pandora is perceived as one of the most successful of all the music-related digital start-ups -- formed in 2000, the company was valued at more than $2.5 billion when it made its Initial Public Offering last year -- Westergren said the company is profitable, but still struggling. "We're barely holding our head above water," he said.
Jesse von Doom, cofounder of the nonprofit, open-source music company CASH Music, countered that while he appreciates the obstacles facing new-technology companies in a still-changing musical landscape, upstart artists often find themselves well below the break-even line. They're being forced "to learn to breathe underwater."
The Internet-radio revenue debate dominated the summit, climaxing with a contentious panel aptly titled "Radio-Active."
Michael Petricone of the Consumer Electronics Association said "you'd have to be nuts" to get into the Internet radio business given its difficulties, and that the Fairness Act legislation could jump-start it and potentially "create a hundred Pandoras."
But artist and license-holder advocates, such as SoundExchange executive Colin Rushing, warned the legislation would sanction "below market" rates for artist payments, and Patricia Palach, attorney for the American Federation of Musicians, said the Fairness Act brims with "snake-pits" for the artist community.
David Lowery, the leader of the rock bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker and a respected producer, went a step further, citing passages in the Internet Radio Fairness Act that he asserted were an attack on free speech. "Anybody read Orwell?" he said of the bill's language. "This is an attack on the little guy."