Music teachers have to deal with a lot of problems. But copyright shouldn’t be one of them.
This topic pops up in almost every conversation I have with teachers, district educators, and other music vendors. I strongly believe putting the burden of music copyright onto teachers is a mistake. Here’s why:
- Teachers are not lawyers. Music copyright is a legal mess. I’ve asked a dozen lawyers to straighten it out for me and they don’t get it either. Copyright law is not in your job description. You should focus on what you’re good at…teaching.
- Fear inhibits creativity and innovation. In many conversations with teachers and district educators, there always seems to be this underlying fear and uncertainty about copyright infringement. Nobody wants to feel like they are breaking the law. It’s a crappy feeling that inhibits the abilities of great educators to be creative and innovative in the classroom. We need to unshackle teachers with this emotional burden so they can innovate with their students and peers.
- Student engagement and motivation. Outside of school, students have access to pretty much every song that ever existed anywhere in the world. In 5 minutes they can mash it up on their phones, record a music video, and share it with their friends garnering tens of thousands of views. Then they walk into school and we say, “No, no no. Not here” and hand them a lead sheet for Happy Birthday. (facepalm). In order to grow enrollment and make music more accessible to everyone, we need to engage students with relevant content.
Well, Who’s Problem is It?
It’s my problem. As the founder of Moosiko, a music EdTech platform, my job is to make your job easier. You go do what you do best and teach. To all the other music EdTech vendors, it’s your problem. Publishers already know it’s their problem, and are working on solutions. NAfME and MTNA…this is your problem too.
The music industry as a whole has a vested interest in getting this right as well, which means record labels, artists, and songwriters need to be apart of the conversation and the solution. What we can’t do is run to our own corners, put up walls, and try to protect profits. We need to collaborate and find a solution that meets everyone’s interest. If you work for any of the groups I mention above and want to start a dialog, here is my email, let’s chat: [email protected].
And let’s be clear. I don’t have the magic solution. But I’m optimistic. Remember the eras of ripping CDs and Napster? We got through it with innovation and a focus on great customer experience. Apple did it with iTunes and then Spotify with streaming. The music industry has benefited tremendously and we are more exposed to music than ever before. This is what we’re focused on at Moosiko. We believe that creating a great music learning experience for students and teachers will benefit the music industry as a whole.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger
This topic can be found in many state Music Educators Association (MEA) conferences, typically led by someone from a publishing company. Remember that the publishing companies are just the messenger between the music industry (record labels, artists, songwriters, copyright holders) and everyone else. They’re doing their best to follow the law, get the money distributed to the right people, and innovate as the world changes at breakneck speed. Are the laws crappy? Probably. Are they antiquated and outdated? Most definitely. This is a big, messy problem with lots of players so a clear solution isn’t going to happen overnight.
In the meantime, while we’re in this legal gray area, teachers need to be cut a little slack too. I’ve never met a music teacher hustling black market lead sheets in the corner of the school parking lot during recess. Compared to most other professions, teachers fall on the honest end of the spectrum. They’re not out there to make money, get greedy, or cheat the system. They just want to help their students learn music.
Getting Their Fair Share
While I don’t believe the burden should fall on teachers, teachers need to know that free music, forever is not the solution either. Imagine you went to a restaurant and had a great experience with your family over delicious food. Then you just bounced and didn’t pay. Lots of people would be pretty mad. The chef, sous chefs, restaurant owner, general manager, waitstaff, and dishwashers would get paid a little less than usual. They all contributed to your experience and need their fair share.
A great music experience is no different. There are just as many players involved in creating a single song, if not more, as there are in creating a delicious meal at a restaurant. Everyone that participates in creating that great music experience needs their fair share of payment.
But if someone need to pay, then who pays? This is unclear as well. My hope is that a combination of new business models, technologies, and funding sources gets the money where it needs to go while providing the benefit of music education for everyone. There was a comment in a recent MEA conferences that discrepancies in funding presents a BIG inequity problem for poorer districts and communities. This is very true and needs to be taken into account.
Strong Music Education is a Strong Music Industry
The students of today are the artists, song writers, and producers of tomorrow..so the music industry has a vested interest in music education. A strong, active, and engaged foundation of music education will support a strong future of music. Not only is music education the future of music, but the music industry stands to make a lot of money from it.
Here’s an example of a typical student learning Taylor Swift song in her guitar class and its downstream annual revenue impact to the music industry:
- Listens to the song on Spotify 10 – 20 times ($7)
- Her parents hear her practicing and singing Taylor Swift and get her some merchandise for Christmas ($50)
- She and her two best friends go to a TSwift concert ($525)
- She posts her journey practicing, playing, and singing on TikTok resulting in hundreds of impressions ($10 of free marketing)
- Total for one student: $592 per year
There are 56 million students in the US. Assuming half participate in music programs, which is too low, learning popular music has the potential to drive ~$16 billion dollars to the industry. You can adjust your own assumptions here but the order of magnitude is significant.
Here is how much the industry stands to make when we teach Down by the Riverside:
The point is that the economics will work for everyone.
So…What Should I Do?
Go teach. Worry less. And use common sense. Use all the resources available to you to help students learn and love music. The most amazing thing that happened last year is that in a single week, teachers created thousands of resources for each other, shared ideas / tools / methods, and innovated to adapt as their world came crashing down. We made it through with so many new ideas and perspectives. We need that spirit and innovation EVERY WEEEK! Unfortunately, the fear and uncertainty that comes with worrying about copyright kills that spirit.
So. As this year approaches, you’re sure to have lots of problems. But copyright shouldn’t be one of them.