Erica Lewin is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and currently enrolled in the course Law & Social Change: Law & Music, in Winter 2011. As part of the course requirements, students are asked to write a blog on a topic of their choice.
I have seen the rise and gradual decline of the walkman and now the Compact Disc. The way music is disseminated and enjoyed changes as technology continues to revolutionize our day to day lives. We are truly on the cusp of a new era in the music industry. As the use of iTunes expands, artists and publishers have had to look to digital means of distributing their products.
On February 24th, 2011, an announcement was made that could set ablaze the creative world of smart technologies. Island Def Jam, a division of Universal Music Group, will be joining forces with The EchoNest in the first ever partnership between a major music label and a music application developer.
Island Def Jam represents such big name artists as Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Bon Jovi and Melissa Ethridge. The EchoNest is a music intelligence platform that powers smarter music technologies, and connects developers with data and music, reaching over 100 million fans per month.
This partnership allows developers of applications (“apps”) access to the full Island Def Jam catalogue, without having to negotiate licensing on a case by case basis. The catalogue will be available to developers in API (application programming interface) format. APIs are common in the developer world. They give developers a set of basic building blocks that help them build their programs. The developer need only agree to the terms of service. There is no cost up front for the licensing of the music and no lengthy expensive process for gaining a license. Prior to this arrangement, it was extremely difficult to obtain a license, especially for smaller developers.
Under the terms of service, Island Def Jam becomes the publisher of the app and controls its distribution. Island Def Jam will make any required payments to music publishers, The EchoNest and the apps developer.
The deal is beneficial to Island Def Jam because it allows them to access a huge array of developers. Prior to this deal the label would have had to either hire a developer for a large down payment or sift through countless proposals until they found the one they were interested in funding. The new deal fosters communication between the record label and the developers. Island Def Jam can send requests out into the general developer community and developers have the opportunity to make commercial revenue based on their creative endeavours.
Jon Vanhala, the Senior Vice President of Digital and Business development at Island Def Jam, explains that, “this view that labels are these big companies just clutching onto their rights and not thinking about innovation is just so not true.” Adding, “We believe the developer community is a creative community that we want to tap into and be a part of and collaborate with.”
This new alliance allows more efficiency for both the music owners, publishers, and the app developers, and comes as a sort of test run for how music licensing could operate in the future, opening the doors for innovation. This could mark a massive shift in the way music is disseminated.
While Jon Vanhala says the API will go live “soon”, for the time being, the apps will unfortunately be limited to distribution in the United States. Regardless, we can only wonder how this will affect the way we enjoy music in the coming years.