It’s really all about fairness.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to be hearing the raging debate about royalty rates and the value of music in the rapidly evolving digital and online music world. The bottom line is, “What is fair?” Obviously, there are many important links in the musical value chain, and in a respectful ecosystem all parties need to fairly share in whatever revenue is being generated. Without songs and performers, record labels and music services that distribute and facilitate access to music, our world would be a silent and desolate place.

The importance of music in our evolution and civilization traces back to the dawn of mankind. Simply, there was music long before there was a music business, and there will still be music long after the current methods of its dissemination will be seen as archaic and primitive.

Just as music and the music industry have survived these changes, so shall we, by innovation and reinvention.

The business as we know it has evolved generally in the last hundred years or so, although performing rights and music publishing started as far back as the late 1700s. Throughout the 20th Century, business models took shape and the division of roles between creators, performers, publishers, radio and record companies evolved into the landscape we came to know, for better or worse.  But the horizon looks hazy and unrecognizable, just as it did with every technological shift in our industry, from piano rolls to recordings, from radio days to the internet age.

Just as music and the music industry have survived these changes, so shall we, by innovation and reinvention, building on the strength of systems that seemed to work in the past, and finding new ways that can hopefully treat all rights holders fairly, transparently and respectfully.

Many of these new digital music services, while they have yet to realize significant profits (or any profits at all), still seem to generate millions in shareholder and equity value, as well as for their senior executives, while feeding very little back into the music value chain for creators. Likewise, large internet service providers, through whom music and other intellectual property appears to flow freely – and to the great benefit of their bottom line – also contribute nothing back.

Clearly, the current situation needs to change. At a recent CIAM (The International Council of Creators of Music) Congress in Nashville, a report was released entitled Fair Compensation for Music Creators in the Digital Age, commissioned by Music Creators North America (MCNA) and other international creator alliances with the support of SOCAN. The report, part of the Fair Trade Music initiative, was immediately endorsed by CISAC (International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers).  Primary findings state that up to 80 percent of revenues generated by streaming services should be transparently paid to the rights holders, and the report also recommends a 50-50 split between compositions and recordings. The study points to a strong and clear standard, a “True North,” in trying to define fairness.

As the debate continues, perhaps all parties need to grab their compasses.