Mike Turner on Music and Musiconomi

The founding guitarist of Our Lady Peace writes about his life as a musician and unintentional accountant

Mike Turner in St. Pierre, August 2017. Photo: Bry Frederic Fouchard

For my entire adult life, I’ve been involved in music. I started playing late, around 16, but I was in a band within about 3 months (thanks, punk rock!) and I’ve been doing it ever since. I signed my first recording contract in 1993 and that was around the time I also stopped having a ‘day job’ to support myself. Granted the very definition of “supporting one’s self” involves setting the bar where you choose to. You’re not starving to death and have a place that keeps the rain off your head? SUCCESS!! Eating anything other than ramen noodles and canned meat from the ‘scratch and dent’ bin at the grocery store? GREAT SUCCESS!!! I even went all the way to signing the aforementioned major label deal (Sony), releasing multi-platinum albums and touring them internationally… HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?

It Takes a Village, People

Well, in reality, it’s the result of a team of dedicated professionals that you pick up along the way. When you start out you’re alone in trying to get good at your instrument. Then you need to get good at writing songs and performing. Then there’s finding a band (and another, and another) and getting good at that. Right around there your plate is pretty full so you start to need some help. Assuming your career is going really well, you’re going to need ‘crew’ (AKA the hardest working people in music) to help you put on the best show you can. There will be a Front of House engineer (AKA sound person) to make sure everyone can hear how great you are. You’ll need a Lighting person to make you look like a star, you’ll need stage hands to keep everything running onstage and to be there in the event of any problems (Broken string/faulty cable? Guitar tech to the rescue!). The bigger the show, the more crew you need.

All of those crew people need to be paid and the accounting of how that money moves needs to be tracked. Keeping all of this organized is another job again. Enter the manager(s). Managers have a myriad of skills and relationships they were developing while you were learning your instrument etc. Got one? Great! You’ll need a contract with them and constant accounting of earnings and commissions. Now you’re going to need a Booking Agent to help get you shows in places beyond the bars and clubs you’ve been working in. They’re going to handle contacts with talent buyers and Promoters for shows as well as collecting deposits and paying them out to you after they take their commission.

More accounting.

A lot more.

Not so rock ’n’ roll

At some point, you need to make a record so people will know what they’re coming to hear. You’ll likely need a Producer; they specialize in making records much the way a Director specializes in making films. They generally charge a fee as well as taking a commission based on the success of the finished item.

Accounting…

Another part of the recording process involves engineers, some for recording and others for mixing the record. Mix Engineers also often have a commission on top of their fee. Those Producer and Mixer ‘points’?

Accounting…

Once the record is done you’ll a need Graphic Artist and a Photographer to make the sure imaging for the record reflects your artistic vision (and maybe make the singer look pretty. I hear that helps!). Now you need a Record Company to help with marketing, promotion, and distribution worldwide. Sign a contract and have record sales accounted to you quarterly.

Accounting…

You will likely also sign a contract with a Publisher to administer your songwriting catalogue and collect applicable royalties (mechanical royalties and synchronization fees) before paying them to you (more accounting). You’re also going to need a PRO (Performing Rights Organization) to collect the royalties applicable to performance on radio, TV and digital sources in your home country and to act on your behalf to collect the same royalties from their counterparts in other countries and, you guessed it, provide accurate accounting of all payments. You’re going to also need another type of PRO who collect royalties due to you as one who played on the recordings and provide you with the accounting of all of it…

What happened to just playing music?

My point is that there are a tonne of very necessary intermediaries in the seemingly simple world of playing music. Without Managers, Agents, Record companies, Crew, Publishers and Performing Rights Organizations (and likely even more that I’ve forgotten!) my career would have been impossible. The vast majority of the people I came into contact with at all levels got into the music business because they were passionate about music. We all share that wellspring.

Today there are multiple revenue streams that also have multiple participants at various stages all governed by different contracts and were directed by rights attribution. The execution and administration of these contracts were the basis for much of the drudge work of the legacy music industry and I’m pretty sure nobody got into the music industry because they loved that stuff!

The work that was the reason people got into the music business was always done in addition to these tiresome and time-consuming tasks. Think about it. If a manager isn’t busy chasing after how payments are being made or held, they can spend more time keeping your career on track doing things like negotiating better opportunities and terms for you. If your Agent isn’t chasing payments and administering them then they can be chasing better gigs for you to play. If your record company isn’t chasing all the different organizations that administer all the different payments, then they can be working on better marketing and promotion as well as developing synergies with their other artists and all of the other relationships they have, all on your behalf.

You can’t do everything yourself once you reach a certain scale and those that can and do help you are of huge value to you.

As the industry exists today there are intermediaries whose job is collecting revenue from the end user on behalf of the artists they represent and then determining who all the rights holders are, finding them and paying them. This is very difficult and those that have become experts in that field have risen to become multi-million dollar businesses. Their work was challenging and complex and they earned the money they made because they brought value to the interaction between artist and fan.

What if there was a system where all of the rights holders were directly connected to the song (or other digital asset) as soon as it was ready for public consumption? What if the payment for that song went from the end user directly to each and every rights holder in the proportion that was agreed upon with no intermediaries? What if there was a hack proof ledger (maybe with distributed copies) of these interactions that anyone involved could look at to verify their representation on the piece of work? See where I’m going with this?

Musiconomi. That’s where.

With Musiconomi everything about the business of music as it exists in the digital world we live in happens without unnecessary intermediaries and their associated costs and potential for difficulties and mistakes. I’m not saying we need to burn down the industry as it stands but there are many, many inefficiencies that can be removed to the benefit of everyone. Everything is accounted for AT THE SOURCE OF THE TRANSACTION with complete transparency that is available to everyone participating.

Everyone involved in every aspect of the music business will benefit from these efficiencies. Artists, Managers, Agents, Record Companies, Publishers…everyone! Everyone that brings value will be able to be remunerated for their efforts. There will likely be some growing pains while the portions of the industry that will be disrupted will have to adapt to a new environment, but I think everyone knows how standing still and saying things aren’t changing works as a business strategy. Now is the time to embrace these changes and try to move forward into the future together. One of the biggest drivers in this shift will be the love of music and the passion that we all share for it.

Come Together

I love to make music and take seriously every time I’m entrusted with the task of helping artists make the best record they can. One of the interesting things about Musiconomi is that it incentivizes everyone’s passion. Obviously, those that make music for a living need to be remunerated so they can focus on making music as a profession, that’s a given, but what about the fans that help spread the word? I can tell you first hand of the value of the evangelical fan because I was lucky enough to have several in the tech field in the early days of the internet. Our first website was written by a fan when it actually had to be written in HTML code, no Wordpress or Wix back then! There were early communities that sprang up around the band online and the relationships made there served to solidify the fan base of the band because belonging to the community was fun in and of itself and that reflected well on the band by improving the very experience of being a fan.

We did what we could in terms of rewarding those efforts by hosting them at sound checks and being certain they were looked after at shows. With Musiconomi you can have an even closer connection by actually incentivizing the evangelical fan with physical rewards. We all have that one friend that loves to tell everyone about their latest musical discovery. What Musiconomi offers to those fans is the ability to be rewarded every time someone listens to one of their recommendations. With the tools Musiconomi offers, the fan can get an embeddable player from the band and every time the song is played from it, the underlying contract will direct a portion of the payment for that play directly to that fan. Similar tools are being developed for playlists generated by fans.

We’ve Only Just Begun

These are only a couple of examples of the myriad tools that the Musiconomi team have and are developing, to help move music into the world of block chain based systems. I feel the shift is inevitable and for the better for everyone involved. Adoption will be key to the development of Musiconomi but such has always been the case in the digital world and over time I think it will inevitably happen. Another thing that has always been true is that the earlier one gets involved the better the results are down the line. Now is the time to explore what we’re doing at Musiconomi rather than trying to catch up later. We don’t say that we’re the only way, in fact, we encourage people to try everything and we discourage the idea of exclusivity. More platforms only present more opportunities which benefit everyone. Only after trying multiple platforms can you decide which is best, we’re confident it will be Musiconomi.