Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Poly Styrene R.I.P.

By Emmanuel Legrand

Poly Styrene was more a screamer than a singer, and as such she embodied the ethos of the punk scene – if you have something to say, flaunt it, and even if you cannot sing or play music, just do it!

For many teenagers (including yours truly) living around that time, the end of the 70s were a musical desert. Bands topping the charts in the US – think Boston, Kansas, ELO and a few others – were a bore, the old guard (Led Zep, Who, Stones, Floyd) was physically tired and creatively drying out, and disco was turning R&B into a formulaic soulless dance thing.

Thankfully, bands like the Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, The Jam and X-Ray Spex in the UK and Television, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, The Ramones, Patti Smith Group on the other side of the pond blasted onto the music scene, most of them with moderate levels of success. But they were a breath of fresh air and reignited faith in music as a means to change things (or at least as a way to express views on the state of the things, which, in the case of punk music, was more about expressing anger at the world), something that was lost somewhere between the end of the 60s and the late 70s.

In a matter of just a few years, from 76 to 79, with just five singles and an album to their credit, Poly Styrene and her band X-Ray Spex, made a mark before fading. But what a mark! Even by today’s standards, tracks like ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’, ‘I Am A Cliché’ and ‘Germ Free Adolescents’ are killers. Poly Styrene remains an under-rated songwriter (all 12 songs on their debut album were written by her). 

Her lyrics are as relevant today as they were then. The opening lines of ‘Oh Bondage…’ (‘Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard’) echoe those of Patti Smith’s in ‘Gloria’ (‘Jesus died for somebody's sins / But not mine’). And she knew how to put together choruses that could catch your imagination.

Poly Styrene would have never made it on the X-Factor – too outré, too outspoken, too un-musical, too innocent, too punk. But she made it more difficult to listen to, say, Linda Ronstadt, after you had been exposed to her liberating screaming. And we should be thankful to her if it were just for that. R.I.P.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

World Copyright Summit: 3 questions to Alexandre Polesitski (Europa Plus)

Alexandre Polesitski is Director General of Europa Media Group in Russia – part of the France's Lagardere group – and Vice-President of the National Association of Broadcasters. He is also the President of the Radio Committee at Russia’s Media Union.

He will be taking part in the Session “The benefits of copyright compliance – Russia’s experience” at the World Copyright Summit in Brussels, on Tuesday 7 June 2011. He talks about the copyright situation in Russia, and of the importance of clear copyright laws for the broadcasting community.

Q: Why did you accept to speak at the World Copyright Summit?
Alexandre Polesitski: Europa Plus was historically the first commercial radio in Russia  – it’s still leading by audience — and was also the first to support the efforts of authors to establish a legal framework in this field. We were the first to sign an agreement with RAO, Russia’s author’s society. For us, the respect of author’s rights and neighbouring rights is a necessary condition for the full integration of Russia into the international market that is of interest to us — music, show-biz, cinema… The protection of rights and the control of these rights are equally indispensable so that there is an even playing field among the various competitors in the media sector. Being part of the Summit is a way for us to show our commitment to the respect of author’s rights and our willingness to contribute to progress in this field.

Q: Do you feel that progress has been made in Russia in the field of author’s rights and their protection?
Alexandre Polesitski: Yes, without a doubt. Ten or fifteen years ago, a situation like today — where most radio stations pay fees — would have been almost unthinkable. And neighbouring rights were not even protected. The free use of western music in films, ad spots, public performances was the rule. There are still problems — with a lot of piracy still going on — but there’s been significant progress.

Q: How do you judge the evolution of the relationship between the media and author’s societies in Russia?
Alexandre Polesitski: In our field, I would say that the evolution of the relationship has been rather positive. Until now we have always been able to find compromises when it comes to remuneration rates, the level of revenues which are taken into account for royalties, the conditions of usage of protected works in our media activities other than the broadcast of music…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

World Copyright Summit: 3 Questions to Olivier Bomsel

Olivier Bomsel is professor of economics at the Ecole des Mines (France) and author of ‘L’économie immatérielle’ (The immaterial economy) (Gallimard). 

He will be giving a presentation on June 7th, 2011, first day of the World Copyright Summit, on “Do you Speak European? Multilingualism and the Single Digital Market.” Here he outlines his views regarding the development of Europe’s digital eco-system.

Q: Why did you accept the World Copyright Summit’s invitation?
Olivier Bomsel: To heighten all the media players’ awareness of the huge economic handicap that multilingualism constitutes in Europe and the risks that competitive, globalised distribution of products imply for the European media industry.

Q: What are the main issues that you wish to address in your presentation?
Olivier Bomsel: The size of linguistic areas determines the economies of scale in creation and media distribution. These economies of scale affect not only the targetable product market (potential demand), but also the signalling investments – marketing, publishing brands – that structure the commercial distribution of cultural goods. To overcome the handicap of multilingualism, Europe needs to build protection not only of creation but above all the distribution of products.

Q: Do you think that the creative industries can develop viable ecosystems in the digital economy?
Olivier Bomsel: Overall, yes. In the United States, undoubtedly. In Europe, only if the competitive handicap of multilingualism is offset by vertical restrictions and territorial control of distribution.

Monday, April 11, 2011

World Copyright Summit: 3 Questions to Arnaud Nourry (Hachette Livre)

This is the first of a series of brief interviews with speakers who will be at the World Copyright Summit, for which I act as conference coordinator.

We asked Arnaud Nourry -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Hachette Livre, one of the world's largest publishing house, part of French media group Lagardere -- what were the challenges faced by books publishers in the new digital eco-system. 

Nourry will be giving a keynote Q&A with VRL Financial News editor Liz Bury on Tuesday June 7th, 2011, first day of the Summit in Brussels

Hachette Livre CEO
Arnaud Nourry
Q: Why did you accept CISAC’s invitation to take part in the 2011 World Copyright Summit?
Arnaud Nourry: Faced with the digital floodtide, it is essential today that the publishing industry look at the issue of copyright from a worldwide perspective. The immaterial nature of digital books is a challenge for the intellectual property principle of territoriality. In this respect, it would be tempting to rename this meeting in order to reflect the fact that there is not “one” copyright in the singular but copyrights in the plural. Any move to impose uniformity on intellectual property laws would align them all on the smallest common denominator and result in the impoverishment of the whole publishing value chain. Even though the existence of these different legal systems is compatible with the digital environment, solutions need to be invented so that full advantage can be taken of new distribution alternatives, while protecting authors’ rights. We need to apply ourselves to this task.

Q: Like other creative industries, book publishing is undergoing a digital revolution. How do you view it?
Arnaud Nourry: At Hachette Livre, we view it in the only possible way: by looking forward. No company can let a revolution take it by surprise, because managing change is key to its survival. We do business in several territories, and particularly the USA, which gives us good visibility. To anticipate means digitising all new content and catalogues so that users of tablets, smartphones and readers can find the content that will keep their equipment replenished with an attractive offering and are not tempted by piracy; it means guaranteeing multi-channel distribution of our works before a digital or telco giant decides to lose money on books in order to drive sales of other products, as has so often happened in the past.

Q: The Summit’s slogan is “Creating value in the digital economy”. How can value be created in the creative industries in the digital age?
Arnaud Nourry: We must bear in mind the challenges some cultural industries have faced with the digital revolution: maintaining value is as much a priority as creating value. If the publishing industry succeeds in establishing a digital ecosystem that is respectful of the cultural dimension of books (attractive offering, pricing policy and diversified distribution) then it will be possible to create value; because, in that case, books will fully benefit from the multiplication of reading devices. We are on the verge of this revolution: digital readers and multi-purpose tablets are starting to become part of the daily lives of readers. This means more reading opportunities for each user and new territories opening up for each book. It is up to us, as authors, publishers and booksellers, to be ready.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Live Nation and Warner -- boom, like that?

by Emmanuel Legrand

So Live Nation is apparently interested in acquiring parts of Warner Music Group… 

The first question that pops to mind: Where’s the money? The world’s largest live music company is crippled with debt and its share price has seen healthier days.

But if you read the bottom end of the Post story, it tells us that in a February interview with Bloomberg, Live Nation Entertainment’s Chairman Irving Azoff said that he was teaming with Liberty Media Corp’s chief John Malone and looking for potential targets. Malone has the money and the clout to leverage even more money, so with that configuration (Azoff spending Malone’s money) it is not impossible to imagine that anything is possible.

The other question is, why would they only be interested in the recorded music side of Warner, as implied by the piece in the Post (but also mentioned in the Wall Street Journal)? Have they have not learned yet that the best way to securitise any acquisition in the music biz is through the publishing unit? And Live Nation, which makes the bulk of its revenues from, well, live performances, should know that performances are a big part of music publishers’ revenues. But then it’s only one story, and they may have it wrong.

If you think about it, a combo of Live Nation, Ticketmaster, Front Line Management and Warner Music would create the real 360-degrees company, and a real force in the business. The new company would be loaded with debt, but its own existence would completely reset the centre of gravity of the business around one key player, and leave the others – Universal included – trailing behind.

Unless Universal and its parent company Vivendi react even more swiftly and boldly and make a bid for Live Nation. That too, would make sense. In a market where all the players need to redefine their business models, combining the largest music company with the largest live/artist company would give Universal incomparable power.

That, of course, is only speculation, but 2011 is the year where we will see the shape of the industry change seismically. With both EMI and Warner up for grabs, the games’ open. And you cannot expect Universal, with Lucian Grainge at the helm, stand still and do nothing.

To paraphrase Mark Knopfler, anything can happen, boom, like that.

“It’s dog eat dog/rat eat rat/kroc-style/boom, like that”. 

Update (21 September 2011)
Universal Music and Live Nation Entertainment announced on Sept. 19 that they were forming a joint venture to manage artists. The venture will function under Live Nation's Front Line Management Group. We are certainly far away from a take over by Universal of Live Nation, but this is a first attempt from these two key players, and leaders in their respective fields, to work together. History will tell if these ties will get tighter to a point when the two companies will consider merging. But it is certainly a step in that direction...