Unlikely allies are trying to fix one of music’s biggest headaches

About time.
About time.
Image: Reuters/Nir Elias
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The relationship between corporate music labels and digital streaming companies, usually tense at best, underwent a notable shift Monday (June 13). A number of platforms—including Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, and SoundCloud—are collaborating with the world’s three biggest record labels to address a problem that’s plagued the music industry for years: money management.

Currently, music copyright and payments are a mess. The process for paying music creators is so complex that artists and labels often lose out on money they’re owed, either because of glitchy royalty-tracking databases or the misapplication of confusing laws. That’s not even counting the extra layer of madness that’s tacked on when copyright infringement allegations are involved.

But now comes the Open Music Initiative, a joint effort from the Berklee College of Music, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a slew of big, rarely-seen-together industry players to draw up a set of clear standards for the way musicians get paid. The goal is to establish simplified platforms for distribution—basically, making sure money is fairly paid out whenever listeners stream a song.

Why isn’t that fairness already a given? It’s mostly because copyright laws haven’t yet caught up with the fast rise of music streaming platforms, which scrambled the previously straightforward method of artists being paid a set amount of money for song downloads or physical album sales. While listeners aren’t going to see any direct effects of the initiative even if it’s successful, musicians could soon have a much easier time making money—which could lead to more, and possibly better, music being available at large.