Music has been the saving grace for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. To fight anxiety, existential dread and paranoia, people have been tuning in to music in their droves. People are spending more time streaming (in the first quarter of 2021, Spotify’s active users rose 27 percent to 345 million) and sales of physical music formats, especially vinyl records, have soared through the roof (last year, sales of vinyl records in the US reached an all-time high).
But while streaming giants and record labels hit the jackpot, artists and musicians are languishing. With social distancing preventing them from staging concerts, musicians rely on government handouts, look for new jobs or start non-music-related businesses just to make ends meet.
To mitigate the problem, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued a regulation aimed at protecting music copyright. No one really saw this coming and once it was announced, many in the music industry responded with a shrug.
The regulation basically sets up a mechanism to allow for copyright holders of musical arrangements and compositions to receive payment when their music gets performed or played. While this may sound noble, it is a solution that is at best impractical and at worst misguided.
First of all, the landscape of the music industry has tremendously changed in the past 20 years. With revenue coming mostly from streaming, there has been a fierce competition among venture capital-backed enterprises to purchase rights from musicians and record labels around the world.
One of many outcomes in this gold rush is Bob Dylan’s decision to sell his songwriting catalog to Universal Music for US$600 million last year. So, next time you play any Dylan song, the proceeds will go directly to the Man.
Indonesia is not immune to this trend. In the past few years, foreign entities have siphoned off the music catalog of some of the biggest homegrown labels. Likely, once the new regulation is in place, the royalty we pay will end up in the hands of these fat cats.
Also, it is very difficult to make hits and probably 90 percent of music ever recorded will be lost in time (just ask Surabaya singer Gombloh who released his masterpiece Sekar Mayang 40 years ago only to be ignored and forgotten by fans).
The truth of the matter is we will pay for copyrights of a tiny fraction of recorded music, old chestnuts like Bengawan Solo or Begadang, while the rest is just noise.