Allen Bargfrede - Legally Verified
Allen Bargfrede is co-founder and Chief Legal Officer of Verifi Media. He’s a media, entertainment and specifically music industry lawyer with a particular focus on the intersection between the arts and technology. He’s also a music law lecturer at Berklee College of Music and the author of Music Law in the Digital Age.
As a result, copyright features pretty heavily in his work and he’s made a career out of his ability to understand it, break it down and explain it in clear terms. He’s also been at the cutting edge of new technologies for music and for music rights. In this episode, Allen explores the latest key issues in law across the US and Europe for music in the digital age.
Dubber Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber, but you can just call me Dubber. Everyone else does. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this here is the MTF Podcast. Now, it occurs to me that in recent weeks we’ve been getting quite legal on the show. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, music tech lawyer and investment advisor Cliff Fluet. A few weeks before that, music industry digital rights law expert Vickie Nauman. And before that, leading industry lawyer Rastko Petaković talking copyright. And, well, to be fair, it’s a big and complex issue, and it’s absolutely central not only to the music industries in the tech sector but to the whole of the creative and cultural industries, and, by extension, through intellectual property in the digital age, all of industry. It raises lots of important questions, from music licencing to innovative new services to blockchain registration of IP and beyond.
And so, who better to shine a light on all of this than entertainment attorney, strategist, Berklee College music business lecturer, Chief Legal Officer at Verifi Media, and the author of Music Law in the Digital Age: Copyright Essentials for Today’s Music Business, Allen Bargfrede. As usual, I was as interested, if not more so, in how he works as I was in the mechanics of how copyright works, because more than a technology industry, more than a rights industry, more than a music industry, even, this is a people industry. And Allen Bargfrede, he’s good people. From Oregon, but just as at home in France, perhaps the most European of Americans, Allen Bargfrede. Enjoy.
Dubber Allen Bargfrede, thanks so much for joining us for the MTF Podcast today.
Allen Yeah, thanks for having me on.
Dubber No problem. You’re described as a number of things, a consultant, a lawyer, someone who’s into media, design, music, technology. Where do you come into this at? Where’s the starting point for you?
Allen Yeah, I think that my career has really been focussed over the past 20/25 years on the creative arts and the intersection of creative arts and technology, so I fit into that in a number of different ways. My background is as a lawyer, but I do a lot of work that’s focussed on the future of music and strategy. And I co-founded a company a few years ago called Verifi Media, and I am the Chief Legal and Chief Strategy Officer for that company, and so I think that indicates a little bit that merger between those two pieces of what I do. So a lot of copyright work, a lot of looking at how artists and copyright owners are protected and how that merges together with technology.
Dubber Right. Did you come at this from “Well, I’m interested in law, and this kind of law is really interesting.”? Or did you “I’m interested in music, and music needs a lawyer.”?
Allen I got started because I was in law school, I was living in Austin and I had a couple of friends that were musicians, and I got really into the idea of management. And so I was managing a couple of local artists, and then I went on to do some more work after law school as a manager, personal assistant, music attorney. But I really came into it through a love for music, and that blended with the fact that I happened to be in law school and happened to start doing some work in the music industry.
Dubber And there’s a really strong technological thread to what you do. You mentioned Verifi, and that’s a tech company, I guess. Is that fair to say?
Allen It is, and it’s a tech company for the music industry. And so I feel like I also came into the music industry right as this collision of technology and music were occurring. So I graduated from law school in 1999, and that was pretty much the year that Napster was developed, and that was the year where…
Dubber Year zero.
Allen Where all of the Silicon Valley folks started to butt heads with the L.A. creatives in California. And there was two very different cultures and different ways of working that I think have really blended and have come together to understand each other now, but at the time there was very much a dichotomy between those two cultures.
Dubber And as a lawyer, and this is something I wonder about lawyers all the time, actually, do you have a strong position on what the law should be regarding copyright? Or do you just have a responsibility to make sure that, given the laws that we have, these people behave in these ways?
Allen I have a pretty strong opinion about what copyright should do and how it should protect, yeah.
Dubber Is it going all right? Or it is going in the right direction?
Allen It’s going in the right direction in some ways, and I think that it’s going… I wouldn’t say in the wrong direction in other ways, I would say that there are some legacy things that exist that have caused problems. So I mentioned Verifi is a company that I co-founded, and what we’re trying to do is provide better data management for the music industry. And this is something that’s an incredible problem as you look at digital music and tracking rights, and tracking and understanding who owns what with respect to songs and sound recordings.
And the reason that this is a problem is because The Berne Convention, which is the largest international treaty for copyright, has a clause that says that any signatory country cannot require registration as a prerequisite for having a copyright. And I completely understand and agree with what they were trying to do. They were trying to remove any administrative and financial burden on creators to actually having protection for their work, but what it has done, the side effect, has been that there is no central repository or database with respect to understanding who owns what and how to make appropriate royalty payments.
And so I think that that particular issue can be resolved. You don’t have to require registration in order for a creator to have protection, but you can start to require registration in order to be able to receive royalties. So it wouldn’t obviate whether… It wouldn’t take away your copyright, the fact that you didn’t register it, but if you do want to be paid, realistically, from a common-sense perspective, there needs to be some kind of registration requirement so that you do get paid.
And so I come at this with a background in both… Predominantly American law, but I’ve spent a number of years living in Europe and have come to understand a lot of the EU directives. The way the EU system is set up, as well. And the U.S. has much more of a fractured music market, and you probably have bigger problems in the U.S. with respect to these rights and data management issues.
So I think that things… There are some legacy things within copyright that I think are causing problems that could be changed, and I think that there are other positive developments for creators as time goes by. And a lot of it also has to do with just copyright in a lot of countries was written a long time ago, and it needs to be updated for the technologies that we’re seeing today.
Dubber Just, first principles, what’s copyright for?
Allen Copyright is to protect a work and to incentivise the creator to actually create. So copyright allows an owner to control their creative work. There’s a set of basic exclusive rights that come with copyright that are a little bit different depending on which territory you’re in, but it is to protect that work, protect what the creator is creating, but also incentivise them to create, and so provide some kind of structure that they can be compensated for it. And many musicians are part-time musicians and others are full-time musicians and are trying to earn a living from being creators, and so copyright was created to incentivise that.
Dubber Right. So what you’re saying is that the protection of works is what copyright does, and incentivising people to make more stuff is why it does that. Is that right?
Allen Yes, exactly.
Dubber Right, okay. So we know that copyright is doing its job well when, A, people’s works are being protected, and, B, it’s set up in such a way that it encourages people to make more good stuff.
Allen Yeah, exactly.
Dubber Okay, yeah.
Allen And then people can be… That people, artists, whether you’re a musician or a screenwriter or a photographer or whatever you may be, can earn a living from what they’re doing, and that incentivises people to spend their time on creative arts as opposed to some other activity where they need to make money to feed their family or buy a house or whatever.
Dubber Right. Because that seems like a really good litmus test for whether we’re doing copyright well or not. Is it doing those two things?
Allen Right, yeah. Are the works protected? Can someone take my creative work and do whatever they want with it, and change the words and lyrics to my song and rerelease it without my permission? Can I, as a creator, earn money from my work? I think those are the two core principles of copyright.
Dubber But it gets messy pretty quick.
Allen It does, especially as you start to have things like different technological devices that weren’t contemplated by copyright, as we just discussed.
Dubber Sure. I don’t want to jump to the end, but is blockchain the answer to all this?
Allen Is blockchain the answer? I think blockchain deployed in the right way can help to solve some of the data problems. I wouldn’t call it the answer. I think that there’s other technologies, there’s other legal changes that can be made to help further incentivise creators and make sure that folks are being paid properly.
We at Verifi believe that enterprise blockchain products, and what we’re doing is very much an enterprise blockchain technology system as opposed to a payment in bitcoin or some cryptocurrency type thing, has a role to play. And so I emphasise this every time when I speak to people, because a lot of people hear blockchain and they still think of bitcoin and cryptocurrency and “I’m going to put my music out on the web and someone’s going to pay me in some weird currency that I can’t ever get any money out of.”, and that’s not what we’re doing. What we’re doing is…
Dubber Is that still a thing? Is that still something that people are doing, or have we moved on from that?
Allen I think there’re some companies out there that are still doing that. I think that that was very 2017, if you want to label it with a year. But I think that… And there may be a place for that, but crypto remains a different world. It’s been adopted in some areas, but it’s not what we’re trying to do.
Dubber Right. 2017, interestingly, was also the year that the second edition of your book came out, the Music Law in the Digital Age, which was a revised version of… What was it, 2009, the original?
Allen 2009, and there’s a 2020 or 2021, if I can get one last segment to my publisher, coming any night.
Dubber Right, because I was going to say 2017 was like 35 years ago now. What’s changed?
Allen Significantly, with respect to copyright, there’s been two major changes. One was the EU directive on copyright that came about a couple of years ago and is now being implemented by the member states. And so that has some changes, particularly with respect to user-generated content sites. And then in the U.S., the Music Modernization Act was passed in late 2018, and so that has some changes with respect to how creators are being paid and some of the registration requirements that I alluded to earlier. And so actually having a central repository called the MLC to register to receive mechanical royalties for songwriters in the U.S. Those are two pretty significant changes. The MMA certainly was the biggest change for music in the U.S. in 20/25 years.
Dubber And obviously there are changes that can be made to the law, but there are also technologies that can be implemented that make up for the gaps. So rather than just challenging the law with new technologies… For instance, the registration thing. There are technologies, I understand, where when you make something using a particular piece of software it will register those things for you. Are those sorts of solutions another way of solving the same problem?
Allen They are, and I think even… A lot of those systems that would allow you to enter information at the point of creation, it can be very, very valuable. And, just to go back to the EU directive, I think your point on evolution of technology is important here because both the U.S. and Europe had the safe harbour clause which allowed user-generated content sites like YouTube to essentially not pay royalties as long as they fell behind the safe harbour and they took these certain steps, including responding to takedown notices, and the EU responded and removed that safe harbour in their new directive on copyright.
And part of that was a recognition that content recognition technology has come a long way since that safe harbour was first put into place. That was ’98 in the U.S. and the year 2000 in Europe. And now you’re 20 years later, and YouTube has the ability to recognise almost every single song, using Content ID and other technology, that’s going up on their platform. And so that was a law change that I think came about as a result of these new technologies.
Dubber It sounds like the U.S. and Europe are going off in slightly different directions as regard to these sorts of things. Is that going to cause problems long term? Because we’re talking about international repertoire. If there’s one rule in one place and one rule in another place, how…? Does that just make more work for lawyers?
Allen Yeah. Look, I think it’s something that already exists. No two countries have exactly the same copyright law. You’ve got to go to SACEM in France or PRS in the UK, or different licencing entities in different territories. I do think that there are… Again, there’s different laws in different territories. I think changes are moving.
Interestingly, the U.S. put out a report, really, several weeks ago, about safe harbour and whether that should be changed in the U.S. The U.S. is looking at Europe, and in this particular case Europe may be taking the lead, and you might see a change in U.S. law as a result. Or maybe not. The political climate in the U.S. for change, or for any legislative action, is difficult right now.
Dubber Right, for sure. You’ve been involved in some cases, like, actual, where things are being disputed in court about copyright infringement and those sorts of things. How does that play out? Is it like courtroom dramas in the movies? Or is it a little bit more restrained than that?
Allen I don’t think it’s courtroom drama. Drama like in the movies. I think that you get the courtroom drama for the movies, and these multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuits against Spotify, but I think… There’s a number of these cases that are floating about. There are cases like the Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, Marvin Gaye case that came about a few years ago that I think really opened a lot of eyes and had people standing up saying “Maybe this was not a correct ruling.”, or maybe cheering the ruling. But I think this kind of stuff is happening all the time, where either a songwriter feels like one of their songs has been taken without permission or a new technology has arrived that does not fit legally within copyright law.
And I think that one of the things about the interplay between technology and copyright is that you have cases that turn very much on the way the technology was built. You could enable the same thing to the consumer in different ways, and if you enable it in one way it’s legal and if you enable it in another way it’s not legal. And the end result to the consumer may be completely the same, but the way the system works in the backend…
Dubber You mean the mechanics of it?
Allen Yeah, the mechanics of who’s making a copy and where the copy’s being stored and who’s actually making the copy can make a difference when it comes down to copyright, and so technology companies have to keep that in mind.
Dubber Wow. So you teach this, or a variety of this, at Berklee College of Music, as well as some innovation stuff and entrepreneur lessons and those sorts of things. How does your role at Berklee weave those things together?
Allen Yeah, so I joined Berklee College of Music as faculty almost 15 years ago at this point, and I’ve been teaching for them ever since. I’ve been in a number of roles for them, ranging from pure faculty member, teaching, to launching a programme for them in València, Spain, to creating a thinktank called Rethink Music. We’ve done a lot of work around this intersection of music and technology and the future of music, and we launched that in 2010 right as, I think, the music industry was really at the depths of its abyss from the move to digital. And so I remember we had a major conference in Boston in 2011, and people were… It was right as Spotify was entering the U.S., and people were really starting, I think, to recognise that perhaps streaming was the future.
But we’ve tried to do a lot at Berklee towards entrepreneurship, towards helping a new generation of students come out into the workforce, and I think we’ve been successful. There’s Berklee grads pretty much at every music company around the world.
Dubber Is being an entrepreneur part and parcel of being a musician now, do you think?
Allen Of course. Any person who’s a musician, who is more than a musician by hobby, and by that I mean someone who’s trying to make money from their art, is an entrepreneur. And so they need to have some certain set of entrepreneurship skills, ranging from just how to collect money, how to market themselves, how to set up a business, how to operate a business. And I think a lot of that is sometimes difficult when you’re trying to be both a businessperson as well as a creator. How much time do you spend on each? Particularly when you’re a new artist, you have to figure out, with your limited number of hours in a day, do you need to be creating five new Instagram stories, or do you need to be writing a new song?
Dubber Yeah, for sure. And particularly that the variables have changed over the last few months. We’re in quite a different time. What have been the things that you’ve seen have been the most profound impact of that? Other than the obvious things that we see like somebody can’t go and play live to an audience. But from where you’re sitting, what do you think are the things that people should be paying attention to?
Allen Yeah. I think that there’s a number of artists that are hurting, and a lot of it is the smaller and mid-tier artists, that are not in the top numbers on Spotify, that do depend on touring and merchandise for income. And so I have some clients that are playing live-streams for PayPal tips, and some of them have been fairly successful.
I think that this move to online interaction has a positive and negative aspect to it. So now, all of a sudden, you have live-stream concerts and you can access anyone in the world anytime, so you can bring together your entire fanbase from anywhere in the world to watch you play in your living room or wherever you’ve managed to secure a venue. The problem is that every other artist in the world has the same opportunity, and so you may have 20/30/50 of these shows going on at any given moment, and so there’s certainly, I think, an amount of online fatigue as well. I know, personally, I spend a lot of time on Zoom and video conferences, and even trying to participate in conferences… Midem was online this year, and I found it difficult to spend more time on Zoom than I already do. There was some great material, but… I think it’s the same challenge for artists that are trying to move to this online environment, trying to access their fans.
I think that there was an appeal in The New York Times a couple of days ago for fans to go out and actually spend money on buying music, so “Artists are hurting. Go buy their vinyl, go buy their T-shirt.”. Go buy what you can from this person that she likes to ensure that they can get back out on the road and be there for you when this is all over.
Dubber Sure. Because I guess the value proposition of sitting and watching a video on your laptop as opposed to actually going to a large venue and dancing, there’s a monetary difference in what you’d expect to pay for that experience. So maybe you can’t quite charge the tickets that you used to be able to charge.
Allen Yeah. And I think… I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more in the way of VR and some of the other more immersive technologies. This is a great time for that type of technology, really, to step forward, when people are stuck at home and not able to see music or sports or do the other things that they’d like to do.
Dubber Are the students coming through Berklee thinking about music in those kind of terms, in new ways? Or do they very much want to join bands, go on tour, make albums, sign posters, that sort of thing?
Allen I think it depends on the student. Berklee has at any given moment almost 5,000 students enrolled. And we are a conservatory at heart that has a very strong music business and music production programme, and we even reach into areas like music therapy. And so I think everyone that comes to Berklee has maybe a slightly different interest.
But what I’ve found in my many years is that the cool thing about the Berklee students is that they’re all there because they’re passionate about music. They know that music is what they want to do, whether that’s being a manager or being a songwriter, and I think you don’t get that at some other institutions that maybe you just have college students that are going to college and trying to find their way in life.
Dubber There’s been some interesting research projects come out of Berklee. I know last time you and I spoke was about a medical research project that was going through. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that and some of the other projects that are going on with your students there?
Allen Yeah. So Berklee recently launched a music and medicine institute, or I think it’s maybe the music and health institute. So we did a study, still yet unpublished, hopefully published soon, with respect to the use of music as medicine. And so not traditional music therapy, meaning playing the instrument, but the ability to actually treat someone for various conditions through active music listening. So there’s been a lot of studies that if you spend 15 or 20 minutes actively listening to music you can have these various neurotransmitter and dopamine effects in a brain that can offset chronic pain or Alzheimer’s or many other neurological diseases.
And I think that it’s a really profound area of study that people are looking more and more into, but the key to this is that it has to be active listening. It’s not “Oh, I was listening to music in the car while I was driving.” or “I was listening to music while I was running, or going to the metro.”. It has to be you’re hearing the violin, and you’re hearing it and you’re engaging with it on a very singular basis. It’s not a background for your work that you’re doing while at the office. And so I found that to be a really interesting study.
As part of that we looked at, really, development, also, of children. And so how music develops within children’s minds, and this idea that there’s a very sensitive period for music education that exists prior to age seven, much like language skills. If you start your children learning an instrument or learning music before the age of seven it’s much easier for them to pick up, and it will be much more of a part of their personality and life, and they can much more easily grasp the concept of music if you start them before the age of seven. So I have small kids that are twins, and then so now every day I’m thinking about how I can further immerse them into music before they hit the age of seven.
Dubber Right. You got instruments in mind? I know you mentioned violin earlier. Is that an indicator of what sort of music is good for you?
Allen No. I think that, with respect to the study and listening, it’s what you are interested in. There have been certain studies around types of music that can impact you, but what some studies have shown is that it’s what you’re passionate about. So if you are a passionate hip-hop fan, and that’s what releases the dopamine for you, then maybe listening to Mozart isn’t going to be what really has benefits for you. With Alzheimer’s patients they’ve found that what often brings back or helps them is listening to these songs that are probably from childhood or from a generation ago.
Dubber Yeah, interesting. You mentioned Rethink Music before as a thinktank. What do you think about?
Allen We have thought about a lot of different things over the years. As I said, it’s really been about the future of the music business, focussed on copyright law changes, streaming, things like royalty. We put out a report in 2015 around the convoluted royalty structure that has existed, and we talked about that a little bit earlier. But it’s really been this intersection, again, of technology and music, and what is the future, and thinking about the various ways that music plays a role in our lives. And, again, a lot of it has been that intersection of music and technology that I think has been so prevalent in my career, but also has been so important over the past 20 years as we’ve moved to this idea of digital music. We have looked at music as medicine, we’ve looked at music royalties, we’ve looked at copyright law, we’ve looked at new business models. What are some of the models for the future?
And one that we spent some time exploring was this idea of crowdfunding concerts, which I still believe is a viable idea for the music industry, and maybe it’s something that post-pandemic will come to fruition a little bit more. But it’s something that has just never really taken off, and I don’t know if it’s been because there hasn’t been a company that has executed on it properly. Is it because the large promoters like Live Nation and others aren’t interested in this type of thing? But I still believe that it’s something that holds promise.
Dubber Do you mean fans gathering together and saying “We want to hear your band in our town, and if we get enough people together you’ll come and play here.”? Is it that sort of thing?
Allen Exactly. We’ll prepay the tickets, and if we can show that we raised 400/4,000/40,000 dollars that you’ll show up and you’ll play the gig in my town, because we’ve proven that it’s worthwhile for you to come here.
Dubber Right, which takes some of the gamble out of touring.
Allen Right. And so that’s why maybe it’s something that as a result of COVID and people trying to get back to work afterwards, it’ll have a real future. I was an advisor to a company that was doing this for a while and they ran into a variety of challenges with it, but I still think that it’s something that maybe, again, just needs to be properly executed on.
And if you think about it, streaming music as a concept was around for quite a number of years before it became popular. I was a subscriber to Napster, the illegitimate streaming service, in 2005/2006, long before Spotify or other technologies existed. And it was a mindset shift that needed to happen on the part of the consumer to get away from the idea of “I have to own my music.”, but I think it was also just a knowledge of the model idea. It wasn’t until Spotify entered the U.S. with a Facebook integration in 2011 that Spotify really took off, at least in the U.S. And it was because of the Facebook integration where people could see that your friend Joe, or whatever, is now listening to this song on Spotify, and so people started to think about “Well, what is this Spotify thing?”, and then the model grew. But it was… We’re in 2020, and it’s taken a tremendous about of time for that access-based model to take off.
Dubber Yeah. Just to go back to your book for a second, in the title is the phrase ‘digital age’, and for the music industry it’s been over 20 years we’ve been in this digital age. Much longer if you think that CDs, of course, are digital. Previous ages had a beginning and an end. Are we seeing an end of a digital age and going into something else, and if so what would that be?
Allen I don’t think we’re moving out of a digital age yet. I think you have brought up a question in the back of my mind, which is “Does the book still need to be titled ‘Music Law in the Digital Age’?”, because we’re at a perpetual digital age, I think. We’re in an online world that is not changing. This is the world that we’re living in. It’s not a…
Dubber Or it’s perpetually changing but the digitalness isn’t going away.
Allen Exactly. So when I first wrote the book 11 years ago it was we were entering a digital age, and we are not exiting it any time in the near future, I think.
Dubber Sure. What are the things that you’ve noticed…? Because you spend a lot of time in Europe, or you have done. Obviously not doing so much right at this moment. But culturally different within the music industries between those two places? U.S. and Europe, I mean.
Allen I think that Europe is a little bit more collaborative. I think that the U.S. is a little bit more competitive, just on a whole. I think you see there may be a slight more willingness to work together. So I give the example of the Music Managers Forum, which is pretty prevalent in the UK, and pushes for changes to laws, etc., and there’s really a… And also the Featured Artists Coalition and some of these other organisations that exist, France has one called La GAM, that are really interested in helping independent creators and managers, and we don’t see that in the U.S. And the managers and folks I’ve talked to in the U.S. said they don’t have the time to deal with it. They’re focussed on being competitive with others. And so I think that’s one major difference.
I think the other frankly tremendous difference between the U.S. and Europe is the willingness of the EU to fund cultural projects. And I know that, I think, even you guys at MTF have been, or were launched, as part of one of these, and I think it’s an amazing thing. Canada in North America also is doing a lot of cultural arts funding, and so… Even COVID related. In the UK they just announced a two billion dollar fund for music venues and others.
And so I think you get a lot more support for culture, and maybe the idea that culture is more valuable in Europe. And I say culture as a whole, but music is certainly valued more at an institutional level than it is in the U.S. I think in the U.S. you see music programmes are the first ones to get cut from schools when the budgets get tight. And so in Europe there’s a much greater recognition that they should spend money to promote the arts, and I think it’s a fantastic thing.
Dubber And yet that’s not where you are. By choice?
Allen By choice, although that may change again soon.
Dubber All right. I’ll leave that one open.
Allen Yeah, I’ve been back and forth. And so for family reasons we’ve been living back in the U.S. for about three years, but there may be a pending shift coming again.
Dubber On that note, is Verifi COVID-proof, geography-proof? Can you do that from anywhere? Can you work from home indefinitely, or is this not that sort of business?
Allen Yeah, we are a permanently decentralised business in that we have folks in Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Oregon, which is where I am today, and London, and we don’t actually have an office in any of those places. We’ve had, from time to time, some coworking spaces, but in general everyone works remotely. We have a staff right now of around 11, as well as some contractors. I think as we grow we may find ourselves in an office, but COVID has not impacted us from an office-space perspective at all. Obviously there are other challenges with COVID, and the music industry is hurting in a lot of places, although recorded music is doing incredibly well.
Dubber You’ve had some experience with serious illness. Has COVID been particularly worrying for you?
Allen Yes. I’ve thought about this recently, actually, whether I’m more worried about COVID than some folks, and I think so. I hear stories that it’s not that big of a deal for younger generations, but it strikes very close to home when I hear stories of how COVID continues to have ongoing symptoms. So I’ve read a number of articles about folks that are having neurological difficulties or ongoing cough. Or they got sick in March and they’re not well and it continues to drag on, and doctors have no answers.
And I was bitten by a tick in Spain in 2013 and I was very sick for about a year and a half, and I continued to have lingering results of that for a number of years. And so I know what it’s like to have chronic illness and to have the frustration of doctors saying “We just don’t understand enough about why this happens to some people.”, and I think that I’m seeing that with COVID now, too. And so I feel for the people who are having ongoing challenges. I’ve heard stories of folks that have a fever for two days and then they’re fine, and then I’ve heard other stories of nightmare symptoms for months on end. And certainly I watch out for it. I’m trying to be as careful as I can about it. I’m not in the mood for another chronic health problem, let’s put it that way.
Dubber Yeah, fair enough. And particularly with a young family.
Dubber Yeah, so you’ve got particular priorities to look for. What do you hope music’s going to look like for them as they get older?
Allen It’s funny because I do think about this from time to time, and I think about the immersive technologies and where music is going to end up in 2030/2040, and what will, for example, a music festival or club venue look like at that time? And I think music has been a pretty constant over generations and centuries, that music is something that tribes of people used to get together to listen to as entertainment, and so I don’t think that that social interaction aspect of it is going to go away, even though in today’s COVID times it’s a little bit different.
But I think that there will be, again, more immersive technologies. As AI continues to grow you’re going to see, probably, more AI-generated music. Not sure that’s a great thing. Maybe it is. I think there are benefits to that. And just going back to the music is medicine study, there are some companies that are working on AI-generated music that treats certain conditions for certain people. So the ability to create either a custom playlist of existing music for a certain person to treat them or the ability to actually have a computer compose music that treats a certain condition I think is a really interesting thing to come in the future. But who knows? It’s an evolution. In 1990/2000 I’m not sure that we had a complete idea of what was coming. I think we had a basic idea of what was coming, but…
Dubber Do you think so? Do you think we ever see what’s coming before it gets here, or is it always a surprise? Because it strikes me that there’s a lot of stuff that you look around and you’re like “I could not have guessed that.”. Maybe you’re better at this than I am.
Allen No, I think that you can look and you can say “Well, this may happen, and this may not happen.”. A lot of times it’s not the technology capability, it’s the desire for someone to actually be interested in that. So, again, it took 15 years for a critical mass to decide that they wanted to pay for access to music as opposed to owning their music. And you just never know. There are all kinds of technologies and products that are developed that could be great, but for whatever reason the general public decides that that’s not the way they want to live their lives or consume music or interact with music. It’s hard to predict. I think you can see the potential for certain technologies, you just never know what the adoption’s going to look like.
Dubber Most people I speak to, when it comes to their music consumption technologies, they’re some mix of early adopter, super enthusiastic about what’s coming next, pragmatic about what they have and what they use and what’s current, and nostalgic about the stuff that they used to buy and the way that they used to consume music. What’s your ratio looking like?
Allen It’s a little bit in the middle. I’m nostalgic, and it… Actually, the first thing that I do every morning is… I’m the one that gets our kids up, and we go downstairs and they want to choose a vinyl to listen to while we make breakfast. So I’m nostalgic for that. I’m excited about the future of music and technology.
I think that people’s attention spans today are probably a little too short to accurately… Or to always really appreciate some of the stuff that’s created. And everybody’s so busy, and you have TikTok with short snippets of music. And so sometimes I… I enjoy listening to a full song and understanding what it’s about, or listening to a full album, but I also understand that there are crazy dance moves that you can make on TikTok that people are going to smile at, and it’s an appropriate use of a short segment of music.
Dubber And an opportunity for licencing and for lawyers to get involved.
Dubber Yeah, fantastic. Allen, thanks so much for your time today. It’s been brilliant.
Allen Thanks for having me on.
Dubber That’s Allen Bargfrede. His book Music Law in the Digital Age is available wherever you get books online, that you’re not currently boycotting, and it sounds like we’re not too far away from an update either. Allen is @allenbarg on Twitter, that’s A L L E N B A R G. I’m Dubber, you’ll find be @dubber on Twitter. Music Tech Fest is @MusicTechFest absolutely everywhere you socially mediate, except TikTok because there’s a limit.
The MTF Podcast is out every Friday, so don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already, and you can do that anywhere you like to listen. Naturally, it’d be great if you’d also share, like, rate, and review, partly because it helps other people to find us and partly because we love to hear what you think. This episode was edited by Sergio Castillo. That lovely music at the beginning was by Yehezkel Raz, and what you can hear in the background now, that’s by an artist called airtone. The MTF audio logo that you’re going to hear just in a moment, that was created by Run Dreamer. In fact, here it comes now. You have a great week