How PROs Hurt Creativity & Weaken Local Ecology

image from (Updated) Recently, I spoke with Mike Masnick, who is the founder of TechDirt, a leading technology and insight blog. In this interview, Masnick share his thoughts on how performing rights organizations (PROs) harm up-and-coming acts by insisting that small coffee shops, bars, and venues pay large licensing fees, in the event that cover songs are played at their locations. Often, the end result seems to be that these businesses stop allowing playing music to be played. This hurts the development of local ecologies and leaves less places for acts to hone their craft.

Local coffee shops, bars, and venues are essential to up-and-coming artists. They're the backbone of what enables local ecologies of music culture to develop. Do PROs undermine this avenue for artists at all?

Mike Masnick: I believe that the PROs almost certainly undermine the process by which many musicians perfect their craft. In the last few years, especially, the PROs have become more aggressive in demanding fees from local coffee shops, bars, and venues and as with any business, if you raise the costs, you get less of it.

Would you argue that there are instances where such business owners decided to stop allowing musicians to play music altogether, due to the operating practices and licensing fees that PROs pursued?

Mike Masnick: I don’t have to argue it, because there are numerous examples of venues stating flat-out that they’ve done exactly that. For many of these venues, margins and business is already tight. Having to pay a large fee on the possibility that musicians might play licensed music is simply not worth it to many of them.

In places where businesses have decided to stop allowing musicians to perform and playing music altogether, do you think their decision to do so greatly undermined the development of local ecologies of music culture?

Mike Masnick: Absolutely. While there are certainly exceptions, small local venues are where most musicians first refine their performance chops. It’s a huge part of the process in helping to both benefit artists in perfecting their craft, but also as a filter and feeder system to larger venues.

Has the landscape been tilted in a way that discourages the deployment of local ecologies and instead promotes the delocalization of culture, further providing an environment where only established acts can thrive?

Mike Masnick: The landscape has certainly been tilted, and it’s tilted in a way that favors the major label process, of course. The PRO business has long been focused on mainly driving revenue to major established acts. So, driving up and coming acts out of the ecosystem doesn’t seem to be much of a concern. Less competition for established artists means they don’t have to work as hard and don’t have to innovate


If you have a story or insight you'd like to share into this developing situation, please contact me at kyle.bylin [at] Disagree? Comment below.

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