With the live industry having ground to a halt and the discussion around low streaming rates more present than ever, artists, writers and musicians across the world are swimming upstream. It's all too apparent that the industry needs to see an injection of income.
A new initiative launched by anti-piracy company AudioLock and music distributor Label Worx, The Music Mission aims to eradicate pay-to-access piracy websites. If successful in their mission, this could see a significant growth in the revenue that artists and labels see from downloads.
We spoke to Della Rush, chief operating officer at AudioLock, to find out what's going behind the scenes at The Music Mission and the impact it could have on the industry.
Can you start by telling us why the Music Mission was created?
Infringing premium download stores have been a problem for over ten years. Recently, we have seen many new sites appearing which have been finished to a quality, professional level. We have witnessed the large amount of work they have put in to add high tech user features to existing, established stores.
This activity has rapidly been increasing the scale of loss to the industry which, until we resumed some of our previous work and began investigating, the scale of the threat was not known.
We found the infringing download stores had monthly traffic volumes that exceeded legitimate stores. Whilst we knew they were a big problem from our earlier data from our earlier data, we were taken aback to find that many users were paying these sites believing them to be legitimate. This effects almost without exception every dance label financially.
At the end of summer 2019, without the limitations which previously meant we were left watching, unable to do anything while these pirates continued to exploit the industry and those consumers, we were able to do something about it.
We continued our forensic research and investigations from when AudioLock had invested in the plan to take these sites on during 2017. We needed some specialist expertise outside of ours, so we got together with Label Worx and together created The Music Mission.
However, with COVID-19 dropped into the mix and the catastrophic effect it was having on revenues across the music industry, we knew that The Music Mission’s objectives could make a huge difference, especially to dance music. With that, we chose to accelerate our plans.
We knew we needed numbers in order to meet our goal of closing-down this type of site, helping to redirect money to those who should be receiving it.
There was also an urgent need to not only educate the industry with simple changes they could make to further protect their revenues, but also strategies to protect their content long term so they can know if they are being exploited and have the ability to do something about it.
The lockdown presented the perfect opportunity to reach out and bring the industry together to collaborate in The Music Mission.
'It was a common misconception within the industry that the advent of streaming would result in the decline of piracy. To the contrary, pirates used this opportunity to adapt the approach of their focus being ‘free’ download sites by creating stores which they diverted users to.'
What do you know about pay-for-access pirate sites?
We know they are growing in number and are created to a very high commercial standard. With that, it would be a safe assumption that money is being invested into them which raises the risks and increases the damage they can do. Many are run as though they were legitimate businesses. We have even evidence to show the use of sales staff working leads from social media.
To get the latest releases, often ahead of the legitimate stores we know, they rely on multiple sources. We have evidence that metadata is being scraped from legitimate stores and an important route to obtain the releases is long-established and even, standardised, pirate distribution method used for all called 'Scene Releases'.
It was a common misconception within the industry that the advent of streaming would result in the decline of piracy. To the contrary, pirates used this opportunity to adapt the approach of their focus being ‘free’ download sites by creating stores which they diverted users to.
Their subscriptions range from $9 to around $45. Most sites offer no free access and the available data reports the estimated traffic to these sites being 11 million visits per month.
We don't know how many of the 11 million visits equate to actual users, but if we take what we believe to be a conservative estimate of 35,000 users, and $20 as the average spend per user, that equates to $700,000 a month alone.
How detrimental can these sites be to an artist’s earnings?
Whether you’re established or up-and-coming label or artist, these sites are likely to be having a detrimental effect on your revenue. Not only are they reducing your number of legitimate sales, but they damage your brand, displacing search results for your content on legitimate stores, your social media and other sites, as well as reducing the number of opportunities for music discovery.
They are hijacking the hard work that has been put into creating and promoting releases by flooding search results with high ranking infringing links which absorb traffic originally seeking you and your music.
How are you collaborating with other music industry bodies?
From the start of our work on this project, we were in contact with a number of associations so that they could stay up to date, allowing them to contribute at any point. In addition to this, industry bodies have supported us by promoting and engaging with their personal audience to help ensure a wider reach for The Music Mission globally.
'Over the past month, one outcome that has come from the publicity and information we have been distributing to supporters is that those running the sites appear to have taken an interest and are aware of The Music Mission. You can now see that several have put considerable effort into making changes to their sites.'
Who can help and how can they help?
Actions and steps in the plan that The Music Mission will be completing will rely on a large volume of collaboration. It is vital that we can engage with and educate our supporters, as they will have vital roles to play and will impact the success of this project.
We have been lucky to have had support from the three main download stores: Traxsource, Juno Download and Beatport, as well as various industry bodies including PRS and AFEM, not to mention industry event holders such as International Music Summit (IMS) and Brighton Music Conference (BMC). In addition, we have the support of a number of distributors and over 700 record labels including Toolroom, Anjuna, Defected, Armada and Hospital. Without the collaboration of everyone above, the plan would not be achievable.
Everyone can get involved, even if you are not in the dance music scene, please just share posts about The Music Mission, get people talking and get registered to support the cause.
How successful has the mission been to date, do you feel as though you’re making progress?
Before the plan we are on currently was started, Ben Rush talked about these sites and some other types of pirate sites closely related at the ADE conference in 2015. Screengrabs of several of the sites were shown to those attending who incorrectly identified them as legitimate sites such as Beatport. This highlighted that education was a key element to stopping these sites which at the time were benefitting from the lack of knowledge.
Now with the support from the music industry, the education is underway with the scale of the problem now being understood by more and more of those it is affecting.
Over the past month, one outcome that has come from the publicity and information we have been distributing to supporters is that those running the sites appear to have taken an interest and are aware of The Music Mission. You can now see that several have put considerable effort into making changes to their sites. One conclusion you could draw is that they are making attempts to try and hide what they are doing, or to limit what connects them and evidence they might provide. Some long-standing sites have been taken completely offline. This could just be a coincidence, but the probability that that’s not the case is only increasing.
This activity and sites going offline or suddenly responding with fake error messages is all ahead of our main activities occurring, which is very encouraging. This shows that with collaboration, the work completed now and the steps to come will hit the objective. The fact that the big cut in the sites’ exposure to traffic will be having a significant impact on their current revenues and will be damaging how future revenues will flow. There is very real and measurable progress even at this early stage.
'In the knowledge that the traffic going to these sites is larger than the traffic to the legitimate download stores, it would be safe to draw a potential conclusion that reaching our objective would see a large growth in the revenues from downloads.'
How different will the industry look if you’re successful in your mission?
From all the investigations that have been carried out, we know that there is a very large amount of money being paid for music every month. We even know that a big chunk of that is being paid out in the belief that these sites are legitimate. Therefore, in the knowledge that the traffic going to these sites is larger than the traffic to the legitimate download stores, it would be safe to draw a potential conclusion that reaching our objective would see a large growth in the revenues from downloads.
It’s long been thought that the download was dead with only dwindling revenues to be gained from them and the majority of focus should be focused on streaming. This would be a reliable lifeline, potentially reaching into the mid to long term that does not come at any extra cost. It uses existing skill sets and processes within the companies that this boost in revenue would be delivered to, as well as being paid in one go at the start of its lifespan. Meanwhile, streaming revenue is spread across it which can be many years before the same value might be realised if it ever even reaches it.
The Music Mission has the potential to have short-term and long-term positive effects not just from our direct actions against these sites. But from the advice being shared with the industry which gives rights holders the knowledge to adjust how they distribute their content with minimal exposure to this type of piracy.
Any final words…
Thank you to everyone who has stepped up and supported us so far, we really have been blown away!
If you are affected or just interested in The Music Mission then please talk about what we are doing and help broaden our reach to the wider industry. We try to keep direct communication with supporters to a minimum, so you know if you hear from us, we have something important to say or we need your input.
But please do follow us on Instagram where we try and provide regular updates on our progress as well as helpful hints and tips on how you can minimise your exposure to these sites and protect your brand and content long term.