Vol. 9 No.2 – Summer 2021
Thanks to John Welsman for inviting me to write the
“View From The Podium” for this issue of Cue Notes.
As September and the end of summer draws nearer, so does the end of this term of the current board of directors of the SCGC. Thinking back over the past 9 years, I am amazed and inspired by all that has been achieved by the composers who have stepped up and are striving to create a better industry. It has been a pleasure to serve on the board among you.
I remember my first term… We were just starting to create alliances with the vast network and community of international Creator Organizations. Between the Performing Rights Organizations, the Collective Rights Management Organizations, AND the Creator groups, there were so many acronyms flying about that sometimes it was hard to keep my bearings! But these organizations would inspire us, provide guidance, share strategy, and offer mutual support with each other’s lobbying activities. The SCGC executive has gained the respect of our peers around the world as we continue to add to the conversation and mine the collective international brain trust.
Over the years that followed we embarked on research: first the baseline study, then the report on Gender. We participated in surveys on how the digital landscape is affecting the creative industries and sat with elected officials in open forums to help them better understand our sector and concerns as small business owners.
We have worked diligently to strengthen our ties with SOCAN and other collectives, guilds, and unions, to work together to tackle the big issues of copyright, intellectual property ownership, royalty streams, and discoverability. We have seen that a unified message to government is a strong message that will lay the groundwork for a stronger Broadcast Act and Copyright Act in the future.
Our Composer Rights Initiative is by far the most exciting and important work the SCGC has embarked on, working with a government relations expert to submit to government a case to strengthen Author’s rights: removing coercive business practices so as Authors we maintain our ability to retain and recapture rights, obtain fair remuneration for work, negotiate terms fairly, and have autonomy over how we conduct our businesses. We continue to push to get the Canadian Media Producers Association to come to the table to negotiate an agreement between composers and producers. AND we also have a digital rights think tank that examines some of the biggest issues facing screen composers today!
There have also been positive growth and changes within the composer community, something that might feel a little closer to home for many of you. Our mentorship program has expanded to be able to provide placements to more composers at the beginning stages of their careers. Partnerships with the Canadian Film Centre, Canadian Music Centre, and numerous festivals are creating opportunity to improve the visibility of Screen Composers and helping to create an ecosystem for fostering professional development. Being able to offer online seminars has meant that our members face less geographical barriers to participating, connecting to our growing community, and accessing important trade information such as negotiation tips, best practices, deal points, and which of the latest tech can help streamline workflow and help get our music sounding the best it can be!
For the first time ever, the SCGC has an endorsed set of rates that reflect the current market which were rolled out with a comprehensive Business Tool Kit that includes the updated Model Contracts, Deal Memo, and Song Licensing Agreement!
During my time on the board I have also watched and participated as the SCGC has developed communication strategies to promote composers, highlight the care and expertise that we bring to our work, and how the craft of screen scoring can emotionally elevate a story. The Screen Composers Studio podcast is a fantastic initiative that gets the face and voice of screen composers to a wider community in addition to offering an opportunity to dig a little deeper into a composer’s process. The same goes for our ongoing social media initiatives and special PR opportunities such as Feature Fridays, which continue to increase the visibility of all composers and garner more recognition for the craft.
Over the last 9 years, we also seen huge changes in the way the industry works, how royalties are earned, and what kind of projects hire composers and have downstream revenue. The rise of digital storytelling mediums, the loss of scoring jobs to music libraries, AI, the new streaming market, and new copyright directive in Europe just goes to show that there is and always will be more work to be done. An industry like ours is constantly evolving, whether it’s the latest technology, musical trend, or new multi-national broadcasters and platforms disrupting the current market. It takes passionate, excited, and engaged individuals to tackle some of these issues and find a way to collectively navigate our careers and protect our sector.
I’ve often thought that the real power of the Guild is what happens when we put aside competition and come together to work towards something greater for the betterment of all of us. What we have accomplished and how we have grown in the organization’s 40+ years leaves me feeling optimistic. We are on the precipice and primed for the nextgreat collective leap. I know as an organization we will be challenged and stretched, but I also know that with our upcoming September elections we will have an infusion of new energy to help steer our ship through this next chapter.
NEWS & IMPORTANT UPDATES
Important information on rights and royalties
Screen composers are a vital part of SOCAN’s membership. Approximately half of the company’s annual collections are from audio-visual works, and screen composers are among the most passionate, productive, and engaged music creators in the SOCAN family.
Unfortunately, screen composers are also under siege.
What you should know about Composers and the Writers’ Share of Royalties.
SOCAN Annual General Meeting
On July 13th SOCAN held the annual general meeting for members highlighting 2020 activities and financial statements. Meet the new board,
get an overview of financial results or download the full financial report in your member account.
SOCAN Royalty Stream Updates
In August, SOCAN will make its first distribution on Amazon Channels, covering performances from 2019 through 3Q20, and will continue to distribute Amazon Prime Video royalties for performances from 2019 through 3Q20. You can find all these royalties on your Internet Audio Visual statement.
Video-On-Demand YouTube distributions return covering performances from 3Q19 through 2020. You can find all these royalties under Cinema on your statement.
We are living through a pivotal moment in our history as a civilization in so many ways. We are witnessing unprecedented change to our climate, politics, and health. Simultaneously, we are seeing incredible advancements being made in the fields of science and technology to help overcome these massive issues. On a smaller, yet still global scale, the screen composing industry is undergoing an upheaval as well. Here though, I am not so sure the advancements being made are completely in our favour.
Streaming services and artificial intelligence are beginning to alter our craft in never-before seen ways. The era of streaming has shone a light on the fragility of the rights of composers, who struggle to fight for fair compensation as broadcast royalty revenue streams are being lost. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence is fueling a machine-made music trend which is diverting jobs away from music creators in favour of algorithms. These two issues may seem disconnected but are in fact very much related, as both strive to divert compensation and copyright away from artists and towards production companies.
Thinking about this uncertain future has become increasingly important to me as I introduce 20 young composers to the scoring industry each year in Humber College’s Bachelor of Music Program. What will the screen composing landscape look like 10, 20, or 30 years from now? Will this career path even still be viable?
Intelligent machines will soon revolutionize our industry, like most others. We have been hearing about artificial intelligence for a long time now, mostly through dystopian depictions in film and television. Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Westworld, and countless others have shaped our perspectives on the subject, but also planted them firmly in the realm of fantasy. And to be fair, at this moment, artificial superintelligence remains out of reach. However, it is important to realize that computing progress increases exponentially. In order to anticipate the next 30 years, you cannot compare them to the last 30 years. You need to imagine progress moving at an increasingly faster rate than it is moving now.[i] The future of AI research is already happening, with over $50 billion invested in the sector in 2020 alone.
The general consensus is that there are three main types of A.I.: Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), in which a computer specializes in a single area and can perform its task more efficiently than a human; Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), (also known as Human Level A.I.,) in which a computer is able to complete a wide variety of different tasks at an equal level to a human being; and Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI), which philosopher and leading AI expert Nick Bostrom defines as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.”[ii] Most of the changes to our industry will happen in the world of ANI, with the purpose of AI being to merge music composition with machine-level efficiency and cost.
Our reality already runs on a multitude of ANI. We have all heard the term “algorithm” referred to again and again; but what is an AI algorithm? Computer algorithms absorb the patterns of the past and use them to predict and create the future. Around the world, corporations are dedicating funds and countless research hours to creating machines that use algorithms to compose music, and we have already seen some in action. In 2016, a department at the University of Toronto created Neural Karaoke[iii], in which neural networks, (a series of algorithms that process data in a way that mimics the human brain,) take digital photos and turn them into a computer-generated sing-and-dance-alongs. In March 2019, Google released its first A.I.-powered Doodle called the “Bach Doodle.”[iv] With the press of a button, the Bach Doodle uses machine learning to harmonize a custom melody in Bach’s signature musical style.
Perhaps most notably, the computer systems design company NVIDIA has already developed and released an AI bot named AIVA[v], whose media composition services are marketed towards video creators who want to own the music
copyright and put their own names on the writer’s share for €49/month with a pro subscription. Most bots such as AIVA have been fed past musical data that they assimilate and analyse, looking for patterns that they can then reproduce into new compositions in-the-style-of. Can you imagine a future where John William’s scores are fed into a bot? I am wondering who would be credited as the composer? Who will own the copyrights to those tracks? Should Mr. Williams sue the bot’s creator?
One of the most pressing questions concerning AI compositions is whether or not they are or will ever be of comparable quality to those of humans. I myself have observed in them a hodgepodge of gestures and patterns that don’t seem to string together to make complete sense. The disjunct connection of musical motifs tries to mimic well-crafted compositions but misses important subtleties of the craft entirely. At the moment, these bots have barely any skills in finessing music production. Yet, if these developers persist and considering the exponential rate of innovation, these obstacles will not likely remain barriers for long. While there is not yet a one-stop-shop to generate both a well-crafted composition and a well-produced track at the push of a button, it is certainly within reach when considering the fast-paced nature of computational advancement.
You may be wondering, as I have, why there even exists a preoccupation with taking the human element out of music creation – or out of the arts as a whole. I have theorized that the desire to develop ANI composer bots is because musical composition is deemed to be at the top level of human brain activity and creativity. But there is something about the endeavour that irks me. On one hand, the preoccupation seems like a steppingstone in computer scientists’ true AGI neural network goals. (Artificial general intelligence has still proven to be elusive). Composer bots seem to be rather like a gimmick to bring some attention to AI’s progress towards AGI, rather than a true goal in and of itself. After all, why is so much time and money being spent to try and solve a problem that no one has asked to be solved? Art is, in fact, not a problem at all. I can think of hundreds of other activities that an intelligent bot could be tasked with to make the world a cleaner, more peaceful, more efficient place. On the other hand, there is money to be generated in the endeavor, and it’s easy to envision the disruptive economic pathway these experiments are leading us into. As composers, we are in the best position to know that there is always someone trying to grab a piece of any pie.
I have barely touched on the complex copyright issues that have surfaced in relation to AI, but another facet of the issue is the sheer volume of output a composer bot would be able to achieve. According to the math magazine Plus, there are 8.25 x 1019 melodies that are 10 notes long.[vi] (That’s 82.5 sextillion). How many years will it take before the computational power exists for copyright trolls to enter the scene, auto-generating and registering the copyright of every single possible melodic combination? It is very clear that global copyright law will have to adapt quickly and drastically.
Furthermore, we must anticipate that society at large would be collectively losing cultural value by allowing human artists, songwriters, composers, and storytellers to miss out on future opportunities to create. Societies that value the arts are at the top tier of human enlightenment. Art is inspiring and stimulating for the human mind. To some, art is therapy. Psychology Today proclaims, “Art reflects culture, transmits culture, shapes culture, and comments on culture”.[vii] Ultimately, it is my belief that we should welcome AI into our lives but should not allow AI to replace or stagnate our culture.
So, what does this mean for the future of scoring? If algorithms analyze the patterns of the past to generate new works, how will a scoring bot be able to truly create something innovative? It is possible that these bots will only create
shadows of past film scores and not be able to narrow down a path to true creative innovation. Will artistic expression be frozen in time? Will we forever be rehashing the same patterns over and over? My fear is that these shadow scores could become a mediocre standard within our industry. It would be a shame to see a gradual prioritization of economics and functionality over striving for the pinnacle of artistic expression. Art and innovation go hand in hand. The art we make and the stories we tell are a direct reflection of who we are as people, and who we are as a society. Remove it, and we will no longer have that mirror to look inward. We could end up losing a very important part of our culture if we are not aware of its erosion.
It is not a stretch to imagine an AI algorithm built into editing software like Avid that requires the placement of emotional “markers” on a film to auto-generate a temp track. In fact, a company called Dynascore has developed this exact
technology during the COVID-19 pandemic.[viii] While the production music industry could be first, the video game industry would likely not be far behind. It is easy to envision a music-generating bot built directly into a video game’s engine, generating an adaptive and unique musical score in reaction to the player’s every move.
As composers, do we end up becoming the implementers of these technologies? Will we write the main themes and let a computer realize them? How will we integrate these technologies into our own processes? Will they inspire or inhibit us creatively? Will reliance on these technologies create a generation of composers with a lack of fundamental music skills?
In the title of this article, I state that I am not worried about the future. In fact, I have a lot of optimism. Despite the increasing AI advancements within our field, I do not believe that music fans will accept mediocre music by bots to completely overtake our sound systems and airwaves. On the contrary, I believe that the trend we are seeing in film, television, and video game scores which celebrates musical innovation, will continue on.
My hope is that scores by bots, like so many other tech fads, will have but a brief moment in the spotlight. The landscape will be vastly different economically for a screen composer in the years to come, but I have confidence that what we do will continue to be appreciated and desired.
Artists like us pour their heart and soul into creating experiences that people love, and there is beauty in the stories behind those creations. It will be the human effort behind the work’s creation that will resonate in the future. The appetite for art is only increasing. Screen composers, by nature, are an adaptable and versatile species. We will survive, and musical storytelling will triumph. Perhaps AI scores will permeate into certain sectors of our business, but I maintain that there will always be champions of bespoke human custom scores.
I technically went to McGill and studied guitar in their jazz performance program, so I guess that makes me a guitarist… but these days I barely touch the guitar. I’d say my main instrument is the piano, however, I think I’m more skilled at programming MIDI than actually playing the instrument. I was also lucky enough to take drum lessons for quite a few years as a kid, and the first instrument I ever learned how to play was the alto saxophone.
DAW of choice and favourite feature:
I go through phases but typically I use Logic for writing and Pro Tools for mixing. As for my favourite feature… I’d have to say auto save!
Favourite score and/or composer, and why:
This will probably raise a few eyebrows, but I’d say my favourite score is Star Wars… The Phantom Menace! I have such vivid memories of being a small kid and being absolutely horrified when the chorus from the piece “Duel of the Fates” would enter during the final light-saber battle. There’s something about this particular movie that always hooks me in like no other.
Most recent accomplishment:
Since the Olympics are all we’re hearing about lately, I guess I should plug the fact that I had my music licensed over a national TV spot in the U.S. for the shoe company Asics. The ad features the athlete Taliyah Brooks.
I also recently finished scoring a wonderful documentary called Moustafa & Maram, which is a portrait of an Egyptian-American father and daughter living in New York City. The film explores what it means to be Muslim in America. I got to collaborate with some wonderful musicians on the score and I’m really looking forward to the release.
Hobbies and pastimes:
Hiking, golfing, spending time with friends and family, and most importantly doing pretty much anything to get my mind off of music!
Best piece of advice:
I’d say the best piece of advice that was ever given was told to me by my composition professor the day I graduated from McGill. It was to write music every single day. This really stuck with me and I forced myself to do it as best I could. Especially when I was first starting out as a composer and didn’t have much to work on, I just got in the habit of writing music like it was my day job. This not only helped me improve, but also prepared me for tight deadlines. Of course, inspiration is an amazing thing, but for those times when you’re stuck with writer’s block and on a tight deadline, having been the habit of writing daily can really help overcome that barrier. There are only 12 notes to choose from, and sometimes it’s simply about finding the right combination of notes, which only comes through a lot of trial and error.
Alternate career path, and why:
When I was a student, I tried dropping out of music to become a nutritionist… but after a week I realized that I am pretty much useless at everything except for music.
Recently I’ve been telling my wife that if I wasn’t a composer, I’d probably be a CBSA officer, mainly because I’ve watched way too much Border Security. (Shoutout to Derek and Greg of Fish-Fry music who scored this incredible binge worthy show.) I also think I could have been an accountant because I really enjoy micromanaging money, haha.
Member News & Events:
Check out the SCGC’s latest member News and Events on our various Social Media platforms:
Editor’s Pick with Virginia Kilbertus
AIM publishes insights on the artist growth model for streaming royalty distribution:
Oscars 2022 Rule Changes Include Tweaks to Sound and Music Categories:
Tax Credit Bill Passes Legislature, Aims to Make Hollywood Reflect California’s Diversity:
TikTok and Instagram inch closer to the streaming wars as competitive barriers blur:
Toronto Film Festival Lineup Adds ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye,’ and ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’:
The Holocaust-Surviving Violins That Were Quarantined Beneath a California Stage:
This 19-foot piano has the longest bass strings in the world – and it sounds huge:
We welcome your suggestions for story ideas!
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