At 6:30 pm on October 11th, Jane Zhang posted on her own Weibo account saying that she had a very pleasant birthday. This morning, around 5:10 am, she posted a long article on her Weibo account, drew attention again to the pay standard of behind-the-scenes professionals in the industry, especially arrangement professionals. Jane said:
“During my time working in the music industry, I learned that arrangement is a particularly hard part of the work that requires great attention to detail, intense labor, creativity and aesthetic, vast knowledge of music theory, and proficiencies in many instruments. However, arrangement professionals don’t get royalties and their one-time fee is usually not proportional to their skill and their value add. So from today, for all of my commercial performances, the arrangers whose work was performed will receive equal copyright fee from Jane Zhang on the same day as the songwriter on the live performance.”
This Weibo article quickly drew traffic and many industry insiders reposted and commented, including Deng Ke. They expressed support and giving thumbs up for this announcement and took this opportunity to educate the public about the difficult financial situation for most arrangement professionals.
Later, Jane Zhang added supplementary details on how to implement her “birth wish”, after consulting industry insiders and lawyers. She will be paying a total of 3,000 RMB to lyricists, composers and arrangers for every performance in the future. And each songwriter will get paid according to this formula: 3000÷total number of songs performed÷3×number of songs the songwriter participated in.
Undoubtedly, the copyright protection system in China still needs a lot of work. Jane Zhang’s action is just a simple personal act to do something good out of her own moral compass. She made it very clear on Weibo that this is her personal deed and does not subject to any laws, contracts or public supervision.
Jane Zhang’s announcement is indeed very warm-hearted for behind-the-scenes music professionals, and it also reflects the very alarming reality of the music industry: making music requires a lot of hard work and collaboration of many highly skilled professionals. They are not getting paid enough and paid enough attention by the public, the long-term consequences of which is the loss of talent to other industries. People can’t just live off of their love for music.
But the future is not bleak. A couple of large-scale legal actions against copyright infringement such as “Jianwang Action”, the public awareness of the value of copyright protection and people’s willingness to pay for quality content has propelled the music industry back onto the fast track of growth. Regarding arrangement professional’s pay standard, China Music Business has some opinions to share.
Why is it so hard to make a living as an arrangement professional?
The simple answer to this question is that arrangement is legally still in the grey area of copyright protection in China and most countries in the world. Without recognition as a creative work product subject to concrete copyright protection, systematic royalty payment will not be a possibility.
The Copyright Law of the People’s Republic of China only acknowledges the lyrics and the melody as the core of a song, and arrangement is not. And China, at this beginning stage of copyright protection system construction, is still struggling to properly defend the rightful pay for lyrics and melodies of songs. Arrangement is not the priority right now. However, arrangement is becoming more and more important to the commercial success of a song. The legal protection for arrangement will have to catch up to the market quickly.
During the April 2018 Small Antler · China Music Business News Expo, professionals from different sectors of the music industry came together to discuss copyright protection. Most of them believed that the Chinese music industry has already moved passed the most difficult time when piracy leads the show. The record labels, content distributors and consumers already realized the importance of copyright protection and are all seeking a better royalty payment system. The rapid change in distribution technologies and the emergence of live streaming and short video apps made it more complicated. The industry just doesn’t have the energy to deal with fair compensation for arrangements.
Li Hui, founder and CEO of MiaoMusic and industry insider for 23 years, told China Music Business that although there is copyright management system in place in China, it doesn’t work very well. MiaoMusic voluntarily pays songwriters a percentage to the songwriters when their songs are performed by artists they manage. Record labels and music producers that value arrangement and care about fair compensation normally negotiate a way to pay a percentage of the income the song generates to the arrangement professional. Li Hui said that this is the best way to show them the respect they deserve.
Even though the demand for high quality arrangement is taking off as the music industry grew, the fee for arranging one song has a fairly limited upper bound, however good the work quality is, which is strange because star lyricist and composers have no problem asking for high prices for their work. In order to make a more comfortable living, the good arrangement professionals with a good professional network in the industry usually choose to set up shops and become a music producer themselves. In China, the term “music producer” usually refers to the contractor that gets paid to produce a song and then goes on to assemble a team of professionals for the job and making sure the customer is satisfied with the end product. Therefore, music producers have to have good business acumen, good tastes, communication skills and willingness to make compromises. And the day to day management of the business aspects can stand in the way of an arrangement professional/music producer’s artistic pursuit.
Xu Yi, an arrangement professional told us that even though most arrangement professionals wouldn’t lower their standards of their artwork because they are not getting paid enough, royalty payment would still be a great incentive for them to produce better work.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Jane Zhang’s announcement is a good start for raising awareness of the problem. We don’t know how long it is going to take before behind-the-scenes professionals to get the recognition and pay they deserve. But there’s no doubt the industry is moving forward at incredible speed.
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