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Eric Baptiste, chief executive officer of SOCAN. ‘We connect people who create music with people who use music as part of their business.’
Eric Baptiste, chief executive officer of SOCAN. ‘We connect people who create music with people who use music as part of their business.’

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SOCAN's Eric Baptiste: A different tune for a digital age Add to ...

For Canada’s music industry, SOCAN is a crucial lifeline. The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada collects licence fees from businesses that use music, and channels those royalties to the songwriters who composed the works. The 115,000 members – many of them musicians who need every penny they can get – received almost $220-million last year, thanks to SOCAN’s efforts. Eric Baptiste, who cut his teeth in the radio business in France, has run SOCAN since 2010.

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How do you describe what SOCAN does?

We connect people who create music with people who use music as part of their business. We explain to the businesses why they need to get a licence, and why the money that they contribute toward that licence is important to the songwriters and composers. Some of our members are extremely successful, but most of them are also small business people. They take a risk, come up with an idea for music or lyrics, and they bring that to the marketplace and they expect to get some reward for that.

 

How important is music to businesses that use it?

 

If you imagine shopping or going to a restaurant without music in the background … the experience would be extremely different. In some cases, music is the core of a business – a music radio station, for example. We license directly or indirectly to 125,000 businesses in Canada, and most of them are small. They are bars and shops and dentists. Some are big, like the big media groups.

Why should store owners pay to have music playing in their shops?

There are lots of surveys that show music enhances the consumer’s experience and increases the business for the owner. They sell more stuff if they have music. So we believe that it is fair that the people who are the originators of that music get a very, very tiny part of that enhanced business.

Is it difficult to convince people that music is something that needs to be paid for?

There is a general trend today toward low prices and free access to stuff. That goes way beyond music or entertainment. We expect to buy our clothes for a very low price, and we expect to be able to buy an app for our smartphone for $1 or $3.

In the past, the only way to buy music was to go to a concert, or to buy a CD, or before that, vinyl. But now there are many other ways to access music. And in order to be sustainable, it needs to be paid for. Some members of the public struggle with this notion: that you need to subscribe to things, or to pay for access to music.

Is that attitude shifting a bit?

Our surveys show that the public understands that you can’t create stuff out of nothing. They understand that songwriters and composers are human beings with kids and mortgages and college educations to pay for, and that they need to find ways to pay for that. The debate now is not really about free music, but about the ideal price point. So I think there are rays of hope. The Canadian public and elected officials understand that there is an economy behind it – jobs and export money.

Is one of your key roles to police the industry to make sure people pay up for using music?

We make sure that our customers pay their bills in order to distribute the money to songwriters. I don’t see any difference between what we do and Rogers or Bell making sure people pay their cable bills or cellphone bills. The compliance aspect of what we do is very limited.

Last year, the Supreme Court said SOCAN can’t collect fees on downloaded music. How big a setback was that?

When the Supreme Court made that decision, it meant that about three pennies per download were not going to our members any more. The main issue we have is that the money is going to be kept by the big entertainment or technology companies, who don’t need it.

Many people thought the decision made sense because it said downloads were like CD purchases, while streaming is more like broadcasting. Isn’t that logical?

That is one way of looking at the decision. But the Internet is a bit more complicated as a technical tool, and the simple analogy doesn’t work. The decision is also out of sync with what is going on in countries that have the same legal framework. At the end of the day, money is not going to the songwriters and composers and their publishers, and that is what matters. In many other countries, the songwriters are getting that money.

How healthy is the music business in Canada today?

There has never been so much talent out there at a commercial level. One of the key metrics for us is the amount of money we bring from abroad. It has been growing and is now about $50-million a year. That is the equivalent of exports in our trade. Some of our songwriters and composers are global icons.

Radio and TV have been doing fairly well in the past decade, while the recoding business has had quite a few rocky years, but it seems they are coming back as well.

Over all, the music industry is in flux. All those technology changes mean we have to be on our toes. But I see lots of reasons to be optimistic, because of the talent we have, and the reach we have around the world.

What do you do for your songwriting members, beyond sending them money?

Our job is not just to send them a bank draft every quarter, but also to give them the data around it, so that they can understand where the money is coming from. We identify trends – whether they are more popular in Saskatchewan, or in Germany.

This is a key way for them to understand how their audience is reacting. Especially in foreign markets, it is hard to tell whether you are getting traction in Holland or in Italy. We may help them see if there is a trend.

Have you changed the way the organization operates internationally?

I have reinforced the need to be pro-active in managing our rights in other countries – making sure that they identify Canadian songwriters and music on, say, Italian or Polish radio. Increasingly there is audio-visual content that is of Canadian origin and is very popular around the world – like Flashpoint or Rookie Blue. That contains a lot of Canadian music. We want to make sure that those shows are properly tracked when they are broadcast on European networks.

How has computer technology helped you keep track of the music you license?

Without computers, we would not be able to do our job as efficiently. In the past, organizations like SOCAN dealt with a few radio stations, three or four TV networks, and other big users. Now you have online, you have satellite radio. We are able to track the use of music because our licensees’ computer programs can just dump the data about what they have broadcast to us. We also use technology that can recognize the fingerprint of a song, to monitor radio stations and TV stations.

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CURRICULUM VITAE

Title

Chief executive officer, Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.

Personal

Born in Le Mans, France; 52 years old.

Education

BSc from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris; Masters degree from École Nationale d’Administration, Paris.

Career highlights

General manager of France’s public international radio network, RFI.

CEO of commercial FM radio station 95.2 Paris.

Headed trade associations Musiques France Plus and Vive la Radio.

Director-general of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers.

Follow on Twitter: @blackwellglobe

 

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