A Consuming Experience

Blogging, internet, software, mobile, telecomms, gadgets, technology, media and digital rights from the perspective of a consumer / user, including reviews, rants and random thoughts. Aimed at intelligent non-geeks, who are all too often unnecessarily disenfranchised by excessive use of tech jargon, this blog aims to be informative and practical without being patronising. With guides, tutorials, tips - and the occasional ever so slightly naughty observation.

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Epigonion: hear ancient Greek harp sounds

Saturday, September 06, 2008
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The Astra Project have re-created what an epigonion might sound like.

No, the epigonion is not some kind of extinct hog, it's actually an ancient Greek stringed musical instrument which sounds like a harp and was apparently played up to the Middle Ages (see pictures of the epigonion).

Nor is the Astra Project about things astronomical - it: "aims to reconstruct the sound or timbre of ancient instruments (not existing anymore) using archaeological data as fragments from excavations, written descriptions, pictures...The technique used is the physical modeling synthesis, a complex digital audio rendering technique which allows modeling the time-domain physics of the instrument. In other words the basic idea is to recreate a model of the musical instrument and produce the sound by simulating its behavior as a mechanical system."

Listen to some Monteverdi as played on 4 simulated epigonions - and hear more examples.

What a fascinating project, I'd not come across it before.

Via the Financial Times.

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Music tastes & your personality

Friday, September 05, 2008
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Your tastes in music apparently correlate with your personality type, according to recent research - a study of over 36,000 people from all over the world, carried out by music psychologist Professor Adrian North, head of Applied Psychology at Heriot-Watt University, as reported by the BBC.

Prof. North was quoted as (not surprisingly, I suppose) picking up on the marketing angle:
"If you know a person's music preference you can tell what kind of person they are, who to sell to" - and, I guess, how best to sell something to them!

Interestingly, according to the study very different musical styles can be enjoyed by the same kinds of people. Rock / heavy metal fans and classical music fans are similar: both are creative, introverted (!) and at ease, though classical music lovers it seems have more self-esteem.

Check out what your musical tastes say about your personality in terms of self-esteem, creativity, are you an outgoing extrovert or introverted / shy, and are you gentle, hardworking, at ease - or not!

As I like both pop and classical genres, and yes rock too, I am apparently both not creative and creative at the same time, and I have both high and low self-esteem. Go figure. (Or, probably, it depends on how I'm feeling at a particular time. Which would make sense.)

Their research into people and their musical preferences is still ongoing, so if you want to help out you can complete their online "People into Music" questionnaire (you don't have to live in the UK). Note: that page takes forever to load, I suspect lots of people are wading in there.

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Online virtual piano keyboards: free way to learn notes!

Thursday, July 24, 2008
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A tip: virtual piano keyboards can be useful if you're a singer trying to learn a part from a score (whether for choir, opera, musical theatre, pop or rock) but you don't have access to a musical instrument. All you need is a computer with soundcard and speakers or headphones / earphones.

Here are some examples of free online piano keyboards available through your web browser via the Flash technology or a Java applet (which all modern web browsers can handle); two can record and play back a series of notes, one of them can even be downloaded to your computer (whether desktop, laptop or notebook) and then played offline without any internet connection! They're meant for educational games, teaching piano rather than choral or vocal lines, but are in fact very handy for vocalists too.

(For those who don't play the piano, there are lots of diagrams on the Net of which keys on the keyboard correspond to which notes on the music staff, see e.g. this pic or this more comprehensive one)

1. Ababasoft

Virtual keyboard and free downloadable Flash version (just rightclick that link to save it to your computer; in future, doubleclick the saved .swf file to access the keyboard).

You can click on several keys in a row (including rests if desired) and they'll show up in the stave below; the Play button then replays all of them - good for learning a sequence of notes, and Loop will repeat it over and over to really get the pitches into your head. Temp. is self-evident, you can set the speed so it plays back faster or slower. Sound's a bit too sustained for my taste, but that's just a quibble.

Ababasoft also have a "chord piano" (again downloadable) which lets you hear your part against other people's (in vertically stacked boxes) - click in a box, then click the keyboard to set the note for that box. Double left or right arrow buttons move you along horizontally one stack at a time, and what you hear is always what's in the middle stack at the time.

2. Flashmusicgames

No music stave but the Flashmusicgames piano (again downloadable) lets you set the duration of the notes played, in milliseconds (default is 100 ms), if you prefer less sustain per note than Ababasoft's piano.

3. Apronus

Bare bones Flash pianoforte, no way to record and replay a sequence so it's "live" only, but it gives you 2 octaves and a more realistic piano sound.

4. Pianoworld

Wai Man Wong's Java applet synthesiser keyboard (with piano sound), don't be surprised if it plays you a back a fast run while you're waiting for the page to come up!

2 octaves, hit Rec before you play it in order to record, Ply to play back what you recorded, Clr to clear the recording. (Not figured out Mem, it just plays a B - as does clicking anywhere on the synth picture above the keyboard other than Demo or Drum..)

Bonus fun bit: click "Drum" to hear a random drum sound; you can even intersperse your recording of notes with drum sounds, but sadly when you play back the recording you can't accompany yourself with the drum live!

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How to find a good singing teacher: 10 top tips

Friday, July 18, 2008
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How do you choose a singing teacher? How do you know if a teacher is any good? Are there any tips or advice on how to pick a singing teacher?

The art of teaching singing (vocal pedagogy as they call it), learning singing, is challenging. Unlike with say tennis, it's not easy to show someone else what to do, or follow what someone else is doing, because you can't see what's going on. The mouth may be moving, but that's the least of it; most of the real work happens internally. So it's more important here than in some other areas to figure out who's good and who isn't.

In my opinion, there are very few so-called singing teachers, vocal coaches or voice coaches who actually know how to teach singing properly. And that includes those at the music colleges, some of whom have been known to ruin promising singers mentally if not just physically. You have to be very patient, very persistent and very lucky to find a teacher who knows what they're doing.

You may well ask, who am I to be saying all this? Why should my opinion count? I am certainly far from being the best singer in the world, or even a particularly good one, but anyone who's heard me a few years ago, or even a few months ago, would acknowledge that I've improved beyond recognition. If the process can work for me, then it should work for virtually anyone.

So here are a few thoughts and tips, based on my own experiences with several bad teachers, an OK one and an excellent one, on how a relative beginner might want to go about finding a decent singing teacher.

As always, this represents my personal opinion. Others can, and probably will, disagree, particularly experienced singers who already know what they're doing. But this post isn't aimed at them. It's meant for those who are just starting out and aren't sure how to find someone good to help them.

1. You sing with your whole body, not just your mouth.

A good teacher will know that. Singing is an athletic activity involving the use of more parts of the body than you'd think (the pelvic floor, rather than the throat!). That's the most important thing to remember. Once you've (re)learned the basics, once your body is set up in the right way for singing, then, yes, things will happen automatically without your having to consciously think about what you ought to be doing. But the right physical setup needs to be learned first, then become ingrained in you.

Several things follow from this simple but fundamental fact.

2. A wonderful natural singer isn't necessarily the best, or even a good, teacher.

If they've always instinctively known how to use their body correctly, they may not understand the mechanics behind the process well enough to teach it to someone else, especially as the main work goes on inside of you. Someone who has had to learn it all step by step the hard way might be better equipped to help others learn it too.

Most people are born with the innate setup for good voice production. As many of us know all too well, a baby can scream exceedingly loudly for a very long time with little effort, and without any risk of damaging or tiring out its voice. But physical, psychological and cultural factors result in many of us losing or restricting that ability (consciously or subsconsciously): contrast those brought up in the gospel tradition with people from cultures where children should be seen and not heard and certainly shouldn't be running around singing their lungs out.

We can all get into bad habits, we can all let stress and tension and fears stop us from using our voices as freely or as efficiently as we once could. It's getting that ability back, re-training ourselves, which is the crux of it.

3. Don't believe anyone who promises a quick fix.

You never get something for nothing. Learning to sing properly isn't easy. As with tennis, football, snooker, any other physical activity involving skill, you have to build up the right muscles and learn the right techniques and co-ordination. That takes time, commitment and hard work.

Anyone who says you can sing superbly just by knowing a few tips and tricks doesn't know what they're talking about. It should be a methodical process involving unlearning bad habits and learning the right exercises you need to practise in order to become familiar with certain muscles and control when and how you use them. When I started with the best teacher I've ever had, I did nothing but do exercises and make strange noises for a few months (some may say I still make strange noises, but that's another matter..),

I wasn't allowed to sing anything resembling a tune for ages, particularly pieces I already knew, so that my old bad habits wouldn't interfere or take over while I was re-training my body ( "muscle memory" is an interesting, true and very strong thing).

4. Go for someone who truly understands the anatomy and physiology of singing, which is essential in order to teach good vocal technique.

They should know how the voice works, how the body produces sound, the role of different parts of the anatomy, which muscles do what, how the sound changes as different muscles do different things, and the various areas of resonance in your body, etc. If a so-called teacher keeps exhorting you to "Support more!" without actually teaching you exactly how to do that, don't touch them with a bargepole.

At the very least, if considering going to a particular singing teacher or vocal coach, ask them what they can tell you about correct voice production techniques, and see if they talk about the following (but don't volunteer the catchphrases in case they get away with just nodding wisely, make 'em explain it themselves!):
  • strong legs - the thigh muscles do a lot of work to keep you rooted,
  • importance of strong flexible pelvic muscles and singing from the pelvic floor (yes I said pelvic, don't flinch!),
  • strong but relaxed lower back,
  • relaxed bottom muscles (they need to be engaged enough, but not tight),
  • strength and stamina for steady breath flow,
  • breathing out to help the breath in,
  • gentle start to the breath flow,
  • releasing fully before the next breath,
  • connection of voice to body,
  • high soft palate or soft palate lift,
  • relaxed jaw and tongue,
  • free and low larynx,
  • use of elevator muscles and depressor muscles,
  • chest resonance,
  • head resonance,
  • mask resonance,
  • keeping the vocal folds thin,
  • vocal folds coming together cleanly and efficiently,
  • not using the false vocal cords.

(Note: as previously mentioned, there's controversy about the correct technique, notably larynx position, for belt / contemporary pop / rock singing. The Estill school of thought holds that a high larynx is needed for that sound, and focuses on bringing the chest voice up higher. The Broadway belt tradition however, which was strongly influenced by early jazz / blues, and which of course developed in a time when music theatre performers had to sing without a microphone, would advocate a low larynx and more of a mixed resonance in the voice plus really clean edges to the vocal folds, as typified by Ethel Merman, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey. However, it seems no one teaches belt Broadway style in the UK; the Estill technique really holds sway, in fact the vast majority of respected teachers here are of that school. Please, someone, import a Marni Nixon here! (she ghosted for stars in tons of movies e.g. Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady). I do know of one American who teaches belt in proper Broadway style and occasionally teaches in the UK, but as I blog anonymously it would be too much of giveaway if I mentioned their name or linked to their site, sorry. I'd be the first to admit I'm not even close to getting a proper belt / contemporary sound myself, not yet anyway, but as you can guess I do know who I trust. You should of course make up your own mind.)

If you think all that sounds a bit scientific, well it is; or should be. Too many so-called singing teachers get away with just shouting at people to "support more", "think X" without having a clue about the physical work that's involved. even though there are specific exercises to strengthen specific muscles.

A word about Pilates: it may be good for strengthening your core stability generally, but aspects of it aren't good for singing as it seems to require tightening of the inner stomach muscles, and your stomach and diaphragm need to be flexible for proper singing. The lower belly and pelvic muscles must work, yes, but the stomach shouldn't be held rigidly. Again, maybe experts in Pilates will say that's not true of Pilates, not if you do it properly. I'm just saying that I've known of people who did Pilates who then had to unlearn aspects of it in order to improve their singing.

5. Repertoire is not technique.

Even with a teacher who knows what's needed, these things take time.

Ask them how long before they'll start you on arias or songs. A decent teacher will want to make sure you've unlearned old bad habits and laid a proper new foundation before tackling actual songs, particularly material you've sung before, because muscle memory is a very powerful thing. Old bad habits can kick in automatically. Someone who says oh yes you can start on lots of pieces immediately would give me pause.

Indeed, I know of some (bad) teachers whose idea of teaching is to get the student to learn a new song and sing it, then learn another song, then another, without actually teaching them how to use their body properly. So that's another point to watch for. Just learning song after song after song is not learning to sing.

6. Just "teaching", or teaching you?

Here's another personal view. You hear people say "Oh yes, this person was obviously taught by X, so was that person, you can tell from their singing".

Well this point may again be controversial, but I happen to believe that every individual is unique. Each person has different strengths and different issues they need to deal with, as a person, as a singer.

To me, a good singing teacher is someone who helps you to bring out the best in yourself, who sees the unique shapes hidden within your own particular block of wood. Not someone who churns out droves of identikit singers with no individuality, who hacks out the exact same sculpture each time without noticing or caring how the grain lies different here, how a knot must be worked round there, how with nurturing the texture could shimmer there, and coaxes out the most beautiful carving whose possibilities they can see in each unique piece of wood.

Needless to say, my teacher gives her students different exercises to work different muscles and focuses on different aspects, depending on the individual. And she prides herself on the fact that none of us sound alike - we're all just ourselves.

7. Famous singers, although no doubt expensive, don't always make the best teachers (see 2 above).

Even famous teachers don't necessarily make the best teachers. They may have got lucky, had some naturally-gifted students who went on to greater things, and then lived off their students' reputations ever since. Or they may just be plain wrong, but hey they're famous (maybe just through clever PR), so people think they must be right.

My view: don't pick a teacher based on fame alone. Some teachers even deliberately cultivate guru status. That might work for some, but not for me. I think it's important to find someone who's more interested in helping individual students improve than in feeding their own ego. Some can do both, true, but I don't think they'd want me as a pupil: I don't think I could be sycophantic enough.

Think hard before choosing a professional singer. Someone whose priority is their singing career, and is teaching mainly to pay the bills, won't always be the most suitable teacher for a relative beginner.

The moment a pro gets a gig touring or in a different city they'll be off, and if you don't get a lesson for 2 months too bad. If you know what you're doing and just need the occasional lesson to keep in shape, fine. But if you need a foundation laid down, irregular erratic lessons really won't help.

My view is, you want someone who is interested in teaching for its own sake, not just for the money. If they can't even remember what they taught you last time, if they can't identify and recall the specific issues you personally need to work on, maybe they're just giving the same lesson virtually by rote each time to every student. Which wouldn't bode well.

I'm not saying professional singers are unsuitable teachers. Some of them are very good teachers and some of them are very committed to teaching. You just need to bear in mind the possible downsides.

8. The personal relationship matters.

Your teacher has to be someone you respect, someone you get on with as an individual. I think that should go without saying.

If you have a choice, don't e.g. pick a bully whose idea of teaching is to reduce students to quivering wrecks.

9. Have a consultation lesson first (most good teachers will insist on one before deciding whether to take you on anyway), and see how you get on.

Don't tie yourself in to more until you've tried at least one consultation session.

Note that some teachers charge more for a consultation than for regular ongoing sessions.

10. If you have vocal difficulties for physical reasons e.g. neck problems, tongue tension, TMD, etc, don't give up.

Don't think you're a lost cause - what you do need a teacher who understands how to work round or even fix your vocal difficulties, while you get help for your condition separately. Not all teachers will admit, when they should, that they don't know how to cope with people who have vocal problems. The scrupulous ones will, and will send you away if they can't cope.

Some teachers do specialise in students with physical difficulties affecting voice production. So ask around.

(If you found this post of interest see my post on vocal health, voice care and food & drink dos & don'ts).

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Get free online music, references at home by joining library

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
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Maybe I'm behind, but I've just found out that members of certain London libraries, like City of London or City of Westminster, can have free access, for non-commercial use, from any computer - including their home computer (not just library computers) - to a wide range of useful online material or resources which have been subscribed to and paid for by the library / local authority, including:
  • music, which you can select to stream to your browser over the Internet, with player controls (I could only get "near CD" or "FM" quality), from CDs in the Naxos Music Library - not much pop or rock, but fans of classical, opera, music theatre, jazz, blues, folk, world music and older "nostalgia" music (Piaf, Armstrong etc), instrumental and even Chinese music can rejoice! There's lots of recordings from the Naxos label, as you'd expect, but there's also music from other labels too like Chandos and Opera Rara.
  • The Economist, one of my fave reads, all issues from 1843 to 2003, fully searchable
  • The Times digital archive, searchable, though only from 1785-1985, as well as a searchable archive of national and regional UK newspapers and magazines from NewsUK
  • CANS advice notes, billed as practical summaries of UK laws updated daily by qualified lawyers, including on some digital rights issues and consumer rights / consumer protection (both subjects I'm very interested in as regular readers of ACE will know)
  • Grove Art and Grove Music dictionaries
  • many other standard references like Encyclopaedia Britannica, Who's Who, the Oxford English Dictionary and lots of other Oxford University Press references
  • and lots of other searchable reference works, which I won't list here - see the Westminster e-resources and the City of London online resources pages for full details of what's available in each (I think Westminster offers slightly more than the City).

Those are the only libraries I know about or have looked into, but given the similarities in the resources offered I bet lots of other libraries in the UK will also have similar schemes (though perhaps more limited, I suspect, as Westminster and the City of London are wealthier councils and can probably afford to subscribe to more services). Just try your local library's website and see.

The good news is, at least if you live in London, it's free to join Westminster Library or join the City of London Library if you have proof of your address - you don't even have to live or work in those areas; I'm a member of both libraries, myself, as their range of material and opening hours are much better than my local library's.

I'm assuming, though I haven't researched the point, that the sources (like Naxos) either get paid a flat subscription rate or get paid a percentage whenever they are downloaded or their music is streamed, just as with authors get paid under the Public Lending Right when their books are borrowed from UK lending libraries.

Now this is what I call bringing libraries (and record labels) into the 21st century!

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Google YouTube: music in videos - legal now, or not?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
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Is it now safe to include music in videos you upload to Google's YouTube? I don't mean uploading a commercial music video to YouTube. I mean using music in your own videos - e.g. playing a track as background music for your video or short film, or recording a video of someone who's singing or playing music themselves, or just lip-synching to the playback of a commercial music recording.

The answer isn't in fact straightforward, if like me you want to try your best to stay strictly legal (that didn't stop the BBC from getting YouTube to delete the BBC iPlayer videos I'd put up for my iPlayer preview, their first YouTube DMCA take-down ever, but that's a different story and it seems to have been confidentiality concerns rather than copyright which drove that). Intellectual property rights such as copyright are complicated, there are many strands to copyright, and it's different in different countries, so it's often difficult to work out how the global aspects of the internet affect things. I don't profess to be a copyright expert and as they say this post isn't legal or even practical advice - just a summary of my personal investigations and views based on the position in the UK (for more, please see my detailed outline of what UK music copyright is, how it works, etc).

What music copyright permissions are needed? The ABCs

To copy, publicly perform or broadcast music, you may need several types of permissions (and remember "copying" music includes adding it to your video or uploading it, while "broadcasting" includes download or streaming over the Net, e.g. podcast or video as well as TV and radio transmissions). In the UK, you could be done for copyright infringement even if you didn't know what you were doing was a breach of copyright, and even if you didn't mean to violate anyone's copyright.

You might need authorisation or licence from more than one person, because several people could be involved:
A. the composer or songwriter who wrote the music - they own the copyright in the music and lyrics
B. if you play or use someone else's recording e.g. a CD or MP3 or iTunes track, the artists who sang or played on the recording - they have performers' rights in their performances
C. if you play or use someone else's recording, the producer of the recording - they own the copyright in that particular sound recording (which is separate from the songwriter's copyright in the song), usually this is the record company.

If you make your own recording or video of yourself singing or playing a song (or of someone else doing that, e.g. a friend, and you have their permission to record and broadcast their rendition), then you only need A - permission from the songwriter. If the song is out of copyright (also known as "in the public domain"), you don't even need that.

If you use an existing recording in the soundtrack of your video, even if someone is lip-synching to it but you can hear the commercial recording being played, that's a copyright infringement ("making available" the recording) and you need A, B and C. In other words, C ain't enough to make it legal if you don't get A and B too.

What permissions has YouTube got?

Looking at the raft of permissions which are theoretically needed to use or incorporate music in a video, let's now go back to the position of YouTube and videos on YouTube.

Record companies - C

We know that YouTube have done deals with lots of record companies to let YouTube users include recordings in their YouTube videos - with Warner Music Group in September 2006, with Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group (UMG) in October 2006, and EMI Music in May 2007.

That's C. Permission from the record companies, sorted (but only kind of - I'll come back to that later).

But what about A and B?

Composers - A

At the end of August 2007, YouTube did a deal with the UK's MCPS-PRS Alliance (see Alliance press release and note for members). The Alliance represents composers and music publishers in the UK: 50,000 members, 10 million songs. YouTube will pay the Alliance when their members' "creative talents are being enjoyed on YouTube's service across the UK". (And the Alliance should then pass on payments to their members, but how isn't clear. Various news reports say YouTube will pay the Alliance a flat fee but I won't go further into the financial terms of that deal here, as they're not the main focus of this post: the Alliance press office told A Consuming Experience that "The terms of the deal and all matters relating to the financial aspects of the deal are confidential, anything that has been written about that relates to finances is basically journalists speculating." Similarly, I won't even try to guess how the payment will be distributed amongst members!)

Does the YouTube deal with the Alliance mean A, permission from songwriters, sorted?

Well, not necessarily. Societies like the Alliance - called copyright collectives, copyright collecting societies or collecting agencies because they handle requests for copyright permissions or licences for their members and the collection of royalty payments for them - are mostly only national in scope, organised by country.

The Alliance's territory is the UK; they only collect payment for public performances, airplay, downloads etc of their members' music that take place in the UK. That's why the Alliance press release on the YouTube deal talked about "the YouTube community in the UK", and "YouTube's service across the UK" (my emphasis). Their members of course will mostly be UK residents, too. So it would make sense that the Alliance press office told ACE, "All Alliance members' works uploaded on YouTube in the UK is licensed", and "Our agreement covers anything that is streamed into the UK i.e. royalties from clips watched by YouTube users in the UK."

Another gloss to add is that the collecting societies in different countries often have reciprocal agreements with each other. So e.g. U.S. songwriters may belong to a US collecting society, but if their music is played on UK radio the Alliance might collect royalty payments for them and pass it on the US society to pay to their members.

In the case of the YouTube Alliance deal, Andrew Shaw the Alliance's Managing Director of Broadcast and Online told ACE that the deal also covers YouTube video downloads in the UK that include music by composers outside the UK, where their societies have a reciprocal arrangement with the Alliance. In other words, if non-UK songwriters' music is on a YouTube video and the video clip is played or watched by a UK user, YouTube will pay the Alliance for it, who will pass the payment on if they have an arrangement with the writer's collecting society. So it seems the deal doesn't just include Alliance members' music, but also other songwriters' music too - though for convenience I'll just call the lot "Alliance music". What I'm not sure is, does the deal cover all collecting societies that have reciprocal arrangements with the Alliance, period? Or only the ones that have specific arrangements with the Alliance especially in relation to the YouTube deal? I suspect the former, but I don't know.

No doubt you're now thinking, "Aha! What if a YouTube user outside the UK views a video with Alliance music? Is that covered? And what about uploads of videos by YouTube users outside the UK? Isn't an upload technically "copying", which needs permission too?" Well that's astute of you, but of course all ACE readers are astute.

Yep, you're absolutely right, you clever thing you - that's the international aspects of the Net insisting on creeping in to complicate matters. The Alliance press release did mention "user uploads", and so did Andrew Shaw when I spoke with him. But user uploads from which country? The Alliance press office told ACE, "The deal relates to content uploaded in the UK." But what about content uploaded in other countries? It could just be my (mis?) perception, but Mr Shaw was extremely non-committal on this point, which leads me to wonder whether that means that the Alliance YouTube deal doesn't, or just can't, cover downloads or uploads by users who live outside the UK, because that's outside the Alliance's remit. The references in their press release to "in the UK" seem to suggest that too. The Alliance press office didn't comment further when I suggested "so it sounds like it will be legal for YouTube users anywhere to upload videos containing Alliance member-composed music as long as the clips are watched by YouTube users in the UK" - but I really wouldn't take silence as a "Yes". So I'm still uncertain about whether the Alliance licence to YouTube covers uploads of video clips with Alliance music by non-UK YouTube users. I suspect not, because of the territorial issue.

There are other copyright collecting societies which handle licensing of rights and royalty collections outside the UK, sometimes more than one per country depending on the area (see the Wikipedia list of collection societies, they even have a category all to themselves). To complicate matters, a society in one country could mainly represent songwriters or performers from another country, in relation to their rights in the first country - e.g. the US SESAC was originally formed to support the rights of under-represented European artists in the USA. For copyright-related matters in their countries, e.g. copying or uploading that takes place in their countries, wouldn't local collecting societies need to be involved too?

It certainly seems so - e.g. YouTube have a licence from the BMI in the USA (but not other US collecting agencies like ASCAP and SESAC, at least not yet), according to this 2006 article by Brian Garrity.

That article is well worth reading as it explains clearly the different aspects in the USA and the different rights and organisations which could be involved there. For instance, it seems from the article that music copyright in the USA is quite different from music copyright in the UK, and similarly for the alphabet soup that is the world of the collecting societies. For instance, copyright collecting societies in the US seem to be referred to as "performing rights organizations" or performance rights organisations, whereas in the UK concept of performance rights is to do with the performance of, well, a performer, e.g. a singer's singing, and is to do with their rights in their rendition, rather than copyright in a song as such. I confess that while I've just about got to grips with the difference between the Alliance, the PPL and the VPL I've no clear idea yet about the differences between the BMI, ASCAP and SESAC or indeed the NMPA, particularly the boundaries between them and what they do.

Mr Garrity also makes the point that YouTube may have got licences from record companies and the BMI, but strictly it still isn't completely legal to include certain music on YouTube until ASCAP and SESAC (etc?) are on board too. I've seen reports (e.g. Royalty Week, Associated Press and FT) that YouTube has reached interim settlements or interim licensing arrangements with US collecting societies, but it's not clear to me just which ones, and whether they include ASCAP and SESAC.

Now I mentioned the NMPA earlier. In fact, YouTube are currently being sued in the US for breach of music copyright by the NMPA, e.g. see this New York Post article. The NMPA or National Music Publishers' Association represents music publishers in the USA - but the BMI etc also represent publishers, which is why I say I still haven't got to the bottom of the US position yet. What is certainly clear from the lawsuit is that not all rights holders in the USA have agreed to license their music to YouTube.

So what it all boils down to is this: UK video uploads and downloads which include Alliance music may now be legal (with the further twists I'll come to below), but the YouTube Alliance deal doesn't mean that it's legal to upload or play those videos outside the UK.

Here's another gotcha. Mr Shaw also told me that after the YouTube deal it will be legal for YouTube UK users to include Alliance music on the Alliance's "usual" licence terms, such as "non-derogatory" use only. Only YouTube and the Alliance know the exact details of their deal. That "non-derogatory" requirement wasn't announced in the press release, so how would we mere users have known that that non-derogatory use is a condition of the licence? Maybe I've not researched it fully enough, but the only Alliance licence I could find was their online exploitation licence, so I'll take it as a typical example of their "usual" terms. Now that licence says in item 4.3 that the licence doesn't extend to:
(a) the reproduction or communication to the public of any Commercial Work or part thereof in the form of a parody or burlesque of any Commercial Work or of any composer or writer of any Commercial Work or any band or other group of artists which includes any composer or writer of any Commercial Work; or
(b) the use of any Commercial Work in any context which the Licensee ought reasonably to consider as being likely to be insulting or detrimental to the composer featured on the commercially released sound recording of the music or the relevant Member or associated society member.

I'm guessing that that must be what Mr Shaw meant by "derogatory". In other words, that licence says that the licensee can use Alliance music as long as they don't do a parody or burlesque of the music or the songwriter etc, or use it in a way that's insulting etc to the composer. So it seems there's a hidden restriction to watch for: don't shoot the pianist, and certainly never ever make fun of the songwriter!

As you can tell, the only thing I'm halfway confident about at the moment is that YouTube users who live in the UK can safely include Alliance music in their YouTube video uploads if they do it in a "non-derogatory" way (with the further twist I add below, yes there's more), and that the Alliance will get paid by YouTube when YouTube videos containing Alliance music are played by UK YouTube users.

Performers - B

Now I come to the twist. The eagle-eyed will have spotted that I haven't even got to B yet - musicians' rights in their performances, i.e. their singing or playing. As I mentioned, in the UK this is not the same as a songwriter's copyright in the song they perform, or the record company's copyright in the sound recording it makes of their performance.

If you or your friend sing or play Alliance music "live" on a YouTube video in the UK, that's fine. But what if you use a commercial recording of Alliance music with other people (like a pop star) singing or playing on the recording? YouTube may have a licence from the Alliance as far as the songwriter's copyright in the song is concerned, and from the major record labels in relation to their copyright in the sound recording - but what about the performers' rights in their performances?

In the UK, the PPL is the collecting society which handles performers' rights in sound recordings, i.e. when recorded tracks are broadcast or publicly performed in the UK, whether played in a club or restaurant or on the radio. (The VPL deal with rights in commercial music video recordings, but that's another matter.)

You get my point now, don't you? Just as the picture in the US isn't complete without ASCAP and SESAC, if a UK YouTube user uploads a music video which includes Alliance music from a recording by a British artist, it's not legal unless the PPL have also given a licence to the YouTube. And they haven't, yet. In fact the PPL are currently in negotiations with YouTube, but until that's sorted it strictly it isn't legal to include audio recordings with performances by PPL members in your YouTube video - even if you live in the UK, even if the music is composed by an Alliance member - UPDATE: unless the performers' rights have been transferred to the record companies which own the copyright in the recordings and have done deals with YouTube.

That's why I'm with Brian Garrity rather than Mashable, who said "YouTube mavens no longer have to fear being sued for music being played in the background of their videos, or worry about their content being removed. At least for labels and artists by the MCPS-PRS Alliance". Or indeed the Financial Times, who said the YouTube-Alliance deal would "legitimise the use of recorded music" on YouTube. The Times reported that "videos using their [Alliance members'] music as a soundtrack will no longer be infringing copyright", and even the New York Times said the YouTube-Alliance deal allowed "tracks from performers like Cliff Richard and Amy Winehouse to be used in videos" (echoing the Associated Press). Reuters similarly said the deal "allows users of the Google site to incorporate recorded music legally into videos". All of them: sorry, but, being pedantic about it, wrong wrong wrong. Brian Garrity (and me!): right. No PPL, no legitimacy in the UK, for the use of sound recordings anyway.

So B, performance rights - NOT sorted.

UPDATE: I am told that the standard practice, during the recording process, is for performers to transfer their performers' rights over to whoever has the copyright in the recording, normally the record companies, for the copyright owner to then exploit the performance / sound recording further, i.e. generate revenue from it.

The performers do retain certain rights in the sound recording with regards to "equitable remuneration" whereby they would receive compensation for the "broadcast and communication to the public" of those performances they were involved in.

However the "making available" of sound recordings, in services such as "on-demand" streaming of programmes, is not included in the "broadcast and communication to the public" definition - and therefore performers don't get equitable remuneration for it, and would therefore not be directly involved in the licensing process for "on-demand" services.

So, in the case of YouTube videos incorporating background music, the rights that would be required would be:
  1. the publishing rights in the musical work, the song (which is licensed by MCPS-PRS-Alliance), and
  2. the rights in the sound recording itself - which would be licensed by the copyright-owning record company directly (the direct deals done between the major record labels and YouTube) and/or with PPL, who would represent those members that wished to be included in such a licensing deal.
PPL represents its record company members for the licensing of the rights those members hold in sound recordings, and therefore any deals that are done by PPL with "on-demand" services would be on behalf of record company members (rather than performers), on the basis of the usual practice of performers transferring their performers' rights to the record companies.

Ah c'mon, so is it legal to upload music with your YouTube video, or isn't it?

Where are we now, then, and are we there yet? Well, no.

In my personal view, at the moment you are 100% totally safe to add music to your YouTube video only if:
  • the music is out of copyright (the Public Domain Works' list of public domain composers is helpful, though not exactly typical YouTube fan fodder), or
  • you or your friend sing or play the music yourself (rather than using a pre-recorded track) in a "non-derogatory" fashion, and:
    • you're in the UK, and the music is by an Alliance member (or, possibly a member of an associated collecting society), or
    • (maybe - this is pure guesswork so don't go by it, could someone in the know possibly confirm?) you're in the US, and the music is by a BMI member?
Let's get back to music recordings, e.g. CDs, where the copyright to the sound recording is owned by the record labels who have made deals with YouTube like Warner, Sony, Universal or EMI - all the biggies, really. They've licensed their recordings to YouTube haven't they, so shouldn't it be fine now to include their artists' tracks on your video at least?

Strictly, no - for two reasons.

One, remember the ABCs - it's got to be all the ABCs, not just one. Authorization from the record companies, C, just isn't enough. As Mr Garrity pointe