Many artists speak out about the laws and societal changes that effect them, but artists in the UK are continuing to show the rest of the world that unity can slowly bring forth change. The Featured Artists Coalition was formed in 2009 as a reaction to the memorandum of understanding that UK record labels and ISPs signed. The agreement was reached by the six largest internet providers and the UK’s record label association, the BPI, and stated that account holders who were guilty of illegally downloading copyrighted material would begin to receive warning letters for file sharing.
While labels and internet providers engaging in debate about the impact of the internet and piracy on musician’s livelihood certainly seemed to be something of a step in the right direction, no one thought to consult the artists themselves. After facing the typical ebbs and flows that accompany any upstart organization, the FAC seemed to hit its stride after a relatively short time and has become a legitimate and respected organization. While the notion of people in the same profession mobilizing to form a united body is nothing new, the Featured Artists Coalition is the first organization in the music industry that has allowed the artists themselves to be the galvanizing force behind the changes, which directly affect them. Who better than to speak about the effects of copyright laws and licensing than the people whose careers are directly influenced by those things? As the business practices, industry standards, and technology habits of music consumer’s change, the FAC has had to change and evolve as well. That said, three things remain at the core of all the FAC believes in and fights for; fairness, transparency, and equality for artists. Quite simply, The FAC feels that artists should receive fair deals, deserve to know what is happening with their work, and should be equal partners in all of their ventures. Not only does the organization use these as the keystone of their work, they also educate members and non members alike on relevant issues.
Their mission statement is as follows: “The FAC is building the music business of the future, with artists at the center, where artists and those that enable them are rewarded fairly and transparently. We want a business that respects the needs and aspirations of the music artist and their fans. The FAC also serves to educate, inform, represent and nurture its members.”
photo by James Eppy Photography
While the FAC’s board of directors may read more like most people’s music collection than a respected lobbyist group or union, board members such as Ed O’Brien (Radiohead), Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Kate Nash, Martyn Ware (Heaven 17), Sandie Shaw, Crispin Hunt, and Annie Lennox, to name but a few, understand that in addition to securing their own careers, they’re also helping emerging artists who are establishing themselves in a far different industry environment than they knew as young artists. London based singer Melissa James joined the Featured Artists Coalition last year. When asked why she became a member, she said “I heard about the FAC via Twitter early last year, signed up to the mailing list and, once I learned more about what the FAC do and discovered that membership was free, I became a member straightaway.”
So what are the key functions of the FAC and what do they do for artists? They represent members within both national (UK) and European political arenas in areas relevant to music (i.e; copyright, licensing, etc.). Additionally, they advise artists on technology, negotiate on behalf of FAC artists to ensure fair terms, and put artists in contact with one another to create a support system.
With those objectives in mind, members of the FAC remain actively involved in music industry happenings and government hearings alike, speaking on behalf of artists to add relevant opinions to the legislation that impacts their careers. In December 2012, board member and Travis frontman Fran Healy met with the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee in the House of Commons to discuss key issues and the overall state of the UK music industry.In April of this year, FAC member Dave Stopps spoke at European Parliament regarding the collective rights management directive and the changes actual artists saw necessary to make it work and make it fair. These aren’t instances of musicians spouting off in the heat of the moment to any reporter who will listen. These are elected officials and leaders of state who have now grown to accept that, when speaking about issues involving music, those who create it must be directly involved in the process. Using the cohesive body that the FAC has become has given artists more genuine representation than is to be found in any elected official. Members of the FAC are often to be found giving keynote addresses at top music industry and technology conferences, as well. The Featured Artists Coalition also organizes educational seminars, many of which are available to non members. Understanding how important it is for artists to have a working understanding of the business influencing their career, they offer seminars and networking opportunities giving younger artists in particular guidance on some of the less romantic aspects of the music industry. Speaking of these events, Melissa James stated “I love that there are regular talks and workshops geared towards helping musicians become better aware of their rights and which encourage indie artists to be just that – independent. These engagements are also a great way to network and connect with other likeminded musicians while learning and interacting with those more experienced individuals in the business who offer their advice and impart their knowledge. In this changing time of the record industry where it is much easier for artists to do more for themselves, an organisation like the FAC is vital in providing some backbone support and advice to those artists that are working independently and who might find its source of knowledge, resources and networking events, invaluable.”
The FAC often works with sister organization, the UK chapter of the Music Managers Forum, which allows even further reach. In addition to working together to further educate artists, the MMF and FAC also unite to host the Artist and Manager Awards, which will see their third ceremony this autumn in London. Not only does the event allow the UK music industry as a whole celebrate their finest, it also seems to serve as a celebration of the music they all love and the industry they’re working to shape and stabilize. While the music industry remains far from stable at this point, the FAC has shown that artists having a collective voice and working together is far more effective than those musicians who choose to complain about inequities yet put forth little effort to elicit even the smallest of changes. Fiona McGugan, a consultant with the FAC whose responsibilities include press inquiries and social media added, “The MMF and FAC have been working closely together for the past year with a constant aim of increasing the voice of the creators in the industry and opening up dialogue with as many influencers as possible. This has ranged from labels and publishers to big tech companies such as Google and Spotify. We want creators to have full control of their music alongside a better licensing infrastructure and freedom to choose how they use it.” All this may lead people to question if there is a United States equivalent of the FAC, the answer being yes and no.
While the FAC doesn’t have a US chapter, there is an organization called the Recording Artists Coalition. Founded by Sheryl Crow and Don Henley in 2000, the RAC worked to address contract reform, artists compensation, and legislative issues effecting artists. While those objectives sound similar to those of the FAC, the two are not affiliated.
The UK’s most influential artists have figured out that using their credibility and so-called celebrity to work toward the betterment of their profession will ultimately lead to greater success for all. At some point, perhaps artists everywhere will follow suit. Membership for the Featured Artists Coalition is free of charge and donations are optional. To qualify as a featured artist, one must be a member of a band or a solo singer/performer (i.e; not a studio or session musician).
For information on the Featured Artists Coalition and to find further information on membership visit http://thefac.org/about/
Kind thanks to Fiona McGugan and the Featured Artists Coalition for providing photographs and membership information.