Legal vs Certified….

I have been taking part in a discussion on a message board regarding this question –

Can a KJ be legal without being “certified?”

A few minutes ago, I posted the following response to the thread and thought it would make for a good blog post.

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I think most of us are considered legal until otherwise proven illegal.

I equate being certified as a KJ simliar to passing a health department inspection as a restaurant.

You may eat at a restaurant a couple of times a month for years. The food tastes great, the service is good, the pricing is fair. You have never gotten sick from eating there and never heard of anyone else getting sick. You watch the servers come and go through the kitchen door without really concerning yourself with what is on the other side.

Then one day you go to eat at the restaurant and find it has been closed due to health code violations. The health inspector found rat droppings, improper food storage, unclean conditions, etc, etc.

Had the restaurant taken the proper steps, the inspector would have done it’s inspection and placed a nice little seal on the door leading into the restaurant. That seal gives visual notice to prospective patrons that allows them to be reasonable assured that food is being prepared, stored, served in a heathy manner.

Similarly, there are restaurants that absolutely follow the rules of proper, healthy food preparation but for whatever reason, their inspections have fallen to the way side and their seal is out of date. Keen patrons that look for that seal may pass over the restaurant because there is no proof that they have passed inspection. The restaurant is legal in respect to following food preparation guidelines, but there is no proof. Thus they may actually be missing out on some business.

There are great many legal karaoke hosts out there. With the state of the industry, the awareness campaigns from the KIAA, and the resulting legal actions in many areas, it is not only the hosts and venues that aware of piracy, but also the singers themselves.  In my neck of the woods, it is a very high tech area (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, and many more…plus a very active Startup Community) and as a result there is a heightened awareness of piracy, technology innovation, and intellectual property. The singers are slowly becoming a bit more discerning in their choice of karaoke venue beyond price of drinks, song selection, friendly host and convenient location. They have heard about the legal actions brought against KJ’s and venues in the area. Very slowly I am seeing folks wonder about the legality and thus the potential longevity of a quality karaoke show. The singers have and are suffering the fallout from piracy as well by being subjected to the $50/night host that is only there for the free bar tab and the chance to oggle some patrons. They want more.

In my opinion, getting certified means the host has taken the extra step to contact the manufacturers and demonstrate compliance. In return they get some extra marketing power to show to venues and patrons that they are in it for the long haul and they are worth the investment.

This is not to say that uncertified hosts are any less legal, capable, qualified or “good”. It just means that as a certified host, I get an extra tool to promote my business and leverage to my advantage. Venues can feel comfortable they won’t get dinged, and patrons can see my investment in the process. Everyone should know I am serious about what I am doing from a business perspective. Now I just have to prove I am capable of running a good show.

Can I be legal without cerification?  Certainly. Can I prove it to a venue or patron?  Possibly, with some work.

I can also be legal *and* certified. When it comes to proving it, I just show the paperwork. Done deal.

-Chris


Final Update on Stellar Records….

Today I received all of the documents and certificates that were promised to me as a part of signing up and paying for the Stellar Records CAP Program (see the following for reference – http://www.stellarrecords.com/cap_info.html ).

I would like to publicly thank Tom Viveiros of Stellar Records for taking care of things. I know my previous posts detail a less than pleasant experience and hint at some tensions, but ultimately the matter was resolved to my satisfaction.

At this point I consider the matter closed and I will be blogging about other experiences I have in the industry.

 

Up next…..Chartbuster Karaoke….

 

-Chris

 

 


Update on Stellar Records….

Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, Tom Viveiros, President and CEO of Stellar Records and I exchanged some emails which included some of the forms to process my CAP agreement information. One set of forms required a signature which was sent to Stellar by snail mail on Thursday.

Yesterday I received an email from Tom stating that my documents had arrived, and they were processing the remainder of the paperwork and would send out the final documents within a day or two. About two hours later I received another email from Tom that the CAP information was complete and would go out the next day (today).

In this latest email exchange, Tom apologized for the delays and expressed thanks for my patience. I also thanked him for resolving the issue.

I actually am satisfied with the outcome of this. I included the following line in my reply to Tom –

I too wish the road to here was different, but we have gotten to the destination.

I suspect I will have the final documents in hand by Friday and the matter will be be closed. I will provide a final update once I have the docs in hand.

-Cheers

 

Chris – Feel Good Productions

 


The Case of the Missing Post…..

I have had a few people ask me where the last post went.

The post I made yesterday entitled “Stellar Records playing the part of a bully….” was taken down by me upon request by Tom Viveiros of Stellar Records. Tom and I exchanged several emails yesterday and late last night I received a response stating that he would send out my CAP certificates after I completed and signed a few forms. He also requested that I take down the post containing the email thread and I obliged in good faith since it appears we are making some headway regarding my issue.

I will keep everyone posted on the status of this over the next few days. With any luck, I should have the certificates very soon.

 

Chris


My experience (so far) with Stellar Records and their CAP program….

About a year and a half ago, I decided to run a karaoke show. I have been a singer for 15+ years and I decided I wanted to give it a go at running my own gig. I stumbled on someone who was getting out of the business and was selling their equipment as well as their karaoke music collection at a price I didn’t think I could pass up. During negotiations, I asked about the karaoke music and specifically about it all being legal, original discs. I was shown about 50 original discs and assured that there were “plenty more” in storage. In my excitement to get things going, I took them at their word and plunked down the cash for the system. As it turns out, the 50 discs I was shown were the only original discs I was ever provided. The other 10,000 or so songs that came with the system were actually illegal digital copies on a hard drive. Lesson learned on my part and I took a hit. But I learned my lesson and life goes on.

As a result of that experience, I started looking at ways to quickly and legally increase the variety of my collection as cost effectively as possible. I started looking at the major karaoke music companies to see what kind of deals they offered. Most singers that I have encountered prefer karaoke music supplied by one of the Big 3 –  Sound Choice has the “Get Legit, or Quit!” program and offers a substantial discount on discs. Chartbusters regularly offers deals on karaoke music packages as well. Finally Pop Hits Monthly also offers package deals to enable you to expand out quickly.

Along the way though, I also discovered the Stellar Records site which I came to find out released karaoke music under several brand names and currently manages Pop Hits Monthly.  On the Stellar Records site, they make mention of their “CAP – Compliance Assistance Program”.  In summary, it seems to boil down to this – Stellar recognizes that some folks have been duped or otherwise acquired karaoke music that was not legal. Instead of suing a bunch of folks, they are giving people the opportunity to approach Stellar to buy into the CAP program to make things right. I think this a great approach – Stellar can regain some of the losses the have been hit with over the years due to piracy and KJ’s can get legal at a reasonable cost that won’t put them out of business. Plus the KJ’s are ultimately pumping money back into the industry and, in theory, this should lead to more music at a reasonable cost. Not to mention, being able to charge more for shows by having a completely legal system to compete against the rogues out there. On the surface it seems like a win-win agreement.

What do you get when you buy into the CAP program?   A “Certificate of Defrayal” which is defined on their web site as –

“These certificates hold harmless and protect the certificate holder from any legal action that might be initiated by the KIAA or Stellar Records for the unauthorized usage, either past, present or future of specific Stellar Records’ products including, but not limited to those accompanied by a visual lyric display file (karaoke format), or for the use of any Stellar Records’ trademarks that may be displayed either on-screen as part of a lyrics display, and/or use of its trademarks in the original product packaging.  The certificates are limited to the song titles listed in the accompanying exhibit that is attached to the covenant agreement, and as contained in the brands listed on the accompanying Certificate of Defrayal.”

Note – The exhibit referred to in the last line is not on the web site. However, if you click the “Get Certificate” link you see the following –

Overview: Covering all products produced between 1995 and end through 2007.  This includes the brands UK Karaoke®, American Gold®, Top Hits Monthly® (1995 & 1996), Rising Star, and Pop Hits Monthly®.

Also includes products bearing the unauthorized use of the Top Hits Monthly brand by Panorama (i.e. Platinum Series, Decades, All Time Greats Series, etc.) including the 1999 through 2007 monthly releases.

The way I read this is that, someone (like me!) that buys what they think is legal karaoke music, but finds out it isn’t, can buy into the CAP program and avoid any potential legal action from Stellar Records. Esentially enabling them to continue to use the recordings they have in their possession without fear of legal action. In fact, after I called the number on their page and spoke to Tony Walstra at Stellar Records, I was convinced that this would be the best way for me to proceed since this is exactly what happened to me. (Here in the Seattle area I know of many venues and KJ’s that were hit with lawsuits earlier this year and I did not want to end up one of them).

After thinking it over I called back on July 14th, and bought into the CAP program. I also purchased the Pop Hits Monthly (PHM) Library from 2008 forward and picked up an annual subscription to the PHM monthly updates for Pop, Urban, and Country music through August of 2012. All told I spent $4189.95 to “get legal” and grown my library. In the essence of transparency, I was actually only charged $2989.00 on July 14th with payments of $300 made each month after. But it is now December 5th, 2011 and all payments have been made. I have a zero balance with them at this point. As promised I was shipped all of the discs I paid for which I received on July 26th, 2011.

You would think I would be a happy karaoke host at this point – I made myself compliant, I feel no pressure about getting sued over any music I have from Stellar Records and I expanded my music library by several thousand songs with the music they shipped to me. Unfortunately, we are now 9 days away from the 6 month mark since I was first charged for my purchase and……

I still don’t have the CAP certificates.

On July 27th, I sent an email to Tony Walstra thanking him for getting the discs out to me so quickly and expressed my desire to have the CAP certificates sent out to me ASAP. I was never told during the initial process that there would be any delay in getting them to me. I assumed they would have been sent out with the discs I ordered. But they were not. I received a prompt reply from Tony stating that he was glad I received the discs and…..

We are close to completing our new CAP certificates and paperwork.   We will be in touch once that process is complete.  We redesigned the whole program and designed a software program to enter all the data into.”

This was the first I heard of any delay in getting the certificates to me, but, having worked in the software industry for my day job for the last 17 years, I do understand that sometimes it takes a little time to work out the kinks in a new software system. I decided to ride it out figuring I had billing statements showing I had been charged and I could produce my invoice with a description of “CAP Certificate” on it if there were ever any issues.

Since that time, everything has gone downhill. Every month since the first shipment, I have had to contact them by email to ask where my monthly discs are and have them ship them out to me. The only exception was the December update and I chalk that up to the particularly pointed email I sent them just before stating how dissatisfied I had ultimately become. I have actually sent several emails to specifically inquire about the status of the CAP certificates –

Sept 2, 2011 (just a basic ask)

Oct 4th, 2011 (Tony Walstra’s reply looped in Tom Viveiros, President of Stellar Records)

Oct 28th, 2011 (I sent a very long, very wordy email to Tony and Tom and Donna Mello expressing my dissatisfaction that it had been two weeks since the President of the company was looped in and no one had been in contact with me)

Oct 31st, 2011 (finally get a response from Tom, not at all what I wanted to hear, but I got a response)

Nov 15, 2011 (the first anbd only email to date from Stellar that was *not* initiated by me.)

Dec 2nd, 2011 (Just another inquiry)

Late on Dec 2nd (another long, wordy email that in summary states, that I no longer have the patience to wait and I am asking for a refund. It should also be noted that I also decided to put up this blog as a result of the experience I have had with Stellar Records)

So here we are on the evening of December 5th, 2011. No response back yet from Stellar Records. Granted, I sent my last email to them late on Friday and I did not expect a response over the weekend, particularly given the slow reponses I have experienced thus far. But since the President of Stellar Records accepted my friend invite on Linked.com early this morning, I know he was active. I would like to think that the president of a comapny reads his email at least once day during the standard business week. I would have thought I would have at least garnered a response to my refund request even if it was “We are looking into it”. But that doesn’t make me any less upset how all of this has transpired. It doesn’t make me wonder if maybe Stellar Records has no intention of sending me the certificates at all.

I find it oddly ironic that the Stellar Records CAP program is an effort to re-coup losses from groups or individuals that have essentially stolen from Stellar Records and yet at this point, I personally feel as if Stellar Records has stolen the $3200 I paid to them for the CAP certificates, which 6 months later, I still do not have. Again, I know that new software can present some speed bumps, but 6 months down the road is not acceptable. Besides, I offered, as a Microsoft employee, to get them assistance with their computer software issues in my November 15th and received no response.

I have done my part.

In the email I sent to Stellar on Dec 2nd. I noted I would be blogging about the experience and gave them a link to this site. I have no way of knowing if they are actually reading it. Regardless, I am airing my side of the story here in public. I welcome their public response.

 

I encourage you to go read the official description of the CAP program here.

 

Chris – Feel Good Productions

 


Trying to do the right thing in the world of karaoke piracy…

You can click on the “About this blog…” link and get this same info, but for the sake of introducing myself and why I am here…..

My name is Chris E. Avis and I run Feel Good Productions. I host a Karaoke show every Saturday night from 9p-1a at the Rollin’ Log Tavern in Issaquah, WA. My show is 100% Legal (I own the discs for every song I make available for use at my show). This blog is about karaoke…..the venues, the singers, the music, the industry……

Struggling to make ends meet….

In this day an age of piracy, we all know how easy and tempting it is to download or copy for free everything from computer software, to music, to movies. The same thing applies to the world of karaoke. You can search eBay and Craigslist and in seconds find people selling hard drives with 10, 20, 50, 100, 0r even 200 THOUSAND karaoke songs on then for a couple hundred dolars or less. It sounds like an awesome deal for someone that is trying to break into the karaoke hosting business. But those hard drives as well as iRC channels and other sites that allow you to download or swap karaoke tracks for free are literally killing the karaoke industry.

You have probably heard the whole story of “If you copy that music CD, the music company doesn’t get paid. If the company doesn’t get paid, they can’t pay the artists and myriad of other people that make the music possible. If the artists and others don’t get paid, they don’t make music. If no music gets made, that leaves nothing for you to pirate (or buy)”. Paying for it ensures the process is sustainable. The software, music and movies industries have thus far been able to survive the onslaught of piracy because of the billions of dollars that still come in. Their business models are such that enough people are still paying for the content they produce that they can still make a significant profit and still be able to hire the right folks to produce more content and keep the process going. There is also the fact that in all of these industries, the market for the products that is produced is ultimately capable of being every single person on the planet. Anyone can purchase a movie ticket or DVD to watch what they want to see. Anyone can buy the music CD or use iTunes and pay for the track they want to hear. Anyone can go online or to a retail store and buy the software they want for their computer.

In other words, the person consuming the final product is also the purchaser. Which again, is potentially every person on the planet. It’s a volume business.

The karaoke industry is significantly different.

Karaoke music is purchased by a Karaoke Host (KJ) and made available to the singers (the consumer in this case) at no charge. Immediately we see that there is now a difference between the purchaser and the consumer and that the consumers far out number the purchasers. So no longer are we looking at every single person on the planet as a potential purchaser. I can’t tell you what the exact ratio is but if you have ever been to a club where there is one DJ or one karaoke host and 10’s or even 100’s of dancers/singers you can easily determine that the pool of purchasers is exponentially smaller.

Strike One against the karaoke content producers.

Some people think that karaoke music is just the original music with the original vocals removed. Not so. Karaoke content producers actually have to re-create the music with their own musicians. The really good karaoke companies have very talented, quality musicians that play so well it sounds like the original recording. Those musicians don’t work for free and the better they are at matching the original recordings, the more they cost.

Strike Two.

Also consider that karaoke content producers have to pay licensing fees back to the music companies, musicians, and songwriters for the right to produce a karaoke version of a song and display the lyrics on screen for a singer. So before the karaoke music producers even record a track, they are in the hole and thinking about how they can recoup the cost of the licensing fees they have to pay just for the right to record music. These fees have gone up over the years as the music industry has looked at was to compensate for piracy in their arena.

Strike Three.

Smaller customer (purchaser) base means lower volume, which increases the cost for a karaoke disc. Paying musicians to recreate the music isn’t cheap. Licensing fees have to be recouped as well.  All of this means that a CD of karaoke music costs significantly more than a traditional CD from a band or even a compilation CD from a music company. You might be able to find a retail traditional music CD for $8-$15 most places where most original karaoke CD’s today are $17.95 at the low end and usually have only 8-10 tracks on them. (Note – $17.95 per disc is based on pricing from www.pophitsmonthly.com)

A higher cost per unit means that even a small amount of piracy has a significant impact on the profitability of the karaoke music companies. But when you understand that it is estimated that 90% of Karaoke shows use completely pirated karaoke music collections to host shows, you can see where it is becoming almost impossible for a karaoke music company to be able to continue to produce quality music much less be profitable.

The Problem for Karaoke Hosts….

Karaoke music is the single greatest expense for a karaoke host. Consider this for a moment –

A karaoke host that claims to have 10,000 tracks to choose from would have had to purchase 1000 discs at 10 songs each to acquire that music. When you consider that many karaoke companies have actually re-issued some songs many times across their catalogs, to acquire 10,000 “unique” songs would mean you would have had to purchase a lot more than 1000 discs. But let’s keep the math simple. 1000 discs at 10 songs a disc = 10,000 songs. At today’s prices of $17.95 per disc, that is $17.95 times 1000 for $17,950.

I am not saying that every 10,000 song karaoke host is a pirate, but check their credentials – if they have been in the industry for 10 years then they may actually have paid for it.

Here is an ad from Dec 2nd, 2011 on Craigslist

“___KARAOKE 110,000 Songs 500gb hard drive $350 This contains 110,000 of the BEST KARAOKE MUSIC with PDF files. There is Mainstream & Alternative, Greatest Hit Songs, Top 40’s, Pop, Rock, Hip-hop, Old School, R&B, Classics, and plenty of other Genres. Comes loaded on a Western Digital 500 gig portable hard drive. Plugs into computers usb compatible for mac’s and windows. Works with many DJ softwares… Great for all types of music lovers, Dj’s, Vj’s.

110,000 at 10 songs per disc = 11,000 discs @ $17.95 each = $197,450.  Let’s pretend for a moment that the discs only cost $1 each, that would still be $11,000 dollars. No one in their right mind would sell an $11,000 collection for $350 unless it was pirated. I have seen 250,000 karaoke songs on a hard drive for as low as $150. You do the math.

This is ONE ad in ONE Craigslist city. You can find similar ads in every major metropolitan city on Craigslist. Occasionally you will find them on eBay too. You can also search the Internet and find a variety of peer-to-peer networks including scripted iRC channels for sharing karaoke files.

The Beginning of the End….unless we turn it around…

Having current, popular music is the only way to attract and maintain a dedicated group of singers to support a show. While those singers don’t directly pay the karaoke host, the money they spend on food and drinks at the bar and the word of mouth they use to attract others to a venue, have a major impact on whether a venue will want to have karaoke or not. Unfortunately, piracy means that for less than a thousand dollars, unscrupulous indiviuduals can put together a low quality karaoke show and undercut hosts that have invested tens of thousands of dollars over time in legal karaoke tracks. It is impossible to compete with a host that will do a karaoke show for $50 a night (I know of hosts that will do shows for the cost of a bar tab). This means legitimate hosts have to reduce the fees they charge just to hold on to gigs they have and may have to reduce even further to pick up new business. In the end, they won’t be able to invest in new music, quality lights, quality sound reproduction or replace equipment that goes bad.

We are facing a vicious cycle here where legal karaoke hosts can no longer afford to compete against the pirates and get out of the business all-together. This leaves a myriad of low quality shows that are short lived because of the poor production quality. Karaoke companies are charging more for less fresh music every month to try to stay profitable which in turn reduces choice for the singers. The worst case scenario is that all of the karaoke companies go out of business leaving us with a bunch of fly-by-night, low quality karaoke shows where there is never any new music because there is none being produced.

But we can still do something about it.

I encourage singers to ask the karaoke hosts where they sing if they are legal. If they say yes, respectfully challenge them to prove it. I legal host will make the effort to prove it to you. They will either produce discs, or receipts, or even certificates of authenticity that are now being provided by some karaoke music companies. They will be eager to prove to you that they are legit to gain your business and your trust. They will want to prove it so you will spread the word and bring in more business.

The hosts that aren’t legal will give you excuses about how they can’t prove it to you or that it is too cumbersome to do so. But keep the pressure on them. Let them know that some of the karaoke music companies have compliance programs to help them get legal. It isn’t cheap, but it is less expensive than a law suit or potential jail time for piracy. If you have to, speak to the club owner and ask them about it. Again, respectfully point out that if the karaoke host is using pirated music, that the club owner can actually be held liable and ask the owner to follow-up with the karaoke host.

If a hosts refuses to prove they are legal, then contact the Karaoke Industry Alliance of America and give them the information about the show. They can pursue legal action through the karaoke music companies. You can even contact the karaoke music companies directly. Below you will find contact information for three of the most popular (and most pirated) companies.

Chartbusters – http://www.chartbusterkaraoke.com/

Pop Hits Monthly – http://pophitsmonthly.com/

Sound Choice – http://www.soundchoicestore.com/

Finally, let your legal karaoke hosts know who the illegal hosts are. Increasingly I am finding that legal hosts will put pressure on the illegal hosts. I certainly will. Eventually, the illegal hosters will get the message and they will either do the right thing and get legal or they will get out of the business. Regardless, the potential end result is that that legal hosts can increase their fees, pick up new shows, buy legal karaoke to support those shows, and increase the profitability of the karaoke music companies which allows them to produce more, high quality music for all of us.

Chris – Feel Good Productions